[Article] A Guide to List-building

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STS17
Shas'Ui
Posts: 717

[Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#1 » Dec 19 2012 03:50

The purpose of this article is to discuss and apply the fundamentals of list construction. You should find that these steps, while given in the context of a Tau army, apply to any army and indeed even apply to other game systems (for example, I follow these exact steps when constructing a deck for Magic: The Gathering or when planning out a character in Dungeons and Dragons and even when figuring out a build order in Starcraft 2). I have included a full example at the bottom of this guide where I walk through how I constructed an 1850 point list.

Here is a brief summary of the steps:
  • State what you wish to accomplish with your list (goal)
  • State how you want to accomplish your goal (method)
  • Make a unit selection
  • State why that unit helps you meet your goal within the context of your method
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have met your points limit
  • Review your list, your method, and your goal

State what you wish to accomplish with your list (Establish a goal)
Most of the time, this is a very simple thing to do. You want your goal to be simple and clear. More importantly, it should be easy to determine if you have met your goal or not (even if how to do so is unclear). Often, your goal will be as simple as "To win" and that is perfectly fine. Other times it might be a little more complicated, such as "To teach a friend how to play" or "To experiment with Bastions." Your goal (along with your method) provides context for everything else that you do and should inform all of the decisions you make. If an element of your list does not help you meet your goal, it probably should not be included.

State how you want to accomplish your goal (method)
There are many means to an end. It can be easy to just do certain things or take certain units because they are "good" or because you have always done so. If your goal is what you want to do, then your method is how you want to do it. Another way to look at your method is to consider it your overarching strategy for how you plan to acomplish your goal. You do not want this to be particularly long, only one to three sentences at most. Most importantly it should be as abstract as possible and it should try to make as few assumptions about the contents of your list as possible (in other words, you should be able to use the exact same goal and method for any army without having to change their wording). Here is an example of a bad method (pretend our goal is simply "to win"): "I will use my broadsides to kill off their vehicles early and then swoop in to take the objectives with my Fire Warriors in Devilfish during the last turn." This method is bad because it makes a lot of assumptions about your list composition and is not abstract. Here is a better example of the same method: "I will destroy my opponent's vehicles as quickly as possible, which greatly reduces his mobility. I will capture as many objectives as I can during the last turn so my opponent has no time to respond." Notice how this says essentially the same thing, but does not speficy how exactly we will do it. This is also abstract enough to apply to any army, which is a good thing because it keeps us from biasing our decisions before we have even made them.

Make a unit selection
With the above two steps complete, it is time to begin adding units to our list. I generally begin by filling in the required bits first (i.e. HQ/2 Troops) but you can really start anywhere you would like. Pick exactly one unit at a time, even if you think you will take duplicate units - it's okay to pick a second unit of the same unit, but you should be sure to state why the second unit is important as well.

State why that unit helps you meet your goal within the context of your method
Now comes the hard part. You want to have one or two sentences about each and every unit in your list that justifies its inclusion. If you find that you can't come up with a few sentences about how a unit helps you accomplish your goal and what part of your method it fits with then it probably doesn't belong in your list. This is where you want to be specific, don't select a unit just because "it's good," it needs to fit your overarching strategy and help you accomplish your goal. In addition, you should talk about how that unit will work with the other units in your list (that you have already selected, don't refer to a unit you haven't picked yet!). For example, you might select a six man team of Fire Warriors for the following reason (assuming the method from above): "This unit's small footprint makes it easy to keep them out of line of sight, and therefore harm, until the end of the game when they move in to take an objective. Because they will spend most of the game hiding, it is also important to keep them cheap, so I don't waste too many points on things that don't help accomplish my first objective of killing their vehicles as quickly as possible." Note how this gives the unit a very specific purpose and also states how they help our overarching strategy. Now when I place the unit on the tabletop I know exactly how they will help me win (which was our stated goal for this example).

Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have met your points limit
Select the next unit and state why it helps you. Remember to also talk about how that unit works with the units you have already selected. For example, we might want a Devilfish because: "This unit can protect the Fire Warriors if there is no good line of sight blocking terrain. In addition, it can block line of sight to the Fire Warriors on the turn they move to capture an objective in order protect them if the game does not end on that turn." Again, you see how this statement focuses on how the Devilfish functions within our method for achieving our goal.

