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Metagame Evolution

Posted May 7th, 2008 at 09:34 PM by Jexik
Updated May 7th, 2008 at 09:45 PM by Jexik
Evolution of the Tournament Metagame: A Brief History

Here are a few ground rules outlining my thinking before going forward:

1. Heroscape is awesome, fun, and competitive. These ideals can coexist peacefully.
2. This largely assumes the standard tournament structure that requires a player to use the same premade army all day. Drafting changes things a lot.
3. I suck at Heroscape. I make no claims to be the best, but I like to observe others and play the game. I've also only been playing since last July, and I went to my first tournament in October. If I make any false claims, call me out on my BS.
4. This is largely theoryscape, but it is empirical theoryscape. I watch how and what I play. I watch what the top players play. I listen to and watch how people react to an ever-changing game.

Heroscape: BCE (Before Common Era- I forget who thought of this, but it is quite an effective way to describe the Ďgood old days;í Iíll cite it as soon as I find it).
Metagame-defining units: Krav Maga Agents, Sgt Drake Alexander

For many of you, this time began in late 2005, or whenever you first picked up your RotV master set. Things were simpler, and the units seemed pretty balanced. Early games with Deathwalker 9000 would lead people to believe that he was massively overpowered, or a complete waste of 140 points. In the end, people would decide that he was pretty unreliable. The Zettian Guards and the Viking brothers seemed to be the worst of a good bunch, but the Marro Warriors, Airborne Elite, Krav Maga Agents, Sgt. Drake Alexander, and Raelin the Kyrie Warrior rose to the top.

Due to the fact that uniques were all that there was, it was largely an offensive game. Ranged units that could attack more often and weaken enemy units first were all the rage, and units that could counter or support ranged units were also important.

2006 AS (Anno Squadscape)
Metagame-defining units: 4th Massachusetts Line, Krug

With the releases of Wave 1 and 2 , Heroscape became much more involved. Rise of the Valkyrie was great, but the addition of common squads changed the game forever. Range was still king, but it wasnít entirely necessary. Wave 1 brought a diverse group of effective bonded squads, and even some living projectiles in the vipers. If there was ever a time to worry about Power Creep in heroscape though, it was with the release of Wave 2, Utgarís Rage. 4th Massachusetts line, especially combined with Marcus and Romans stomped all over the competition, most notably in a series of 400 point tournaments in Dallas. Knights of Weston breathed new life into the Champions of RotV, but their slow movement and slightly high point cost at the time prevented them from being quite as favored as they might have been. Minions, although expensive, fared remarkably well against the hero and unique heavy armies of the less experienced players of the time, as well as some of the larger squad-based armies. Krug and Swog Riders turned the Arrow Gruts into an exceptionally powerful force as well, and they ultimately won GenCon.

With Ormís Return, Jandarís Oath, and Zanaforís Discovery, players found a plethora of interesting choices for drafted games, but the situational nature of many of these figures, coupled with cheaper alternatives in Waves 1 and 2, prevented many of these figures from gaining early acceptance. Gladiatrons and Gorillinators were both waiting for future releases to be complete, and Armoc Vipers and Aubriens helped revive Ullarís hopes of tournament glory, but only temporarily.

Sample armies of the period:
2x Roman Legionnaires, Marcus Decimus Gallus, 2x 4th Massachusetts Line, Me-Burq-Sa 390
spiderís gencon winner
3x Arrow Gruts, Krug, 3x Swog Rider, Raelin the Kyrie Warrior 395
neoís 2nd place gencon
3x 4th Massachusetts Line, Airborne Elite, Raelin 400
ryís 3rd place gencon
Krav Maga Agents, Tagawa Samurai, Raelin, Marro Warriors, Me-Burq-Sa 400

The Dark Ages, or ďSpecial EducationĒ (Gencon 2006 until Gencon 2007)
Metagame-defining units: Deathreavers, Major Q9

This was largely a transitional period where not much really happened and heroscape releases slowed down. Wave 5 and Raknarís Vision came out, and people bickered over which units would change the game the most. Many complained about Nakita Agents and the Ninjas of the Northern Wind, or perhaps the Kozuke Samurai, but it slowly became apparent that not only was Q9 excellent for handling these squads, but also for the Gorillinators that the Nakitas were supposed to revive.

Deathreavers also garnered much attention with their infamous scatter ability. This power single-handedly allowed the game to move in a new, more defensive style of play that was previously unheard of. It also wouldnít trigger against special attacks, further cementing the popularity of Major Q9, Nilfheim, and Braxas, three heroes which built upon the failures of the Heroes of Laur- they all had reliable squad-killing special attacks in their arsenals. Sgt Drake and Samurai shed many tears at this time.

Nevertheless, old standby armies like Orcs and 4th Mass continued to see play, but the Romans started to falter as the popular point total rose ever closer to 500. Not only did this mean that you couldnít quite fit all the Legionnaires that you wanted on the board, but it also meant that it was easier for opponents to field Major Q9 or Braxas, or perhaps both.

In wave 6, Kaemon Awa appeared as yet another excellent hero with a special attack, and in a nice medium, 120 point package. Eldgrim helped round out the viking champions nicely and even gave a slight nudge to the Tarn. Heavy Gruts helped out the Orc champions in a time of rising point values, and the undead squads have some really interesting, but unwieldy special abilities.

Meanwhile, a well played army of 'trons was a dark horse that no one quite expected, and came pretty close to winning GenCon.

I find it interesting that the top two GenCon players from the year before came with 4 or more sets of 4th Mass, but didn't do quite as well as they might have. (Tying each other didn't help either!)

