A Bad Question in an Excellent Community of Questioners
"What do you think about this list?" This is this single most well intentioned yet useless question I see in Warmachine. I love the game, and talking about the game, and one of the best parts about the community is freedom of information and discussion. We've got an amazing aspiration to help each other find the best solutions, which commonly leads to players asking for feedback on lists. While asking for list advice is absolutely something to encourage, how the question is built is as important as how the list is built.
What's Wrong with Getting List Advice?
Nothing is wrong with getting list advice. However, the way Warmachine tournaments work mean you can't afford to have overly general lists with stuff just thrown together because it looks good. Be intentional. Before asking for advice, think about what you want your list to do. Is it a question list? An answer list? A toolbox list for flexibility? Consider which factions it is supposed to play into and what you think it might be weak against. You need to start by understanding your own lists' strengths and weaknesses.
Ask Yourself Questions First
Obviously, you think things through before presenting a list to someone else. You might be like me, though, and find that you process solutions and matchups best when talking it out with an active listener. In order to help my list building and theory-machining, I've come up with a list of questions to ask myself before presenting a pair of lists for feedback so my discussion can be more productive.
- What does each list look like in general strategy and tactics on the table? What are the win conditions? Is it an early or late game list? What do the first 4 turns look like?
- What are the biggest boogeymen for my faction? (For Ret, I identified Legion as a whole, pSkarre, eKrueger as the main ones to consider.) Which of my lists handle each of these? If I'm missing any, then the pair needs revision already.
- Which list handles each of the 12 factions broadly speaking?
- Are either of my lists too general or too specifically tailored? (Revise lists after this question and restart)
- What skews am I less likely to be able to handle? (ie, Doom Reaver terror spam from Khador, as Ret doesn't have a lot of Fearless)
- What do I do when I see something I didn't expect?
That last question is particularly important and revealing, as it not only shows my personal confidence with a list, but how excited I am to play my pair and how much fun I'm having with it.
Asking Better Questions
Once you've got your own thoughts and opinions organized, it's time to get advice. However, presenting someone with a list and simply asking "what do you think?" withholds the list's purpose and all of your own effort. You're making them start from scratch and retread thoughts you've already explored. To get useful feedback, you need to ask the right questions. These questions could be:
- "How should I play this list to maximize its effectiveness? What would your first two turns look like if you played it?" (I did this for a Thyron list recently, and found a new, excellent way to use Mage Hunter Assassins I hadn't thought of before.)
- "What do you think about this as a Lylyth2 answer? If it beats her, can it hold up against anything else?"
- "I really like this list, but I need it to survive Ravyn's tier better. Is there a way to fix that?"
- "My friend keeps beating me with his Cryx answer - how can I change this up to give me a better fight?"
- "One question for you on this one - CROAK RAIDERS?!?"
These are all questions that show deliberate effort and help the person you're asking focus on useful advice.
There Are Good Broad Questions
One of my favorite questions to end with is a very broad and simple question - what am I missing? This game is immense, and it's almost guaranteed that I'll be missing something, like what to do against Stryker1 double Stormwall, or a Splatter Boar list. But asking this gives whoever I'm talking to the opportunity to point out anything they notice that I wouldn't have, like that I've built a list with no magic weapons at all.
Learn to Recognize Good Feedback
Finally, you need to be smart about assessing feedback. Sometimes, you're going to get advice that ignores the original intent of the list and tries to push you in a different direction, typically through a miscommunication, lack of clarity, or just dissenting opinions. And that's okay. Push back sometimes and explain why you made your choices, but be gracious and grateful as you debate constructively. You may not want the feedback you get, but keep a clear head and learn to identify when it's good feedback you needed, but are sad to hear, or if it's advice that misses the mark with your intentions.
Again, I have to emphasize that I love talking about Warmachine. I love discussion options, strategies, synergies, and cool interactions. But by using these thought exercises and being intentional with our questions, we can have far better discussions that provide much greater results.
Next time you ask for list feedback, try using this formula to make it more effective.
- Caster and list
- List pair (assuming Steamroller prep)
- What you want the list to do
- What you expect the list to play against
- What worries you about the list (potential reverse counters)
- Specific parts of the list you want feedback on, ie the last 7 points