Hacking the Cortex: Stuck in the meta with you

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The wider warmachine meta keeps on widening. As books release and factions get more and more tools, every non-minions faction is reaching a point where they can build a competitive list that utilizes any strategy you can think of. I’ve seen people “Cryxing” with Trolls and Menoth, and I’ve Cygnar’d with Cryx. Can list chicken be avoided in a world such as this? If it must happen, how do we mitigate it?

There’s skews to the left of me, weirdness to the right.
Here I am, stuck in the meta with you.


List chicken is a direct consequence of skew lists. The power of a skew list comes from the fact that it overwhelms the normal tools you take to deal with something, requiring a specialized counter. And in a two list format, that will often mean that your second list is designed to deal with that specialized counter. In the perfect list chicken storm, your opponent has done the same thing, and you’re caught in a coin toss situation.

This isn’t a new state of affairs, because the game has always had at least one powerful skew in competitive play – Cryx infantry. Simply put, Cryx infantry are fantastically good, and require a particular toolkit and skill set to defeat. Some factions (lots of Hordes) have such problems with Cryx that they feel obligated to bring a specifically anti-Cryx list in every pair, and several players do that anyway because Cryx are great at beating new players and so everyone learns to loathe them early in their Warmachine career.

But of course, Cryx aren’t to be stopped by such tailoring. We can always Cryx Harder ™. And so the problem increases, and opponents’ anti-Cryx list needed to be Even More Anti Cryx. And so the cycle continues.

As a Cryx player fond of Cryxing Outside The Box, I’ve stumbled into a fair bit of list chicken as a result, as I usually anchor my weirdness with a more traditional Cryx swarm. But my experiences with it have begun to shape some thinking on the subject.

The first is automaticity – many players see Cryx, and drop their anti-Cryx without thinking too hard about it. More considered players will often think about it, and then drop their anti-Cryx anyway. Why? Because your basic infantry skew will simply roll over their other list a lot of the time.  When one has a anti-cryx skew list, people often design their other list as if it never has to fight Cryx. And it meant that I was winning list chicken 80% of the time.

While there is definitely an argument that list chicken is a symptom of the current meta – a combination of medium infantry skews, and the wide array of tools available to every faction, making covering a tournament’s worth of opponents more difficult – it’s of limited use to write list chicken off as a given. There are things under your control that you can change.

The first problem is designing lists that don’t overlap. List chicken becomes your problem when your lists each solve totally different problems. Ultimately, it’s trying to win on listbuilding/matchup rather than on in game skill. Instead, you want to build lists that give you the opportunity to outplay your opponent in 50/50 matchups, instead of trying to drop a list with a 75/25 matchup. Most factions have matchups where they’re slightly advantaged anyway, but instead of pushing that to the extreme, build just enough to give you the tools, then learn to apply them.

One of the reasons I think MSU style lists have been growing in popularity (aside from the mere fact of MoM talking about it) is that they provide mutiple solutions to problems and an increased number of opportunities to leverage your higher playskill into a win. I’m not advocating MSU specifically, just pointing out that particular advantage of the style.

This is a hard point to give specific examples for, but good examples are the traditional high power, high skill cap casters like Haley2, Lich2, and Deneghra. They have the ability to make plays no matter what the opponent puts down against them, especially when you include a little bit of everything in the build.

The other big piece of the puzzle, I think, is assassination.

A really big piece.

When you find yourself in a Bad Matchup, having a good assassination on the board is one of your best routes to victory. This is one of Goreshade3’s big strengths – one I failed to appreciate until I saw him on the table more. He himself is capable of pulling the trigger from surprising distance and with devastating effect, and as such he can dig himself out of a bad matchup pretty well. Nowadays, I’m trying to build a strong assassination into every single list. The best ones for this are leveraged by your caster – Morvahna2 is by far the strongest example of this, but every faction is capable of building in a good option. I’ve been drifting further and further from casters who aren’t capable of supporting such a move, because I think the lack of a strong assassination play is offender #1 in Getting Screwed By List Chicken.

Tune in next week to discover if I’ve really pulled myself out of my writing slump, or it was just an unusally good Monday.

Know Yourself, And Go In Swinging,



3 thoughts on “Hacking the Cortex: Stuck in the meta with you

  1. Interesting thoughts, I’m interested in the followup. I play a faction that has a notoriously rough time with Cryx (Skorne) and it tends to be easy for opponents to spot the “Cryx drop” in the lists. Interested in thoughts on changing that dynamic.

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