Review your list, your method, and your goal
Now that you have filled out your list it is time to review everything. Compare your list as a whole to your overarching strategy. Does it make sense? Would changing something better allow you to accomplish your goal (i.e. win more easily, be easier to learn with, better allow you to utilize the Bastion, etc.)? This step is generally pretty simple as you are only double-checking your list to make sure everything checks out. At this point you should have a very focused list that naturally works well with itself.

If you keep your goal and your method in your mind while you play, as well as what purpose you stated for each unit in your list, it becomes much easier to remain focused and make the correct plays. It also helps keep you from falling for your opponent's "bait plays" or "distraction units."




With all of that said, I would like to leave a full example of an 1850 point list I have constructed using this method.

The Goal
To win games in a tournament environment against unknown opposition.

This goal is simple and straightforward. It is easy to tell if I meet it during play.

The Method / Overarching Strategy
I will use careful movement and terrain in order to influence my opponent's shooting so he shoots at the units I want him to shoot at. I will use special Deployment rules, such as Deep Striking and Outflanking, in order to get units into his backfield to contest his objectives and threaten the Linebreaker victory point. I will maintain a strong firebase in my deployment zone in order to protect my own objectives.

This method states how I will accomplish my goal in more than one way (securing my own objectives, and denying my opponent's) and also describes what I will do in order to do it (Deep Strike / Outflank units to contest and a strong firebase, along with careful movement to protect). It is also abstract enough that it doesn't dictate what units I have to take in order to do so and could apply to any army.

Unit Selections (in the order that I took them)

12 Fire Warriors (Pulse Rifles)

The Fire Warrior team contributes to my strong firebase by providing a reasonable level of firepower for their cost and also functioning as a scoring unit to control my own objectives.

12 Fire Warriors (Pulse Rifles)

This, second, team of Fire Warriors fills an identical role to the first. By being part of the firebase they add a layer of redundency in controlling the objectives protected by the firebase.

XV88 Broadside Battlesuit Team
- 3 Models with High-Yield Missile Pods and Smart Missile Systems
- Supporting Systems: 2 Target Locks, 1 Early Warning Override


This unit of Broadsides is configured to target multiple threats at once if necessary, in order to minimize overkill. Their long-range firepower makes an excellent addition to my firebase while also being able to target enemies planted on their own objectives, which helps me to deny their objectives. They also pose a large threat and will pull fire away from my Fire Warriors, which will help to keep them alive in order to win the game. Because of this, I will place them boldly, even in the open, in order to draw fire. The Early Warning Override affords me some protection against enemy reserves, and might even accidentally crack open an enemy flier from time to time.

Pathfinder Team
- 10 Pathfinders


Because of my firebase, a markerlight source will serve as a potent force-multiplier. Due to their frail nature, I should be able to place these Pathfinders in such a way that draws my opponent's fire to them and away from my scoring units which are actually winning the game for me. Combined with the Broadsides, this will help to buy plenty of time. If an opponent ignores the Pathfinders, I can move them aggressively up the field in order to threaten and contest their objectives, forcing them to deal with the Pathfinders and not the Fire Warriors.

Hammerhead Gunship
- Commander Longstrike, Disruption Pod, Submunition Rounds


By playing this Hammerhead aggressively, I can draw my opponent's fire onto a deceptively durable tank. Commander Longstrike improves the effectiveness of the tank in all of its functions, and does a lot of work insofar as maximizing the tank's ability to hunt AV14 targets. I have kept the gun drones mounted on the tank to maximize it's mobility, as it can still move 6" and fire with the Drones and Railgun.

XV104 Riptide
- Ion Accelerator
- Twin-linked Fusion Blaster
- Stimulant Injector, Early Warning Override


The Riptide is designed to function similarly to a Sea Turtle vehicle. It's ability to Thrust Move will allow me to move it in the way of other units after they have fired and protect the units behind it, thus drawing fire to itself. The Stimulant Injector goes a long way towards helping keep the Riptide alive through the firepower that will be sent his way while the Early Warning Override, similar to the one on the Broadside, is there to offer some additional protection against enemy reserves. In particular, the overcharged Ion Accelerator profile will be able to threaten deep striking terminators or other tough to kill units on the turn they arrive.

