:: Optimality ::
Optimality in Warhammer refers mostly to unit choices, configurations and equipment. Of course we can talk about armies as well, in which case most people agree about a select few being optimal. As this is a High Elf specific forum, I'll instead focus on optimality solely related to us.
Though optimality is somewhat related to context (e.g. army composition, composition rules, local metagame), some choices are downright no-brainers. For us, I'd say Eagles is a good example. Regardless of the context, you will always be better off with an Eagle.
When considering optimality, it is important to thoroughly understand a unit, its strengths, weaknesses and synergies. This is not an easy evaluation, as initial evaluations might lead you to field things that have unforeseen implications. For example, simple evaluation leads us to believe that a White Lion horde would be an excellent choice: damage output is not wasted per rank and the unit goes from strong to downright terrifying if you try and match it point-by-point against anything else in Warhammer (pretty much). From this, one would think that White Lion Hordes would be an obvious choice, right? To examplify this, last year's ETC saw loads of High Elf lists base their army on 1-2 WL hordes. While you could blame a million things for the results at the end, the fact is that High Elves overall performed extremely bad. The unforeseen implications here are as follows:
- huge footprint
- vulnerable to templates
- vulnerable to combo-charges
- vulnerable to being chaffed away
- vulnerable to trickle-combats
These are things we generally fear as Elves and it can be hard to understand why taking a Horde amplifies this, until you try it yourself. As a sidenote I view the Lion horde in my current army list as a big weakness. The problem is, I have yet to come up with a good solution for solving it, though I have a couple of thoughts there's just not enough time and games available! When I play against strong opponents, I frequently feel that the Horde's attributes are being used against me rather than helping me too often The lists that did perform well at last year's ETC featured Phoenix Guard, various support units (smaller SM/WL/DP, mostly) and Shadow Magic. Oh you might say, but ETC is so based on matchups and so on. Well, it just so happens that our very own Ptolemy has done very well with a similar list in an uncomped environment where pairing doesn't exist. I should mention that Tethlis has also had some really good games with a very similar list. Coincidence? It might be, but I think not. You see Daemons fielding their Bloodletters, Flamers and Loremaster Heralds and do well in virtually any environment, in the hands of a capable general.
The essence here is that optimality revolves around finding the imbalances that naturally exist in a game such as Warhammer. Of course, some will vary depending on the context, but usually one can spot them fairly easily - it boils down to utility (what a certain choice gives you), cost-effectiveness (though Eagles are great I wouldn't field 30 of them, even if I could, in a 2500 point game) and synergy. I believe that whenever one wants to try something out, the best approach is to limit the choices that are 'risks' (i.e. ones you expect/should expect can form worse than 'traditional' choices) and leave the rest of the list as a 'safe base' - which leads me to my next point:
:: Proof of Concept ::
Whenever someone has an idea, he wants to test it out. Personally, I prefer to test these ideas against fairly strong opponents with fairly strong builds, though not the worst of the worst (example: I played my Furion-inspired list against Iniesta's 7th ed VC bus and the Dragonlord met Rusty's Daemons in a Baptism of Fire) as I believe this holds little value in the first few games. Naturally the opponents and lists you face will vary greatly in skill if you play at an average gaming club, but you'll have to work with what you have.
When you've gotten to play a handful of games, you should be able to realize yourself whether the idea has true potential for success or not. Personally, I felt that the Cavalry Prince did not have this, as there are too many bad matchups. If Seredain, or anyone else for that matter, manage to score some impressive tournament wins, I would be happy to re-analyze the situation. My feeling was though that there are too many hard counters out there and the skilled players I faced really taught me how vulnerable heavy cavalry is. Anyway, this is getting slightly off-topic. The idea is that you should be able to identify if you have enough good matchups and few enough bad matchups to finish, say, top 20% in a tournament, consistently (barring insane dice rolls etc). This can be a complex task, but if you're competitive by nature and you frequently play against like-minded opponents, it should be solvable - especially with the help of the great community we have here.
:: Success ::
Swordmaster recently asked me in the top linked thread how I define success. Given the paragraphs above, this can indeed seem like a vague concept, hard to put into words. One thing I do know though, is this:
If an army list, in the hands of a capable general, is as strong or stronger than any other army list, it is a successful and optimal list.
Furthermore, it's necessary to test a list against other capable generals with equal intentions. As Sturen so nicely examplified it in another thread:
I remember Tethlis mentioning at some point that he considered every game outside of a tournament as a practice game for an upcoming tournament. I think this is a great approach to the game, for a competitive player, as it puts things in perspective. Thus, we get a second criteria:You can rate one ETC victory higher than 100 beer n' pretzel wins
An army list needs to have tournament success to prove itself as a successful list
Note that a list has to fulfil both requirements. If it doesn't fulfil the first, we could simply be talking about a very skilled player. If it doesn't fulfil the second, we could be talking about a gap in skill level or army power level between the player of the list in question and his opponents.
This implicates a lot - first of all that the general has to be skilled. Assuming the tournament isn't among you and 3 friends in your garage, then the pairing, skill and competitive nature of a tournament will match you up against the people you need to match up against to prove your list as a successful one. Don't get this the wrong way, it's not like nobody without a tournament win can say that they have strong lists (in fact they very well might!), but as far as optimality and success go they've only proven the concept (if even that!).
How does one gauge tournament success? We could talk about a single win, but that could be lucky pairings, natural variance or some insane dice rolls. We could talk about finishing top X % for Y tournaments, which makes a lot of sense as you both have consistency and more data. Also, there is RankingsHQ where we can evaluate based on region, army fraction etc. As people have different opinions about this (one might say 10% in 3 tournaments, another 20% in 5), it's up to each and every one to make up his own opinion of what success is, within reasonable borders (if we start approaching like 50% we're way off reasonable). Personally, I'd say that winning 2+ tournaments or finishing top 3 in at least 3 tournaments would qualify for success. Naturally, this involves tournaments of some size, with strong players. Also, becoming top 5 in a country would definitely qualify for having a successful list (assuming the same list has been used).
Many of you will likely disagree with a lot here. If you have a better way of describing a successful list, I'm all ears! We do however boil down to the basic fact that around the world, the amount of players and clubs who play Warhammer is so big, and the environments are so different. I do believe however that in tournaments, the mindset is very similar, almost regardless of where you are. As such, while not ideal, they make the best objective grounds for comparison and analysis from a competitive point of view (which really does make a lot of sense!).