The biggest mistake every new or up and coming FC makes is misunderstanding this: what makes a good doctrine. It's quite hard actually and takes a lot of experience. You don't necessarily need to be an FC to work it out, but it certainly helps. Ironically I've found the best indicator for who gets it and who doesn't is actually solo/small gang experience since the thought processes are much the same.
This post is going to be more on theory than actual EFT'ing and numbers.
Step 1: What do they fly?
The first thing to understand about any alliance - no matter what their official wiki, FCs, leadership or SRP policy claims - will have 2-3 doctrines in any given conflict. In 3 and a half years of experience, I cannot think of a single exception to this rule. Whether their official doctrine list has 2 or 10 doctrines, there will always be 1 or 2 comps they trot out to almost every fight, with possibly a 3rd situational one on the backburner. Your first step is to find out what these are and get the fits for both their mainline DPS and the accompanying logi. Talk to your friends who've fought them, talk to their other enemies, and most importantly just scower through their killboard. The feature of zkillboard to filter by multiple criteria is incredibly useful for this. There's no links to click on for this, but you can manually edit the URL quite easily. For example:
- TEST's Hurricane fit
- Snuff Box's Machariel fit
- GSF's Bhaalgorn fit
- NC's Oneiros fit
- PL's Sleipnir fit
- Triumvirate's Rattlesnake fit
- TISHU's Proteus fit
Usually I'll get that page and ctrl-click the first 30 odd, then ctrl-W back through them just glancing to see they're all roughly the same fit so you're not finding outliers. For the sake easy discussion, lets pretend we're The-Culture fighting GSF.
From a cursory glance through the KB, we can see their main doctrines at the moment are Bhaalgorns, Proteuses and Crows. Inty/T3D fleets are usually a bit hard to identify since there's so much noise in the signal looking for those on killboards, but you can generally assume any alliance that pushes a numbers advantage has one.
Step 2: What are their strengths and weaknesses?
This is where things get a little hard. You can take a raw stats approach to this when you're new, but experience will always win out here. First we need to look at the alliance itself and it's pilots. Here's some key points I'd suggest looking at:
- Numbers: Huge, they regularly for 300+.
- Average Pilot SP: Fairly average, a lot of outliers at both ends.
- Adoption rates: Slow, that is, their members are slow to train/buy new doctrines. We'll get to why this matters later.
- FC Skill: This one is quite hard and takes a level of self-honesty you won't find on /r/eve. They have a couple of solid but not exceptional FCs, followed by a slew of lower-tier FCs to run support/inty/T3D fleets.
- Capital Escalation Ability: High. This is as much about their ability to field these fleets effectively as it is about raw numbers.
- Supercapital Escalation Ability: High. They're incredibly slow to form/move, but it's coming if you hang around too long.
Next we look at the doctrines (as a rule of thumb, always assume links on T2 cruisers and above). Are there resist holes? Weak EHP numbers? Weak resists generally? Large sig? Slow? Low Range? Bad application? Requires blingy mods to work? etc:
- Huge Tank
- Tons of utility (neuts, bonused webs, and 2 free utility mids)
- Fully overheatable tank
- Solidly cap stable
- Low DPS
- Very Short Range, 393 dps at 44.5km+12.5km with Scorch
- Slow warp speeds, slow align, slow MWD speed
- Mediocre resist profile
- Solid Tank
- High Resists (no real resist hole to exploit)
- Fairly Bomb-proof
- Decent tracking (7.5%/level tracking bonus on the subsystem)
- Extremely slow
- Mediocre DPS (loses a damage mod to fully plug the Explosive hole)
- Wasting the scram range bonus by using the wrong subsystem for some reason (scared of damps?)
- Hugely vulnerable to cap pressure (active hardeners, cap using guns and no cap booster)
- Crazy range
- Crazy range
- Crazy range?
- I think someone just looked at Talwars and wanted to reinvent the wheel
- Shit Volley and Shit DPS
- No EHP (even by inty standards)
- Not cap stable (in a perma MWD inty fleet no less?)
- Not <2s align so insta-svipuls can catch them
- Idk I killed a fleet of these a couple weeks ago and they just suck. I hadn't even looked at the fit until I started writing these pro/cons so I think I'm just gonna ignore them for the rest of this post.
So the bhaalgorns have absolutely no range. They are completely incapable of applying any damage whatsoever beyond 60km. Even if they get on top of you their DPS is fairly anemic, however with all those webs and tackle you'll be brawling to do the death if they do manage it. There's effectively a 40km black hole surrounding them that if you enter, you aren't coming out alive.