XV8 Crisis Battlesuit Team
- 3 models
- Each has Twin-linked Missile Pod, Plasma Rifle


By outfitting these crisis suits as Fireknife-7 patterns, they remain effective against pretty much all targets. The Twin-linked Missile Pods can allow them to function similarly to Deathrains and even have a reasonable level of effectiveness against fliers, which is important because my list does not have too in the way of dedicated anti-flier firepower. Between the Hammerhead, Riptide, and natural terrain to hide behind, I can utilize this unit's strong firepower to neutralize enemy units which threaten my firebase while keeping them relatively safe at the same time.

Commander (Warlord)
- Stimulant Injector, Missile Pod, Plasma Rifle, Advanced Targeting System
- XV8-02 Crisis 'Iridium' Battlesuit, Puretide Engram Nanochip, Onager Gauntlet
- 2 Marker Drones


I have outfitted this commander similarly to the Fireknives because I will join him with them. This increases the efficiency of my Pathfinder's markerlights, which is never a bad thing. More importantly, by placing my Warlord within the Crisis Team, I can use them to draw fire away from the rest of my army by leaving them exposed at the end of the turn if I need to do so in order to protect my Fire Warriors. In addition, his marker drones, Iridium Battlesuit, and Stimulant Injectors provide a good defense for the unit, allowing them to also soak up fire if need be and also lend support to another unit via cascading markerlights. The PEN increases the efficacy of the unit against whatever they plan to shoot that turn while the Onager Gauntlet can help the commander to win a challenge if worse comes to worst.

20 Kroot

By Outflanking this unit of Kroot, I can threaten to not only deny an objective of my opponent's, but actually capture it as well. When combined with the long range firepower of the Broadsides and Crisis team, I should be able to almost completely eliminate a unit sitting on an objective and take it for myself. This represents a threat that my opponent simply must deal with, as it can steal a game all by itself. As a bonus, they also just so happen to threaten Linebreaker.

20 Kroot

Outflanking is not entirely reliable, or the other unit of Kroot could be killed off. This second unit provides some much needed redundancy, and can also do the same thing on the opposite side of the board. This second unit can also come in to control an objective on my side of the board that is too far away for the firebase to stretch to.

Stealth Team
- 6 models
- One model has Positional Relay


This unit serves several purposes. Firstly, by Infiltrating the Stealth Team, the Positional Relay in the unit enables both units of Kroot to reliably arrive on the table edge they are most needed on, potentially even my opponent's back edge. While not required, the Stealth Team significantly enhances the effectiveness of the Outflanking Kroot units and provides additional firepower towards kicking enemy units off their backfield. Their Stealth Field Generators will greatly protect them while operating so close to enemy units, which makes them preferable to another unit of Crisis suits. Their proximity to enemy objectives will draw enemy fire away from my other units, most importantly my Fire Warriors. Lastly, they can also threaten Linebreaker alongside the Kroot.

Fortification
- Aegis Defense Line with Quad Gun


I am not sure if there exists a more elegant way to shore up this list. What the firebase needs most is a reliable way to protect itself and the Aegis Defense Line does just that. It also enables the Hammerhead to benefit from a 3+ cover save even if it remained stationary, which is an excellent improvement over the 4+ from Jink and the Disruption Pod. It also protects the Pathfinder unit, which has become much more fragile in the new codex and in general allows me to set up a firebase anywhere in my deployment zone, which makes me less reliant on the often pre-done board setups which are so common in a tournament. In addition, the Quad Gun enables any unit in the army to participate in the anti-flier effort as needed, which is something the list was somewhat sorely lacking.

You can see throughout all of these unit selections how I plan to use each unit in part of my overarching strategy in order to accomplish my goal. You can also see how I constantly refer back to how they will help the units that I have already taken. Many of them also mention back-up plans in case things aren't going well.

List Retrospective
Reviewing the list, I see that I have a fairly static, but dynamic, firebase upon which I can mount an offensive. I also have a few units which operate deep in my opponent's backfield, and are largely capable of supporting themselves. Should they require assistance, the firebase has a multitude of different ways to help out from it's longrange firepower and strong blast templates. The Riptide, Hammerhead, and Crisis team are also mobile enough to offer closer proximity support should those units require it. The Aegis Defense Line encourages the firebase to stay somewhat close to each other, which just so happens to mix nicely with the Supporting Fire special rule when it invariably gets assaulted.

