A Post-Mortem on AHAC T3CsTiwaz Inkura
Enough time has passed since the T3C change that I’ve wanted to take a second to examine the “dreaded” AHAC build of T3Cs that were one of the major fits before the change and now have all but completely disappeared after. Used mainly by two entities (Pandemic Legion and Northern Coalition) but generally popular (CO2 and GotG as well as most Low-sec entities maintained AHAC doctrines) they were a main-stay fleet composition for a long time. A lot of people had ideas about them and I think there are a lot of misconceptions about them as well and I will try and explain some of these away.
From the beginning
First of all, for those not familiar I guess I should explain exactly what an AHAC is. “AHAC” is the term most of Panfam used to describe armor-fit, after-burning strategic cruisers. More specifically it describes the Proteus and Legion as mainline DPS ships with Loki support. The name itself comes from an older fleet concept, namely Zealots, which was an after-burning, armor-fit HAC.
While different alliances maintained slightly different fits, you generally saw these basic fits:
Usually you supported these by putting either Guardians or Oneiroses with them on grid. Often triage as well. Now let us examine what we got here:
The old Proteus had 223k EHP faction fit, put out 570 DPS and had a built in 57km point, or alternatively a 21km scram. It also brought an Electronic Warfare mid. In the small package of just 151 signature radius.
Thd old Legion sported 208k EHP, 500DPS and brought 2 ewar slots with it in just 130 signature radius.
A fully fit T3 ran you about 500-600 millionn at the time, more if you put deadspace hardeners on, but that’s not the whole story: T3Cs have skillpoint loss. Now, to run a combat capable T3 having all subsystem to 5 was more or less a requirement. A subsystem skill at lvl 5 is about ~200k SP which translates to, at the time, between 0.5 and 2 injectors. Say we take the middle of the road here and assume you had to buy one injector to replace your lost SP, ( with injectors at the time ranging around 600 mil) this brings our total to 1.1-1.2 billion.
The myth of sig-tanking and Battleship-Level tank/DPS
A frequent criticism against the old T3Cs was their ability to sig-tank while having the EHP of a Battleship. This is factually problematic. First up, 200-220k EHP is a low figure for fully faction fit Battleships that are even remotely in the same price category as T3Cs. A Machariel (which is the closest comparison in a BS hull) sports 280k EHP in a faction active fit while costing, at the time, ~600 mil fully fit. Even now you can build a full X-Type Machariel and stay under 1 bil, at which point it sports 320k EHP. So let’s tackle the next claim: Battleship levels of DPS.
This is a bit harder for me to counter, since, yes, alpha/volley-fit Battleships sport indeed similar DPS numbers, but this completely ignores the fact that they are alpha and not DPS fit. A DPS fit BS can easily have 800DPS or more (especially in shield, but even a DPS fit autocannon Machariel with similar tank levels puts out ~720 DPS). This brings us back to what I said before: alpha damage potential.
Sig-tanking in large fleets hasn’t worked for years
In most fleet fights, the DPS you’re doing is nearly irrelevant, what you really care about is the ability to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time, specifically, in the time before repair cycles arrive in from logistics ships. In other words you care about the “volley”, or “alpha”, your fleet does. A Machariel has ~9k alpha strikes in the more common artillery variant, the T3Cs sported 2k. What does this mean exactly? Most of the time it means that you need at least double the amount of T3Cs to actually kill something compared to Machariels. But I’ll let that point stand, since you could emulate BS levels of DPS in a fleet fit T3C. Finally let us tackle the claim of signature-tanking.
Sig-tanking in large fleets hasn’t worked for years.
Every even remotely competent Fleet Commander won’t undock his fleet until he made sure he has sufficient support to apply damage to what he is fighting. If you are trying to fight AHACs with large guns, you need webs and paints, and that is what people brought. On the other hand if you were trying to counter large guns by bringing T3Cs you had to spend the first number of minutes of a fight not clearing their DPS ships, you had to spend them trying to clear all the webs and paints out of a hostile fleet.
But there is an easier way, the most common counter to T3Cs wasn’t T1 battleships, it was T1 battlecruisers, specifically Hurricanes. With Hurricanes you didn’t even need to bring webs; it was enough to have an assortment of target painters with your fleet to make medium artillery guns apply reasonably to T3Cs.
Subsequently the ability to “sig-tank” was never really much of a factor in a T3C fleet, unless you were fighting against idiots.
Cost is not a balancing factor / “BUT HACS!”