The Proteus fit is decent, but has some strange changes from the current accepted FoTM Proteus fit that even being incredibly generous I'm struggling to justify. Switching the 2nd damage mod for a 2nd explosive hardener to plug the Explosive hole makes sense situationally, but dropping the tackle subsystem for a Dissolution Sequence (+Lock Range and +Sensor Strength) seems a bit silly. The cap battery makes the fit fully cap stable with everything running, but having it leaves you hugely vulnerable to neut pressure. Neuts will still have no trouble turning off your hardeners and the lack of a cap booster leaves you without any way to quickly get them back on again. If true cap stability was the goal, making one or all of the hardeners passive would do the job much better and leave you that mid slot free for something else like a cap booster or a damp.
The crow fit is just shit with no redeeming qualities. Sorry boat.
Anyway, these are all decent doctrines, but our job here is to nitpick for weakness to exploit. In conclusion:
- Extremely short range
- Medicore T1 resist profile
- Vulnerable to neuts
So based on that, let's compile a little wishlist of things we want from our counter doctrine(s) in order of priority:
- Long Range
- Ability to clear tackle (GSF can throw a lot of frigs at you)
- Ability to deal explosive damage
- High damage
- High alpha
- Bomb resistant (GSF are p good at this)
A quick side note on alpha: Being able to alpha your target is the last fall back you have as an attacker. There is no real counter to it besides throwing money and/or supercapitals at the problem. Usually it's achieved by using a damage bonused artillery hull, or by just throwing raw numbers at the enemy. Generally speaking: Artillery > Beam Lasers > Cruise/Heavy/Light Missiles > everything else. Every so often the meta swings back to everyone flying Alpha-based comps. As long as you have enough damage to kill the enemies logi, you've always got a chance.
Step 3: Selecting a Hull
After playing for a long time you tend to just pick up on how every ship in the game gets fit, but if you couldn't honestly list off every ship in the game from the top of your head (Race to Race, T1/T2/T3/Pirate/Faction, Frig to Battleship), I find it helpful to just log in a Jita alt, go the Market, and start looking through the group tab for every single ship. Partly to look for the bonuses we're keen for, but mainly just to jog your memory. There's almost 300 combat ships in the game.
First off, let's short list some weapon systems we're interested in:
- Beam Lasers
- Heavy Missiles
Railguns would be acceptable if there's something else exceptional about the ship, but the combination of the terrible damage profile against the Proteuses, the low alpha and the anemic-ish damage isn't going to win us any major fights.
A T1/Faction ship gets 2 bonuses, a Pirate ship gets 2 very strong bonuses, a T2 ship gets 4, and a T3C gets 5-8 (1-3 from each subsystem). Your goal here is to try and find a ship where as many of those bonuses are utilised as much as possible. Generally speaking damage, range, tracking and resist bonuses are great, Rate of Fire kinda sucks on most ships. Tracking and resist likely won't matter too much here though since we're looking for something kitey-ish. We're also looking for ships with solid prop mod speeds, and 2.5 au+ (i.e. BCs and below) warp speeds. Don't worry about cost, we can whittle down based on that latter.
Here's a shortlist of ships that, purely based on the stated criteria suit the job well.
- Sleipnirs (or any Hurricane-based hull for that matter)
- Nightmares (we can afford a couple hyperspatial rigs based on the engagement profile we're aiming for)
Again even if you're experienced enough to know what the ships do, it's good to be comparing actual fits with actual numbers instead of hypotheticals and hearsay.
No real innovation here, the standard FoTM HML Cerb fit that half the alliances in the game already run. Solid damage, impressive alpha, fantastic range, and HMLs apply perfectly to just about anything with a few Huginns in your fleet. Against the Bhaalgorns you can also load Fury missiles and pump the DPS up to 525. The one downside is that their damage bonus is only to kinetic missiles, but against the Proteuses we can just load Inferno missiles and still do 360 dps. These ships are FoTM for a reason and are a solid candidate.
Again this is the standard Sleipnir alpha fleet fit. I'd hesitate to call this ship FoTM purely on account of it being rare due to the high SP requirement, but this is indeed the standard fit. It has 2 damage bonuses and a falloff bonus, perfect. 5.6k alpha is incredibly high with solid DPS, selectable damage types, it applies damage well beyond 100km with Tremor. It's also pretty solidly fast. They're fairly vulnerable to bombs, but that's really the only downside to it's combat capabilities.
Hurricane Fleet Issue
Essentially the exact same ship as the Sleipnir, except with a tracking and optimal bonus instead of falloff and a T1 resist profile. 80% the same on all the important stats, except it's half the price. The 50% tracking bonus let's it clear tackle much better too.
This is a fairly standard armor Machariel fit switched around a little to accomodate an MWD. You keep the Autocannons in your cargo for refit off a Nestor in the fleet, and the heavy neuts will absolutely wreck the Proteuses if you brawl them at zero. The Alpha on the artillery speaks for itself. In the hands of an experienced FC, these things will absolutely eat the Bhaalgorns for lunch and with ACs and a few web lokis brawl outrageous with the Proteuses.
