Yes, I am still alive. In terms of WM/H, I've mostly been playing bright pink Skorne. It's like Gators that get shot but have beasts that do lots of work. Otherwise been doing summer stuff like drinking, running, beaches and playing games.
I decided to write this blog post so I don't flood forums and boards with Minion talk which nobody really wants to hear anyway but I wanted to get it off my chest.
Disclaimer: I will probably never play in a Masters event since as far as I am aware we don't use the pack in NZ and even if we did, chances are I wouldn't be able to travel to wherever the event is. So the Masters format will probably have ZERO impact on me directly, except that ADR could be applied to regular SR events - we get no PP support so we do whatever we want.
So the 2015 tournament packs were just released. Just like last year, most of the changes are relatively minor.
Hardcore 2015 is more or less the same as Hardcore 2014. It has its ups and downs, but it fulfills its purpose as being the most basic version of the game - one list, one scenario, heavy focus on assassination and the new meta element of screwing everything up by tanking with ARM and winning on time!
Iron Gauntlet 2015 is also the same as before - 3 lists with the 75pts Gauntlet rounds at the end.
Steamroller 2015 has had some more polishing, and continues just providing a tighter competitive experience rather than trying to shift the meta. Some notable changes include:
Trimming down to 8 scenarios.
Objectives are no longer defined by the scenario but included in your army list.
Deathclock turns are 15 seconds minimum (this is in the Masters pack)
Terrain placement defined a bit better.
The main thing is here is choosing the type of objective you want in your list. For example, if you take light artillery in your list, you can take the Objective that grants light artillery boosted damage rolls and have it in EVERY scenario that features an objective (5 of the 8).
For Blindwater, a few are almost totally useless (Armory, Effigy of Valor). I think the most useful ones will be the Arcane Wonder (-1 cost to your first upkeep spell is pretty good on Barnabas and Rask) and Stockpile (stuff nearby gets up for free if KD). Otherwise you just default to the one that has Impervious Flesh so it is harder to kill.
Masters is now basically Steamroller with Deathclock baseline (although I haven't attended a timed-turns Steamroller in years) - 2 lists, same scenarios, same deal. But it also features the biggest meta-shift element - Active Duty Roster.
Active Duty Roster
The ADR is part of the Masters format. It is basically a list of 4-casters per faction updated every 6 months, and if your list pair includes only casters on this list, you get the Vanguard bonus. This bonus allows you to take 20 points of Specialists for each list. Essentially, you can fully customize and netdeck against your opponent (they might even be doing the same).
If you look at the list of casters, it is quite obvious that most of the casters on the list are of the crappier variety. For example:
Khador: Zerkova / Harkevich / Strakhov / Butcher1
Mercs: Fiona / Magnus2 / Ossrum / Shae
Minions: Arkadius / Midas / Barnabas / Maelok
Ret: Rahn / Garryth / Kaelyssa / Vyros1
Skorne: Morg2 / Hexeris1/ Mordikaar / Naaresh
PoM: Reznik2 / Thyra / Testament / Sevvy2
Trolls: Doomshaper2 / Gunnbjorn / Grim2 / Jarl
CoC: Not Lucant.
According to Hungerford, the roster is populated by uncommon casters from previous year's Masters events. So while you might see a baller like Rahn on the list, it's likely the rest of the list will be populated with stuff considered craptacular to "balance it".
It's a novel idea. It serves as a pretty big buff to underplayed casters - perhaps not enough of a buff to some, but significant nevertheless.
I do have some issues with it however:
1) Faction imbalance
Some factions benefit from a 20pt sideboard much more than others. Ret for example loves teching against specific casters and systems. Put MHSF + UA in your sideboard that you can sub-in vs squishy casters and you're home free. Sub anti-Hordes models like Moros in and out of your list depending on the matchup... winner.
Likewise, a faction like Cygnar can also bring boatloads of specific mercs to sub in for their other boatload of mercs in order to deal with whatever problem happens to be prominent. Fortunately character restrictions will throttle this a bit.
Minions and CoC on the other hand, probably aren't going to bring shit. I mean, in Gators you can probably bring a Sacral Vault and a handful of solos (Thrullgs, primarily) to sub in for beasts or whatever. But you're not getting 20pts of efficiency compared to other factions, for sure.
Looking at this season's ADR, you're probably playing Arkadius in tier (since it's the only good ARM cracking of the 3 and Midas is not good with current releases) and one of the Gator casters. Your specialists for the Arkadius list is probably something like a War Hog (to sub in for a Road Hog if there is lot of ARM), and some Slaughterhousers (for anti-tough). Cool, but not too many options.
Your opponent on the other hand gets to tech against Gators/Pigs (specialist selection happens after list selection so he will know what you're bringing) and gets a lot more use out of his 20pts than you do. Remove some of that anti-infantry from his list, add in some weapon master infantry... gg.
TBH, I don't think it's enough of an incentive to not play Rask given what we have available at the moment, if you're playing to win.
Secondly, some armies like Trolls, Skorne, PoM are much less reliant on casters than Cryx, Minions, or Cygnar since their armies more or less operate by themselves with some caster flavor added. These factions benefit from 20pts of Specialists a lot more than others, and they lose a lot less locking themselves into "weaker" casters.
TL;DR - some factions benefit from it more than others. A lot more.
2) Just make some goddamn errata!
I wish they would just buff crap casters. Even a little bit. Slowly. This Masters format essentially recognizes that some casters are weaker than others, by giving you a significant leg up if you take a pairing of crappier casters. Please bite the bullet and do some errata. Even if you don't nerf anything, just buff crap stuff. There is plenty of data available to make an informed decision.
If you're going to "fix" crap casters this way, it should probably just be baseline for Steamroller every year. There is nothing specific about ADR that demonstrates faction mastery or high-level play (that distinction belongs to the Iron Gauntlet format).
Anyway that's my rant. I think ADR is an interesting idea but it's not really balanced. If this is the way they are going to make crappier casters more viable, I wish this would just be baseline for Steamroller every year.
The Masters packet is basically just a standard Steamroller with the ADR modification and Iron Gauntlet is the "elite" format which actually demonstrates faction mastery.