Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cracken and the 1.5 Meta

Well hello everyone! Truthi here for the first time since my 1.5-induced word vomit. And I know what you're thinking: yes, we are still technically a blog! And you know what they say about being technically correct. Since that's the best kind of correct, I would argue that makes us the best kind of blog. Today, I wanted to take a deep dive into why Cracken, and by extension my Vassal World Cup list, has been working so well for me. If you follow our podcast, or saw my interview with IrishMadCat, I've already talked about some of this. Still, a full deep dive in blog format is appropriate for what I feel is now one of the two best Rebel commanders. So join me as I go down the Cracken rabbit hole and gaze into my madness.

Cracken has been around for a long, long time. He's been with us as long as flotillas, so you'd think he'd be a pretty known quantity. Hell, for a while, there were some pretty vocal voices in the community who considered him to be overpowered. And then he just kind of faded out. As such, knowledge of what Cracken does well is pretty thin. I think a lot of people haven't even given him a second thought for quite some time. So let's start with the basics: what does Cracken do well?
In short, Cracken wants ships that go fast. Speed 2? GTFO Pelta! The restriction to mediums and smalls also takes the Starhawk, Liberty, Home One, and Profundity out of the equation as well. That leaves you with a pretty thin field if you want to maximize Cracken's ability. My attitude is there are better commanders out there if you don't utilize Cracken's ability on all of your ships, so that leaves just the AF2, Nebulons, Hammerhead, MC30, CR90, and flotillas. On paper, that's a pretty narrow selection. However, in practice, you can make a pretty good mix of fleets. If you have a moment to take a look at the Vassal World Cup, compare my list to Rasproteus and Roquax. We all have the same commander, but with vastly different fleets. Rasp makes good use of Hammerheads, using Task Force Antilles to further spread damage and enhance Cracken's effect. Roquax uses Cracken to make the already durable MC30 even more ridiculously tough. Meanwhile, my list opts for something in between, using Cracken to make the flagship MC30 very tough, but also enhancing the survivability of my CR90 gunships.
Cracken's effect itself is kind of the ultimate Shmitty counter. If you encounter opponents who like to do chip damage from ships, Cracken is brutally powerful. This is enhanced further by the fact that all of those ships listed above as Cracken's ideal ships also bring an evade. Smaller dice pools means it's less likely that your evade gets hit with an accuracy, which in turn means you'll likely to take even less damage. That's also why I consider Cracken the king of MSU. It isn't that he's the best at utilizing MSU. It's that in an MSU-on-MSU fight, Cracken has a major advantage against the small dice pools coming from fellow small ships. At long range, dice pools of two or less might as well not shoot since Cracken takes away one die, and your evade is guaranteed to get rid of the other. While the impact against small dice pools is pretty obvious, the impact again Salvo might be less so. Salvo pools follow that same definition: it is a small dice pool banking on chip damage. As such, Cracken is fantastic at limiting Salvo damage. 
So what changed recently? The smaller factor is the increasing prominence of Salvo. Republic and Separatists fleets are bringing much more Salvo than their Imperial and Rebel counterparts, making Cracken an excellent choice against those fleets. Starhawks and Onagers are also quite commonplace these days, so limiting their chip damage is quite helpful. The bigger factor is the evade change. Like I've said, every ship Cracken likes to use has an evade. You can now use it at close range and you can also discard it to affect an additional die against larger ships. That impact cannot be overstated. The AF2 under Cracken is a particularly tough ship to bring down because of access to ECM and two big damage-mitigating defense tokens. Foresight is equally frustrating in many cases. The evade change is the main thing breathing new life into Cracken.
Cracken's weaknesses, much like his strengths, are pretty well established at this point. But again, let's go over the basics. The biggest weakness is a general lack of burst damage, especially at range. Without either version of the MC80, your choices for big medium or long range dice pools pretty much go out the window. MC30s and maybe Hammerheads with External Racks give you a degree of burst damage, but require you to be up close and personal. That's increasingly difficult to land for more than one round, so Cracken generally has to rely on chip damage. That can either come from squadrons or from the small long ranged pools of Hammerheads, Nebulons, CR90s, and AF2s.
Speaking of squadrons, they tend to be the Achilles Heel of Cracken. While Cracken is great against ships, he does absolutely nothing against squadrons. That means if your opponent doesn't rely on their ships for damage, you might not get much value out of him as a commander. This weakness was a big part of driving Cracken out of the meta. The game's meta has been squadron heavy for a considerable time, so why bring a commander that doesn't help you in that part of the game?
Finally, the speed 3+ restriction might not seem that bad, but it limits your options more than you might initially think. Unless you're willing to forgo Cracken's effect, flotillas, Nebulons, Hammerheads, and AF2s are essentially locked into one speed once they're in combat range. CR90s and MC30s have slightly more wiggle room being able to switch between speed three and four. That's still not a whole lot of room to work. The impact on the table top is to make your movement significantly more predictable than some other fleets. A good opponent can set up traps to take advantage of that predictability.
