I know I'm not the most experienced player around, but I've got a few tournaments under my belt now and I thought I should just write down my thoughts on how I build and pay a Cygnar army.
Before I start, I'm not going to be writing about Haley. She is amazingly good, but I don't play her a lot, since I don't find her all that fun to play with.
First off, there are three ways to win. Attrition, Scenario and Assassination. My take on this is usually to play for attrition first. It's fine to play for scenario win or assassination as well, and if I see an opening, well, then why not go for it. The problem is that a cunning opponent with an intact army can almost always deny the scenario or assassination win. So, to land the scenario win or secure the assassination, I prefer to focus on removing the enemy army first.
Denying the opponent
To to win on attrition, I have to deny the opponent the assassination or scenario win.
The best way of denying an assassination win is simply staying out of range. If his assassination threat range is 19", and I'm 20" away, that's it. He just can't do it. I play Nemo2 a lot, and I rarely have him assassinated, unless I have already lost the attrition game.
The best way of denying a scenario win is to have something hard to destroy to contest the scenario. My personal favourite is Centurion with Fail Safe or Arcane Shield. It has survived both double Vanquishers and a Madrak2 and Mulg tag team. Yes, there are ways to take it out, but quite often I find that the opponent don't have them - especially if I take out Eyriss2 or enemy debuffers. The other option is tarpits. I don't have Boomhowlers yet, though having met them a few times I can say they rock. Just keep Greygore back so he doesn't get killed. Sword Knights with Rhupert are pretty good option... 13/19 with Arcane Shield and Tough is hard to shoot away, throw in Alexia and the Risen as well and I have 30+ bodies for a measly 13 points, enough for a really long grind.
Improving the attrition
Cygnar is very much a combined arms faction. Use this to pressure the opponent. Hunters, Defenders and Black 13 / Gun Mages are great for pressuring the opponent by taking out things at range. I try to position troops so that he can't engage everything, and if possible back up my melee units so that he has to run to engage or suffer extra rounds of shooting. I usually try to move sideways or circle to stop the enemy melee army from engaging me with everything he has. I cannot stay away forever in scenario play, but this can buy extra turns of shooting this way. I usually try to pivot in such a way that I'm standing with my tarpit on wherever the opponent needs to be to win, and circle with my ranged troops behind them.
Staggering the formation is a really good way to attrition better. I fail to do this all the time, it's often so tempting to try to deal the maximum amount of damage each turn. But, I find that I invariably get screwed by double-attack feats, additional die feats or charging Weapon Masters or things to that effect when I do it. Reach infantry is the best for this, but Cygnar does not have a lot of cheap reach infantry. But just putting some models in his charge range and more further back out of his charge range will force me opponent to choose between not charging (and eating more bullets) or charging (and eating the countercharge).
I always consider bringing Rhupert, he's the #1 attrition piece in the game. Tough gives in effect 50% more models, and his other abilities are really good too. Alexia and the Risen is also a very good attrition unit, if I can keep her alive.
If I can, I kill his support. Support is expensive, and it is there to improve army efficiency. Removing it does a lot more damage than removing troops.
First off, Cygnar needs mercs. Playing pure Cygnar is fluffy and fun, but if I want to win I need to have the best tools. A lot of those tools are mercs. Use them.
I try to not bring more jacks than I can support. Most jacks have awful damage output unless they have Focus. Even if I'm playing a Jack caster which does nothing for infantry, like Nemo2, it's usually a good idea to bring some self-sufficient units to tarpit the enemy, block charge lanes and gum up his army while I get into position. If I'm playing a non-Jack caster then I will often just bring one jack. Rowdy, Defender, Stormclad and Centurion are good overall choices. I don't bring an Arc Node unless I really have spells I need to arc. I can 'arc' Chain Lighting or AOE abilities by hitting my own troops, so I just run in a Risen or Sword Knight or whatever and shoot him in the back. It's much, much cheaper than 6 points for a Lancer, and he was probably a Protectorate spy anyway.
I also try to not bring more support than I really need. Support usually has really bad damage output per point put into it, and the more support the less there is for the support to, well, support. In larger games damage (or defense) multipliers get better. Gorman, Rhupert, Journeyman, Rheinholdt and Eyriss2 are very good pieces there. In smaller games I would consider trying to get by with little or no support, and just go for the large body count.
Gun Mages are really that good. I bring the UA, even if I don't marshal anything to him. The ability to pick off stealth solos, whittle down high def / stealth infantry, or push things out of range or away from objectives is invaluable in scenario play. I try to spread them out and stagger them so I don't get them all engaged or killed in one go... having a couple left to push things out of zones can mean a lot in the end game.
I try to have something against everything. Cygnar is good at building toolboxes, maybe more so that any other faction, and this is a strength I think I should play to. In multi-list formats, it's OK to have weaknesses as long as the other lists can compensate. Otherwise, I aim to have the following:
- A way to deal with high defense (17+). Some examples are Electroleaps, Black 13, Thunderhead with movement tricks, Gun Mages + Rangers, Stormcallers.
- A way to deak with high armor (20+). Some examples are double Hunters, Melee Jacks with threat manipulation, debuffers like Ragman, Aiyana, Gorman, and Eyriss2.
- A tarpit, or I will be Steamrolled. Boomhowler is the best, but Sword Knights and Alexia are also good. I hear Forge Guard are a good pick as well, but I've never tried them.
I try to play a lot of games with my army. I try to replace one unit at a time, if I feel that something is weak. I'm too busy to get lots of games every week, but I usually try to get into a few extra games before a tournament, so that I have everything fresh in mind when playing.
Oh, and Caine2 is awesome. Seriously, if you haven't tried him, you must. He's shoots like a ten point unit, he is a blast to play, and attritions well. He's also completely broken in low point games. I try to keep him as far forward as I can without getting him killed (Gorman helps a lot with this). This gives the opponent major headaches with his caster placement.
Also, feel free to ignore anything I wrote. Theorymachine and reading strategy advice is no substitute for experience, and it's clear to me that there are many other ways to win in this game than the way I prefer to play.