I've recently been asked about building list-pairings, and while I personally believe that list-pairings is an advanced topic that requires a solid understanding of many aspects of the game to tackle properly, I'll nevertheless share my thoughts - even if many of you can't really do anything with this information yet, you might find it useful as you progress deeper into the game.

The Basics

I think I already covered this before, but to my knowledge List Pairings go back to MK1 when certain combos and abilities turned certain matchups completely lop-sided. Caine1 and High Reclaimer1 was brought up as an example when the concept was first explained to me - a caster relying entirely on ranged attacks and a caster completely shutting down ranged combat (at the time; that was when clouds were still a focus apiece).

Still, that's not our concern right now. Our concern right now is that you're heading into your first tournament, you're allowed, perhaps even required to bring two lists, and you have no idea what you're supposed to do.

First of all I want to be clear about one thing: Having two lists to choose from means flexibility, which in itself is a tactical advantage. But like all tactical advantages, its worth depends entirely on how well you utilite it. Just like fortunate terrain, or a weakness in your opponent's formation.

So how do we use list pairings too our advantage? The most basic approach is:

The Two-Fold Question

This approach is something a friend of mine exploits very well with his Khador; a question is normally a hard list that requires specific answers, and puts everyone without the appropriate answers into a bad spot; said friend of mine loves heavy armor, so when MK3 dropped he naturally gravitated towards jack- and Man-O-War heavy lists. His current double Shocktroopers list is undefeated in our small meta, as far as I know, and I've noticed a certain reluctance playing into it.

But here is the beauty: To compliment the list, my friend has come up with an infantry gunline, mostly Winterguard, some Widowmakers, which present a completely different challenge and require completely different tools. I've not had the chance to play into him in a serious two-lists game yet, but given the chance, I'll probably play my weaponmaster swarm and brace for a hard game into a gunline.

So armor brick and infantry gunline, or depending on what your faction had to offer, you could also come in with a zerg-rush infantry swarm and a beast brick, or an incorporeal army and a jack gunline, etc., as long as you present two widely different targets.

One List to Rule Them All

Now, there's a bit more going on in that example than just the two divergent faces presented by two different lists.

My friend's MOW brick is really dominant in our meta, so even without a second list, he could drop it with confidence into whatever his opponent has cooked up for him. So is my Issyria weaponmaster swarm. I don't think I've lost a game with it yet, and for every close game I've had a quite dominant one.

In a situation like this, if you have such a dominent list you have full confidence in, the right approach is usually to run that one list heavily, figure out what it's weaknesses, counters and blind spots are, and then cook up a second list that specifically cover those. Except ... it's not always that easy...

Back before MK2 came to the close, I had found a really dominant Caine2 mobile gunline. To this day I don't know if the list was really that powerful, or if it just mashed really, really well with my own strengths and instincts. Either way, I kept telling myself that I'll build a second list that covers its weaknesses as soon as someone handily defeats my Caine2. And then I just kept winning, game after game after game. I never found a weakness that my not-yet-conceived second list could cover...


Of course, this kind of situation is rare, especially when other people start to tailor their own list pairings, making sure they have answers for your trailblazer list. So let's look at a few other ways to build a pair:

Back when I first took up Retribution, I soon realized that a bunch of great abilities only worked against Warmachine armies, so I started to look for a second list that played well into Hordes in general. I was still figuring out Retribution at the time, so I don't know how well it would have worked eventually, but it should be viable approach.

Other approaches I've heard about focus on different strategies, with one list geared towards assassination and the other towards attrition, for instance. This kind of approach requires a keen knowledge of the game, though. You have to be able to determien what both of your opponent's lists do on a quick glance, to determine which of your own lists is the better fit.

Then of course there's the generalist all-comers list and the specialist / dark horse / boogeyman extreme-question list, which intends to force your opponent's hand while keeping all options open for yourself.

Something else I've heard discussed is the double skew, which is similar to the Two-Fold-Question, escept both lists ask the exact same hard question. That would be two different armor skew lists, for instance. The rationale here is that your opponent will have only one can opener, while you have two cans to choose from, so you always pick the one which plays better into whatever his answer is. Like, say, a jack-heavy gunline and a swarm of cheap melee jacks. Or perhaps two quite similar lists, once with a caster that speeds them up and increases their own damage output and another time with a caster that shields them from enemy spells and debuffs. I've never seen this played in the wild, and personally I'd hesitate to go down that route myself, but it is out there.

Then, of course, we have the list pairings where one whole list is dedicated to countering one specific boogeyman. This used to be common practice for a while back in MK2 when Bradigus was at the top of his power and people brought their normal list and their Brad-counter.

And last but not least, some list pairings are simple the sum of its parts, where two lists work well enough on their own that you can pair them up and get a decent result, even without a deeper strategy. And to be honest, you might accidentially stumble upon a deeper synergy that you won't even be aware of until another player points it out to you...


So, as you see, there are a number of ways to build up a pairing, and different strategies require different levels of knowledge and insight. Some of them require very little finesse (combining an arm-skew list with a dedicated infantry list for instance), others come naturally over time (discovering what your problem matchups are), while others may elude you for years to come.

Still, these are the basics, and I hope you found something useful in this segment, as always!