Maximizing Strengths and Mitigating Weaknesses
As with any commander, there are ways to lean into what Cracken does well and mitigate what he doesn't. I personally love building around double evade ships with Cracken. It makes keeping and using your evade much easier, and the damage mitigation more reliable. My CR90 obsession is well known, but it's justified with Cracken. It is already a delightful little gunship, which Cracken makes that much better. The MC30 is great for the same reasons. Already a tough ship, you need to look no further than Roquax's list to see how Foresight and ESTs make the Cracken MC30 rather ludicrously durable. Rasp's use of Task Force Antilles provides a similar function for his Hammerhears. They become a cheap, durable wall capable of surviving a lot more than you'd expect. Cracken's extra resilience allows you to be more aggressive than you otherwise might with these ships. I had Admonition shrug off a Mon Karren medium range front arc with only three damage taken in the Vasssal World Cup. CR90s are able to stay on targets much longer and at closer range than you're probably accustomed.
Mitigating squadrons is a high priority for me when I'm using Cracken. While going with a smaller squad ball is doable, it is significantly harder in my eyes. There are a few ways you can go about utilizing a solid ball. First, you can go for rogues. Both Roquax and I went this direction, with Roquax utilizing a maximum size ball and myself using one around the 100 point mark. Both balls are likely to lose the squadron war against someone with a more conventional commanded ball, but they can usually hold their own enough to keep the points trade pretty close. The other route that I'd be interested to try is a straight up squadron heavy approach, likely with a Biggs-Jan ball of X-Wings. This version probably wants an AF2 with Flight Controllers. I've seen CyborgNinja run something like this before and it was pretty solid even before 1.5.
Finally, you have to find your own personal way of dealing with the predictability of Cracken movements. Roquax just made his mc30 ridiculously hard to kill, thus being able to take the punishment of riskier moves. If you watch Rasp play, he will often open with his Hammerheads below the speed 3 Cracken threshold, timing the speed up for when he’s ready to engage. If you’ve paid attention to this blog, you probably know I lean hard into Engine Techs to give myself a wider range of possible landing spots.
VWC Lessons Learned
You’d think I’d be pretty happy with a list that landed me in the top four of the Vassl World Cup, especially with the gauntlet of hell I faced in the Swiss rounds. And you’d mostly be right. The general structure of my list was a lot of fun to fly. I didn’t really realize how much I missed my CR90s with Engine Techs, but whipping around the table at ludicrous speed is a blast. The ET flexibility combined with the Cracken durability was great. I initially didn’t like my squadron ball, but I started to figure them out as I went further along in the tournament. Once I got the hang of holding them back for the counter strike, they started to work very well. They punched about equivalent to their weight against squadron heavy opponents in Sam and Louis Andre, matched Doctah’s squadrons pretty much blow for blow, and nearly wiped Aresius’s more bombing focused squadrons. All in all, I can’t complain.
That really just leaves the MC30 as the only thing about my list I didn’t really care for. I opted for an MC30 Scout with TRCs because I liked the idea of yet another ship being able to skirmish at long range. The thing definitely got me plenty of damage throughout the course of the tournament, but it still felt lacking. That is mainly because I kept seeing opportunities where an MC30 Torpedo with H9s would have been amazing. The trend in the squadron game seems to be leaning harder toward flotilla carriers. Sam had a Vector Gozanti with Admiral Chiraneau that he relied on to keep his heavy hitters moving. Louis-Andre had a GR-75 with Adar Tallon enhancing his already nasty squadron ball. Being able to easily remove either would have majorly changed the dynamics of those games, and netting me a solid chunk of points in the process.
As such, the next version of the list I pull out will change up the MC30 significantly, and alter the rest of the list as little as possible. With more points to spend, I opted to pimp out the defenses a little more. While Admo is still solid in 1.5, it’s hard to argue Foresight looks a little better. It is especially nasty with Cracken. Put EST and Foresight together like Roquax did, and you have yourself quite a durable flagship. All that plus the H9 turbolasers put me just a hair over the 400 point limit, so I downgraded one YT-2400 to Rogue Squadron. I lose a speed and a hull, but I keep the same amount of offensive firepower, which is good enough to get me under the points cap. Here’s the full list, which will naturally go on the shelf for a while per my policy on well performing lists:
Crackenator Strikes Back v2 MC30c Torpedo Frigate (63) • General Cracken (26) • Expert Shield Tech (5) • Ordnance Experts (4) • External Racks (4) • H9 Turbolasers (8) • Foresight (8) = 118 Points CR90 Corvette A (44) • Engine Techs (8) • Turbolaser Reroute Circuits (7) • Jaina's Light (2) = 61 Points CR90 Corvette A (44) • Engine Techs (8) • Turbolaser Reroute Circuits (7) = 59 Points CR90 Corvette A (44) • Engine Techs (8) • Turbolaser Reroute Circuits (7) = 59 Points Squadrons: • Lando Calrissian (23) • Shara Bey (17) • 3 x YT-2400 (48) • Rogue Squadron (14) = 102 Points
Total Points: 399

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