A lot of my argument about T3Cs so far has been spent on arguing in part about their cost. Now a popular counter argument is to say “cost is not a balancing factor”. Quite frankly I feel like this argument is barely worth spending any time on, so I’ll keep my response to pointing out a case study:
Recently CCP nerfed Machariels; they did so not by just making them useless (much like what they did to T3Cs), but by increasing their cost. What followed was an almost instantaneous and complete abandoning of Machariel doctrines as “main-stays” by almost all of Nullsec in favor of cheaper alternatives. The notable exceptions to that abandonment are the exact same entities that used to use AHAC style T3C doctrines. And I just want to mention again, the real cost of losing a T3 pre-changes was still higher than that of a Machariel now.
But AHACs were oppressive! Think about the poor HACs!
This was another popular argument against the power-level of T3Cs which was that they are oppressing the poor, poor heavy attack cruisers out of the meta! Won’t anybody think about the HAC? This argument wasn’t brought on by anybody with any real sense of the game. Again a simple case study debunks this:
battlecruisers [..] became too competitive with HACs
The T3C nerf came. It nerfed T3C AHACs into oblivion. That must mean we are back into the glory age of HACs right? With wild Zealot and Ishtar fleets roaming the land!? Months after the T3C nerf, HACs are still not used. I will spend a moment longer on this since it ties into my next point, the reason HACs aren’t used is because they are garbage compared to T1 BCs. After battlecruisers got their range buff they became simply too competitive with HACs. No one is paying 6 times the price for an Eagle when it’s basically a minimally better long-range Ferox with shittier performance up close. And as before, sig-tanking doesn’t work in the large fleet meta, so the advantage of small sigs on HACs isn’t relevant.
New vs Old
Now let us put these points together and examine them more closely in an example. Assuming cost isn’t a factor and that AHACs were good just because of their EHP values, were that to be the case, why aren’t we seeing AHAC fleets anymore?
A “modern” Legion can get virtually the same “on paper” stats as the old Proteus as long as you spend enough money on them. A modern Legion can be fit to have ~600DPS, 250k EHP with a signature of 155 while being 160m/s faster than the old Proteus. You are paying for these stats of course as the Legion fit described above runs around 750mil in Jita (and before taking into account that you can’t supply even remotely enough ded-hardeners at those prices, the average price if you buy a whole fleet in that fit will easily approach 1bil) and with current prices for skill injectors (810mil at the time of writing) total at around 1.56bil. But that shouldn’t matter, right?
Cost is not a factor. We can even pretend sig-tanking works as the Legion above is strictly better at sig-tanking than the old Proteus; it has virtually the same signature and is a good bit faster. So why aren’t we seeing these Legion fleets wreaking havoc all over New Eden?
To answer this question we have to come back to who actually used T3Cs and what they used them for. As I mentioned earlier, the main users of T3Cs pre-nerf were PL and NC.. What do both of these entities have in common? Both have massive super fleets and both are the first ones in line to take a wormhole to ruin somebodies day, while usually having less characters in fleet than the people they are fighting.
Let us first examine the easier of those, wormholes.
Wormholes severely restrict your doctrine choices, in the scale of large fleets, and assuming you are not content with sitting 150+ off the actual fight in some kitey-bullshit third party doctrine, you basically have the choice between Battlecruisers, HACs and T3Cs. HACs are shit as I mentioned before, so really you had to pick between using T3Cs and Battlecruisers. Now we add in the fact that both Pandemic Legion and Northern Coalition have usually less pilots available than the people they like to fight.
We like to pretend skill matters a lot, but there is only so much you can make up with it
Back then and still today, the most common Nullsec fleet consists of amassed T1 BCs. Hence even without any scouting, it is reasonable to assume that whatever exactly PL/NC. will face once they exit their wormhole is some form of amassed T1 BC fleet. We all like to pretend skill matters a lot, but there is only so much you can make up with it. 100 Feroxes will not beat 250 Feroxes. As such, the only option left is to “upship” in some form if you wanted to engage “the blob”, i.e. T3Cs. This alone is an unsatisfying answer since it would still not explain why we don’t see the new Legion brazenly taken through wormholes right into hostile fleets.
But there were other reasons to use T3Cs and NC./PL certainly didn’t just use T3Cs when they came through a wormhole (though especially in the later part of their life-cycle T3Cs had been largely replaced by faction and pirate battleships unless wormholes were involved). This ties into the other similarity between NC. and PL. They both have big super fleets they like to use. Using supers however always has this small problem that hostiles have a tendency to run away once it cynos in. How can we counter this? By tackling hostiles with something.
The harder that tackle is to remove, the better. The old Proteus sported one or two 57km points or 21km scrams. On.Every.Single.One. That meant, once you had rammed your AHAC fleet sufficiently deep into the hostile fleet, optimally you not only had your light tackle to hold them in place while your supers wreaked havoc on them, you also had an extra ship tackled for every Proteus you had, pointed out to over 50km by something with 220k EHP. AHACs were incredibly powerful tackle, which is exactly what you want when you bring in the big toys.
