The Anti-meta: Beta Strike

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Hey all, Danny here as always, and today, I want to discuss the rumblings from BAO.  So, if you were not aware, Brandon Grant goes back-to-back to win the Bay Area Open, the largest West Coast ITC event.  His list is pretty scary with a mix of artillery, drop plasma, and bodies on bodies.   Why is this list so good?

Let’s set the stage here:  A lot of people are talking about 8th edition being unfairly balanced towards going first.  From a myriad of anecdotal evidence, players claim that going first has radically increased their win-loss ratio.   As one #REKT member said, 90% of the game is going first.  Why is this?

Well, alpha-strike certainly seems to be better. An alpha-strike army is one designed to as much damage as possible on the first turn.  Essentially, it follows the age-old adage in boxing of “be first”.  With the changes in terrain and cover, units are more vulnerable to shooting now as the lowly Gant or Guardsmen cannot get even that 5+ from intervening models.  Quite simply, there is less overall protection from ranged attacks, so armies that can do a ton of damage in the first turn, particularly ranged damage as this avoids Tarpit units, have a big advantage.  With either the Auto-Go-First mechanic or the +1 to go first mechanic in ITC, there is a definite need to build lists that can lower their drops and ensure either going first or having the best chance of going first.

The alpha-strike lists are pretty clear here: Artillery hordes, Bobby G and Devas, Stormraven spam, Genestealer+Swarmlord, World-Eaters in a Kharibdyss, these are all alpha strike lists designed to hit as hard as possible as fast as possible.

So, is going first a radical advantage that needs to be adjusted?  It is hard to say without a lot of hard data, but if more than 60% of games are won by the person going first, I do think this would suggest that going first is too strong in the current design space.  If it is closer to 50/50, even with a slight advantage to one side, we can chalk that up to the inevitability of game design as even Chess has a slight advantage if you go first.

On the other hand, the argument can be made that quite simply, we are not building complex enough lists.  A lot of players are gravitating towards the heavy alpha strike lists, which means in a mirror match, whoever goes first is much more likely to win.  If everyone is bringing alpha-strike, then of course who goes first matters the most.  But what if we are simply not playing the game in a mature manner with a wider emphasis on tactics and mission?  Again, if 90% of the field at BAO was alpha-strike lists, then of course first turn is going to matter most.

Here’s the thing: What if you took a Beta-strike list?  Beta-strike lists are counter-punchers as they are designed to go second, avoid or survive the initial hit, and then counter too hard for the other list to survive.  In a Beta-strike list, you don’t care that you don’t go first, and if you get, all the better.   Let’s go back to Brandon’s list:

He takes heavy artillery that can shoot out of Line of Sight, so he can deploy them in a corner and behind terrain.  This ensures that one of his big hitters is safe, so even if he goes second, it is unlikely that the Artillery will be destroyed.   Second, he uses drop plasma squads.  These cannot be hurt because they do not start on the board, so by being able to drop them in whenever, you can apply damage where it is needed, especially if your opponent moves out and exposes areas for dropping in.  Lastly, he takes over 100 conscripts, and well, who cares if they die? Their job is to sit and occupy space so reserve units cannot get anywhere near the artillery or the objectives on his side of the board.  This list is an excellent Beta-strike list because it really suffers little to no damage when it goes second, and most alpha-strike lists are not great at lasting through the return damage.

With the preponderance of alpha-strike lists, it makes sense then that a beta-strike list would actually be even stronger.   Perhaps this is what the game is designed around, two lists that are equally comfortable going second, and in this case, it becomes then a game of who can mitigate damage and hold key objectives.   This is far more tactical of a game, and while alpha-strike lists can be easy to pilot, once they begin to take real damage, they fall apart quickly.

One of our local players, Darrian, has a Bobby G and the Deva list that is the best version from what I’ve seen because it can function as a beta-strike list.  By using transports, if he is likely to go second or is facing a list that can really hurt him if he goes second, he can protect his devastators by popping them into transports.  This makes it far harder to do real damage to them as even a rhino still takes some shooting to kill.   Of course, Darrian also uses conscripts to wrap his lines, so we see a lot of what Brandon’s list has.

Overall, I think it is too early to say that Going First is too strong.  Partly, this is because of a lack of large-scale data, but also because I think the game is too new, and I think players have yet to really start to develop lists that are not just alpha-strikes.   Of course, perhaps alpha-strikes are too good, but then, that is even more incentive to take a beta-strike list.

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