“Who’s the Beatdown?”

If you ever played the card game Magic: The Gathering in a more than casual way, odds are you have heard of Mike Flores. He is best known for writing some of the most influential strategy and theory articles for that game. The best known of all of these is one entitled “Who’s the Beatdown?”. It examines the role a player takes when you and your opponent are playing a similar strategy and how that impacts the match. This concept is not unique to Magic or card games in general. We see the same thing happen all the time in Warmachine.


The concept at the core of “Who’s the Beatdown?” is pretty simple. When you and your opponent are planning to execute the same strategy, one of you will be more suited to be the aggressor. The other player will need to control the game some way, through attrition or denial. If you misinterpret your role in the match, you’ll put yourself in a losing position. This is a lot easier to see when we look at an example.

I’ve been playing against my friend Rick’s Trollbloods to prepare us for an upcoming Steamroller event. About a week or so ago, he played Borka and I played Epic Vlad at 35 points. Here are the lists we used:


*Beast 09


10 Kayazy Assassins


2 Manhunters



Saxon Orrik



Borka Kegslayer

*Dire Troll Mauler

*Troll Axer

4 Krielstone Bearers

3 Trollkin Champions

*Skaldi Bonehammer

10 Trollkin Fennblades

*Officer and Drummer


If it wasn’t obvious enough, we both played really aggressive builds.

We played Convergence. Rick won the starting roll and decided to play first. He ran his Fennblades and Champions directly towards my lines, threatening a No Quarter charge if I advanced with my Doomreavers or ran with my Kayazy. However, this aggressive start did not pay off. Under the effects of Vlad’s feat, several Doomreavers easily charged into his Fennblades, killing four or so, while the others ran to engage his Champions. Their boosted defense and armor required him to use most of his army’s resources his next turn to eliminate the serious threat they posed. In doing so, the rest of my army was largely undamaged and pushed in as a second wave, clearing the circle easily.

What happened here? Misassignment of role. Rick’s army is extremely aggressive and he wanted to put early pressure on me. However, my Vlad list is virtually guaranteed a crippling first strike that can end a game if my opponent isn’t prepared for it. Because my way to win is my speed, Rick needs to absorb my initial charge and retaliate with a second wave rather than attempt to overwhelm me in the early game. Even though it its pretty crappy for Rick to have to sacrifice his Fennblades, my army is going to charge something. By using the Fennblades to bait and absorb a charge, he puts the rest of his army in a much better position to threaten me.

The same scenario presents itself when two denial or attrition based armies duke it out. However, that shit is really, really boring. I also haven’t played any good games to use as examples recently. So, um, just trust me on this, okay? Someone has to play the beatdown.

There’s a term I use internally to kind of explain this. I call it “inevitability”. As the duration of the game increases, one list will have greater odds of winning. This is the army with inevitability. In the above example, Rick’s army had inevitability because he wasn’t relying on a feat or a specific turn to win the game. Often times, Warmachine has inevitability when playing against Hordes. Why? As the game goes on and warjacks drop, Warcasters have to distribute less focus, increasing survivability. Warlocks cannot say the same thing. As the game progresses and warbeasts are killed, less fury is generated and less damage can be transferred, decreasing effectiveness and survivability.

With all this information, we can pretty easily create a list of conditions to check when we want to determine who’s the beatdown when two similar lists are paired. This chart is almost completely ripped off from Flores (as if the rest of the article isn’t. lawl):

  1. Who relies most on a crucial turn? Often, they are the beatdown.

  2. Who has the most shooting? Often, they are the control.

  3. Who has the most movement denial? Almost always there are the control.

To paraphrase Flores, if you are the beatdown, you have to kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. If you are the control, you have to weather the early beatdown and get into a position where you can gain advantage. Understanding this is yet another step to becoming a better player.

Remember, in the immortal words of Mike Flores, “Misassignment of role = game loss.


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