Even in the absence of a super fleet, this is valuable. If you are fighting amassed Hurricanes with modern Legions, in roughly equal numbers, you will probably be able to hold the grid, but it will cost you dearly. A standard Hurricane fit costs around 70mil and, net-insures for 30mil, meaning it costs you 40mil to use. Again, an old AHAC had a realistic cost of 1.1-1.2bil, meaning you could afford to trade 27:1 and still win the isk-war. In the absence of tackle, you can brawl with your Hurricanes until you can’t break T3Cs anymore and just warp out and at that point the T3C fleet will have helplessly lost the isk-war.
Dedicated tackle (light tackle, heavy interdictors) will increase your trading potential a bit, but not enough to even those odds. Having tackle on every DPS ship however, with roughly equally sized fleets? Now that is a different kind of butcher’s bill we are talking about. The high EHP and high resists on the AHACs meant that long after the Hurricanes lost critical mass and stopped being able to break AHACs, the AHACs still tear through Hurricanes. Where with modern Legions at that point the Hurricanes will blap your light tackle and warp away, the old AHACs had a large part of their fleet locked down.
But that still isn’t everything that the old AHAC had. The last point of the similarities between PL and NC. bring us to the last important thing that made the old AHAC so strong.
Most entities know the benefit of having ewar. It’s not rare to see people like TEST, Pandemic Horde, Goons, Provi, etc. to show up in not only their main fleet but also bring a sizable fleet of incredibly annoying ewar frigates that will sensor dampen, tracking disrupt and jam hostiles fleets.
ewar wasn’t sitting on a 3k EHP frigate, but on a 200k EHP bulwark
What do you need to field such an ewar frigate wing? Numbers, especially of lower SP counts. What do both PL and NC. lack compared to the entities listed above? Numbers, especially of lower SP counts. As I mentioned before, every AHAC fleet had this ewar frigate wing built into the fleet. With the difference that that ewar wasn’t sitting on a 3k EHP frigate, but on a 200k EHP bulwark.
The truth of the matter is that there was much more to T3Cs than just their EHP and signature. Having a decent EHP level was just the a necessary condition to make them viable, but as we see with their modern incarnation, it is not a sufficient condition.
The T3 nerf and its effects
After examining what made AHACs into what they are, we can ask ourselves: Was the T3C change good for the game? Or more specifically, was it good for the fleet meta?
This is a difficult question to answer, mostly because different people will have different understandings of what constitutes a “good” fleet meta. For me a good fleet meta is a rich fleet meta; the more viable choices you have, the better. Following that line of thinking, a balance change is good if it makes the environment richer, i.e. it adds more viable doctrines and bad if it takes them away.
Without going into any kind of depth at all, pre-nerf the large scale fleet meta boiled down to for the most part four doctrines. AHACs, T1 BC (Canes or Feroxes), throw-away shield T1 BS and Machariels. After the nerf, we have a much bigger variety of different T1 BS doctrines being used and the return of the armor T1 BS but that is a result of the Machariel nerf/price increase not the absence of T3Cs. The shield variant of AHACs, aka 10MN AB-Tengus have ceased to exist as well, since the Tengu has now the same relationship to the Ferox as the Eagle.
The promised resurgence of HACs never came, the place T3Cs occupied in the Meta simply stayed empty. There is no replacement for their ability to go through WHs and take fights outside of third-party kite range and there is no sub-BS hull that can fight large amounts of T1 BCs anymore. The T3C nerf simply removed an, in my opinion, interesting aspect of the meta without replacing it in any way.
But what about on a sub-doctrine level? Did the changes introduce T3s into fleet comps they haven’t been in before? Kind off. While the armor web Loki got hit by far the hardest out of the old AHAC doctrine, shield web-lokis now finally exist, giving shield fleets an alternative to the Huggin, and the brutal armor nerf did make at least some room to play with the idea of using Bhaalgorns. On the other hand, novel uses of T3s like their use as de facto bricktanked FC ships has stopped and armor jaming tengus have been erased from existence. The smartbombing T3s however are still in use.
On a smaller scale, it’s even worse. The entities that used to use skirmishy T3 fleets like Proteuses, HAM Legions and HML Tengus have all been replaced by slight variations of different Loki fits. For gank-oriented gameplay, Sleipnirs have been replaced by Lokis.
All in all, the meta has lost variety, not gained it. In the large scale “blob” meta, T3Cs have completely lost their place. As such, for me at least, the T3C change is a failure. Rest in peace old T3Cs, I will miss you.