Sample Armies
Mattserís GC winner
Q9, Raelin, Laglor, Krav, Marcu, Isamu

Rˇcheanís 2nd place GC army
3x Deathreavers, Kaemon Awa, Airborne Elite, Krav Maga Agents, Marro Warriors

lonewolf's 3rd place army
3x Gladiatrons, 3x Blastatrons, Raelin

The ď3 RĒ Renaissance (Gencon 2007- Present)
Metagame-defining units: Cyprien Esenwein, Marro Stingers, Isamu

The three Rís of competitive Heroscape are Raelin, Range, and Ďreavers. As the pool of available units continues to grow, it becomes less easy to simply grab Major Q9 or Braxas and expect only squads. Similarly, one canít just play all 4th Mass and hope to never face Major Q9. These armies will still do well, and a handful of tournaments have even made provisions against playing tournament standby units like 4th Mass or Q9, but in an unfettered environment, armies with a good mix of offense, defense, and range seem to win the day. They might not have all three of the Rís, but most successful armies will use at least 2 of them, or use Q9 alongside a common squad backbone. Stingers and Cyprien have emerged as the new units to watch, and many playersí inexperience with handling them can often lead to success for those who pick them. Cyprien can simply ignore Deathreavers, and Marro Stingers are tough enough to hang with the Majorís special attack. Together with Isamu, some people are worried about power creep, but this isnít anything compared to what we saw with Utgarís Rage or Raknarís Vision.

One common thread that I see linking many of the new good units in both SotM and Wave 7 is that they have d20 related powers, but are not entirely reliant upon them. Unlike the Anubian Wolves or Morsbane, Marro Stingers and Cyprien have tougher stats, more competitive pricing, and their odds of success are pretty high. The Stingers' ability is even completely optional. Even the next tier of units like Tor-Kul-Na, Sonlen, Iskra, and the Marro Hive do more than cause automatic wounds, summon, and rebirth figures. Similarly, Isamu's Vanish works against just about everything, and with a 55% success rate. Marcu Esenwein's power is a weakness, but it helps make him a ridiculously good bargain. This represents a shift from the convention of having dependable no d20 units like Q9 and 4th Mass, and units that die by the d20 like Sudema. This makes this new class of units less predictable than old units, but still powerful and tournament worthy. If the early card for Sujoah that we saw was any indication, I expect this trend to continue.

Sample army:
spider's NHD army (biggest tournament so far since Gencon)
4x Marro Stingers, Kaemon Awa, Raelin, Isamu, 2x Deathreavers 530


Raelin remains the most stalwart figure in the history of Ďscape. She does wonders simply by being in your army, even with just one or zero order markers placed on her in the course of an entire game. She will always be a cost effective, passive force to be reckoned with, and she has transcended all of the changes and new releases better than any other figure. Many early units, like Krug and Krav, while still powerful and playable, have become much easier to deal with as players learn what to do against them. With perhaps the help of new releases, and more experience, I expect the same to happen with Deathreavers, Major Q9, and Cyprien Esenwein. Some squads, like the 4th Mass, Blastatrons, and Marro Stingers, will remain an ever-present, yet manageable threat. As players worry about creating pre-made armies that can find an answer to each each of these metagame-redefining units, I expect to see armies that are more and more of a hodgepodge, much like Rˇchean's Gencon 2007 army, or spider's 2007 NHD army.

(Note: this was originally a thread I started with the same name. I think I'll eventually put a bunch of my more article-ish posts here as a blog, and get away from the more personal first one . Thanks for reading.)
Total Comments 5


Rˇchean's Avatar
just remember kids: Do not jar .....

wait... that doesn't go here...my apologies

I liked it the first time; thanks for blogging it.
Posted May 9th, 2008 at 05:24 PM by Rˇchean Rˇchean is offline
chas's Avatar
This is a great history of the game! Hope you continue it into the Wave 9 Era.

BTW, BCE (Before Common Era) and CE are general history dating terms now used by scholars. They replaced B.C. and A.D. As our society began to become more multicultural, it was realised that this dating method was purely Christian ("before and after the death of Christ: Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD). Whoever first used it regarding Heroscape was brilliant in adapting them.
Posted June 6th, 2009 at 04:00 PM by chas chas is offline
This needs an update. Quite an enjoyable read.

You might even want to add something about the maps used during those time periods and how they affected the metagame.
Posted December 2nd, 2009 at 09:36 PM by Warlord Alpha Warlord Alpha is offline
Jexik's Avatar
I've been thinking about updating it. (Last year and the year before I did it shortly after NHSD).

It was going to be really philosophical and hokey. "Know your army." Or something like that. I really believe that the armies people use change a lot from event to event, and that a wide array of units are relatively viable. I think it's more important now to make your army internally powerful, and ready for almost anything, rather than worry about any one specific matchup. It's not uncommon to go a whole day without facing Mass, Q9, Rats, Cyprien, Zelrig or Krav... you'll probably face one or more of those, but losing sleep over any particular one of them is just bound to make your army worse.

I think it's more important to understand and have a game plan for your toughest matchups than to compromise the integrity of the army. (i.e. don't put Kumiko instead of Raelin into a Glad/Blast army to give yourself a special attack).

Experience against other skilled players, confidence in the strength of your army, and the patience to get your opponent to bend to your will is what it's all about. And don't worry or gripe about the dice- they're out of your control.
Posted December 3rd, 2009 at 10:09 AM by Jexik Jexik is offline
MegaSilver's Avatar
Do you plan another update Jexik? Perhaps after GenCon 2011, you can have an idea how if fares with all possible units you can see there. Of course, the metagame will still change, but an update written like this would be nice.
Posted August 2nd, 2011 at 06:39 PM by MegaSilver MegaSilver is offline
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