Each unit has a clearly defined role within my Overarching Strategy, and the majority of them are also capable of filling a secondary role as situations change. More importantly, because of the Aegis Defense Line, and special deployment via Infiltrating and Outflanking, my ability to respond to different armies and game types is extremely dynamic and flexible. For example, I do not have to send units out into their backfield if there is little benefit to doing so, and can instead reinforce an even stronger firebase or even just use the Kroot in good old fashioned bubble-wrap style.

Notice how I summarize the list as a whole. While I don't explicitly mention it in the retrospective, I was imagining how the army would look once deployed at the beginning of the game. I re-examine how each unit interacts with the rest of the army and if, after looking at the army as a whole, I still believe they are the best candidate for that job. While I did not do it in this example, if I noticed something in my retrospective which did not jive with my overarching strategy, I would have noted the change here, and then re-examined the list as a whole once again.




Here is a summary of the full list:

HQ

Commander (Warlord) - 202
- Stimulant Injector, Missile Pod, Plasma Rifle, Advanced Targeting System
- XV8-02 Crisis 'Iridium' Battlesuit, Puretide Engram Nanochip, Onager Gauntlet
- 2 Marker Drones

Elite

Stealth Team - 185
- 6 models
- One model has Positional Relay

XV104 Riptide - 225
- Ion Accelerator
- Twin-linked Fusion Blaster
- Stimulant Injector, Early Warning Override

XV8 Crisis Battlesuit Team - 171
- 3 models
- Each has Twin-linked Missile Pod, Plasma Rifle

Troops

12 Fire Warriors (Pulse Rifles) - 108
12 Fire Warriors (Pulse Rifles) - 108
20 Kroot - 120
20 Kroot - 120


Fast Attack

Pathfinder Team - 110
- 10 Pathfinders

Heavy Support

Hammerhead Gunship - 190
- Commander Longstrike, Disruption Pod, Submunition Rounds

XV88 Broadside Battlesuit Team - 210
- 3 Models with High-Yield Missile Pods and Smart Missile Systems
- Supporting Systems: 2 Target Locks, 1 Early Warning Override

Fortification - 100
- Aegis Defense Line with Quad Gun





That wraps up this guide on how to construct an army list. If you've read this far, I hope you have found it useful!
Last edited by STS17 on Jul 17 2013 02:27, edited 2 times in total.
Victory needs no explanation, defeat allows none.

User avatar
Amis
Shas'Ui
Posts: 173

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#2 » Dec 19 2012 05:20

Really great and useful article!

I cannot comment more elaborately, because I now have to try it! :eek:

User avatar
yazchar
Vespid
Posts: 99

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#3 » Dec 20 2012 02:03

Great article. I like that you went out of your way seemingly to include a unit like Vespid that is not commonly used to show how it fits into your system. Thank you for this!

User avatar
Arcani
Shas
Posts: 129

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#4 » Dec 20 2012 04:13

This is some great work. It's solid in all its steps and might actually help me with my list building. Thanks a lot STS17! :D
39th Vash'ya Drop Contingent

STS17
Shas'Ui
Posts: 717

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#5 » Dec 20 2012 08:11

yazchar wrote:Great article. I like that you went out of your way seemingly to include a unit like Vespid that is not commonly used to show how it fits into your system. Thank you for this!


Actually I used the list I almost always use at that points level for the example. You can see a few battle reports here of the list in action at the Standish Standoff tournament in Maine.
Victory needs no explanation, defeat allows none.

User avatar
Len'Ra
Shas
Posts: 31

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#6 » Jan 03 2013 10:09

As others have said, this is a great guide :D ! I really enjoyed how you listed the strategies for each individual unit, it was a great help to me as I jump back into the competitive side of 40k completely new to 6th edition. That said, redundancy is something I was once wary of, but have come to embrace. I used to focus on each squad having a single motive and equipment deviation, but have found that having more of the same can accomplish more goals more efficiently. Thanks for the great read!

STS17
Shas'Ui
Posts: 717

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#7 » Jan 31 2013 04:21

Now that this has been up for a while, I'm curious to hear if anyone has used it and what their experiences were with it. Has it helped you improve how you builds your lists?
Victory needs no explanation, defeat allows none.

Caldias
Shas
Posts: 22

Re: [Article] A Guide to List-building

Post#8 » Jan 31 2013 08:13

I've found this article very helpful. I have learned much from the process you go through, such as needing redundancy and the usefulness of Vespids. I've used your process as more of a general way of reassessing how I go about list building, although I haven't gone through your steps exactly.

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