This is the one ship that's kinda "out there" with the current meta. That's actually very squishy for a battleship, but these things can reliably kite and out run both the Bhaalgorns and the proteuses constantly. They can straight up kill the Proteuses in the right numbers, but will otherwise be able to whittle down logi quite effectively. The tracking on these things with the hull bonus, the TEs and the tracking computer is actually pretty incredible and won't have any trouble hitting Proteuses at the ranges you'd be looking to engage. Dropping a heat sink for a sig amp if you're worried about dumps would be a solid plan.
Once upon a time, every alliance in the game had a Sentry Ishtar doctrine. They fell out of favour after several nerfs in a row, but in this particular situation they seem like a solid contestant. The engagement vs the Bhaalgorns almost exactly mirrors (infact even more favours) the one vs Baltec fleet Megathrons that originally started its popularity. Drop Bouncers, apply perfect damage to a battleship that can't shoot you back while just MWDing around the grid with impunity. The small artillery is also amusingly effective at killing Tackle. Vs the Proteuses, they're still going to be able to kill logi and the Proteuses will struggle to apply meaningful damage to the Ishtars as long as they stay at extreme ranges.
Step 4: Analysing the Engagment
If you take away nothing else from this post, remember this: Your plan is more important than the ship you're in.
So we now have a short list of ships we're looking at. After going through that process, you've probably realised a lot of things you didn't initially think. For example I'd kind of mentally written off the HFI as being the poor man's Sleip, but after thinking about it I think it has solid benefits. The Nightmare fares worse than I originally considered vs the Proteuses due to the EHP hit from hyperspatials, and the Ishtar is an even more solid contender than I originally thought.
DPS graphs are bad when you're looking at tracking alone, but let's consider just purely the perfectly applied damage at range. Remember the intended engagement profile is 60-90km while kiting away.
And now again vs the stats that we'd roughly expect the Proteus to have travelling at 30 degrees to us.
Suddenly the cerb looks terrible which is a little unfair when you consider Huginn support. The Sleip and HFI both turn out to be pretty terrible relatively at killing enemy ships. I wouldn't discount them out of hand, but at this point when you consider their warp speeds, their cost relative to the other options, and HFIs weak tank, we are getting pretty close to discounting them.
The Nightmare has truly hideous damage output on both of these graphs as expected, but it's quite something to see it in black and white like that. This happens to be with Imperial Navy Standard loaded, and you can see it at every sit range beyond 20km it applies by far the best damage.
As expected, the Ishtar is by far the stand out performer here. Ironically, it's also the cheapest ship in our lineup, beating the HFI by 20m.
The Machariel looks a little dissapointing, but remember that damage graphs are not every thing. That huge front loaded damage and alpha from the artillery cannot be discounted. Every other ship here could under bad circumstances, fail to kill anything and die horribly, but the Mach is the one ship here that no matter what, you know is going to down quite a chunk of ISK with it.
This sounds obvious, but it really isn't. In a fight vs the GSF, you are unlikely to have the high-ground. You're either going to be fighting them in their territory on their terms, or you're going to be defending your own home against many times your number. In our hypothetical scenario of The-Culture in Fountain, the latter is very much the case. If you are heavily outnumbered, you cannot "fight your way in". You have slip in, get to your intended engagement profile with pings, probes and warp ins, and be ready to get out at any time. For this reason, I would almost entirely dismiss the Nightmare despite it being by far the best performer once in combat. They're the slowest of all our options on prop mod speed and align time. If you get caught by a ball of tackle frigates or dictors on a gate, you're going to have a hard time dealing with that. The Machariel despite being an armor battleship has a much faster align and almost twice the prop-mod speed. Again, testing assumptions as that wouldn't be true of almost any other ship.
Getting on grid
This is the hardest part by far, fleet fights are something of a Ballet. Neither FC wants to engage on the other FC's terms, so you need to have skills and a doctrine that will allow you to force their hand. Both of the GSF doctrines in question are extremely slow and cumbersome, so in this case that's actually not particularly hard. It should be noted that by far the two single biggest factors in this are 1) how fast can you warp and 2) how fast can you burn out of a bubble. The latter being extremely important in this situation.
To that end, all of these ships are extremely good. Machs match the Proteuses in warp speed and can burn out of bubbles very quickly (much faster than the Proteuses themselves), again no small feat for an armor battleship to beat a Cruiser in agility.
To add a side note as well, this consideration is the counter-argument to the supposed invincibility of supers. While a well placed cyno can place them on a grid where they want to be, it's rarely that simply with the highly agile ships in the current meta. To take a recent example from my own experience just a few days ago, I was FCing a large Cerberus fleet in Tribute. A PL interceptor probe warp on to us and lit a cyno, but we were aligned out and already in warp to safety before most of the supers had even appeared on grid.
Any high end fleet comp can be cyno'd on top of or warped to a certain position on a certain grid, but a significantly more agile fleet comp is under no obligation to stay there. Unless you get some really nasty tackle on them. It's also important to realise that raw numbers are unimportant, it's all relative. Intys are agile to T3Ds, who're agile to Cruisers, who're agile to Machariels, who're agile to Battleships, who're agile to Capitals, and so on. The buck stops at a triage'd FAX.
Doing the dance
You're now on grid with the enemy fleet at the range you want to be and killing things. How well can you keep it that way?
In our engagement, that's really easy. The Bhaalgorns have a maximum prop mod speed of about 1km/sec and they're held back by their AB logi, so that's not particularly hard. All of our ships go much faster than that. Prots go about 500m/s when anchored so you can dictate range on them all day.
What about their tackle? Dictors and random interceptors are going to be coming in for scrams constantly. Remember you need to stay out of the Bhaalgorn's 40km black hole or you'll fall in and die. It doesn't take much to lose one guy here one guy there to not anchoring up, it happens all the time in every fight.
A good example I'd give of this is the AB Confessor doctrine we used in TISHU. Hilarious as that video was (18 Confessors and 6 logi going toe to toe with over 150 people including caps), it mostly worked because SMA were shit. Our optimal was 30km in Defensive mode and 50km in Sharpshooter, but they'll let us just sit there at 10-30 popping ship after ship while they killed nothing. A better FC would have realised this and warped out, but then a better FC wouldn't be in SMA. After a few weeks of dunks, a couple goon FCs realised they could just take hurricanes, lose the 5-10 that got scrammed, burn to 50km completely negating the sig tank and haze us with tracking ammo. Those Confessors were unbelievably slow and while we could probe warp on people really quickly, we had no ability to dictate range over the course of the engagement. Warping in and out repeatedly can work well for sniper doctrines that need to maintain range (as long they can kill tackle burning at them), but is generally quite ineffective in the reverse with short range doctrines.
This is where I feel we part ways with our Hurricane hulls.
The fight is over. You won or lost, it doesn't really matter, but now you need to get home. If you achieved a sure victory then it's probably not to worry, but even if you won the ISK war there's still plenty potential to lose your fleet. Maybe the hostiles have allies on the way, maybe bombers, maybe the enemy fleet can still kill you if they catch you at 0 in a bubble. Either way it doesn't matter.
This is exact same as getting in, except this time you're going to be doing it potentially at a major disadvantage and almost certainly at an information deficit due to losing tackle who could scout. The worst possible scenario is bouncing safes until you can safe log, but that's a rare occasion.
The machs are going to struggle a little here, because you've likely lost drones and if you get swarmed by tackle there's not much you can do. However you can always safe log them.
Our sleips on the other hand, those are in a rough spot if you lost the fight. They have weak tracking, no drones, and the cost per ship is super high. The machs bring something to the table that makes them worth the risk, but not the Sleips.
Step 5: Acquisition
So we've narrowed our list to Machs, Cerbs and Ishtars.
Now let's see what we can actually fly. For a start, what doctrines do we already have? Well if we really were The-Culture this would be an easy one, we already have a Mach and Cerb doctrine. We'd need to switch a rig on the machs or change the fit a little, but that's not hard.
That's a big part of it, if a doctrine you already have does 90% the same thing, you should just use that. Remember the 3 doctrine rule? It applies in reverse too. Better to get 150 people in a doctrine thats 90% as good, than 100 people in the perfect doctrine.
What about SP? Well let's say we were a newbie-friendly alliance. Ishtars in their current state pretty much require T2 drones to be effective. Cerbs also require good missile support skills and T2 HMLs to be effective, so those 2 are likely out of the question. Machs though? Fuck yeah you can fly those with T1 guns and Battleship 4 no bother. As long as you've got Motion Prediction 5 and can use T2 everything else (besides the neut) it's fine.
What about cost? Well that's for you to decide. It depends on your alliance, your members, your SRP policy and your alliance wallet. In our example, Ishtars and Cerbs are the clear winner there, but the Machs can justify the cost and we already have them anyway.
In conclusion of our example, my view be temporarily bench our Cerb doctrine, get the Ishtars, and bring Machariels.
They key takeaway here is that it's more than just fits. EFTing in a vacuum gets you no where, ships should always be designed in context of a particular engagement, and if they work well in engagement too that's a bonus.
There's probably 30 or 40 fleet comps in the game that make optimal use of the bonuses and strengths of the hulls used in them. This is the true strength of T3s, between Tengus, Legions and Proteuses they have a place in almost every meta, but there's no real scenario where they are the true top dog.
EVE is in a better place right now than I've ever seen it. Gone are the days of coalitions where it was all about throwing non-optimal fits into the grinder with a numbers advantage. Today, everyone can EFT counters and fly top dog.