You mean the most powerful list or army? Either would be hard to awnser. Armies are pretty evenly powered. List will depend on who you talk to really. There is a tier system in warmachine that gives you small perks for taking fluffy armies. Not sure if thats what you mean.
The "Tier" armies are actually just fluffy theme armies, not power builds. You get certain bonuses for taking a certain theme for your army, and not using other units.
For example, for the Protectorate of Menoth army, one of the characters is Fedora, Priestess of the Flame. Her theme armies only let her take certain units (like Temple Flame Guard, Daughters of the Flame, and other flame related units), while restricting other units (like the Knights Exemplar). She has 4 different "Tiers" she can use, each with it's own requirements, and which give a small bonus. For example,
Restriction - Use only the models allowed
Bonus - Restrictions on the number of Flame Guard are lifted.
Restriction - Include at least 2 units of Flame Guard
Bonus - Flame Guard get the "Advance Move" special rule.
And so on, so forth. While you get some bonuses for taking the themed lists, they're actually usually less competitive, because of the restrictions placed on them.
So, as for which is the "Strongest Army", every army has extremely strong lists that they can take, which can work well in different ways, however each list also has it's weaknesses. From crusing around the privateer press forums, it seems everyone has a different idea of which armies are overpowered - which is a good indicator that probably none are seriously out of whack with the others. I'm still getting into the game, but from what I've seen so far, the game has been extremely well balanced.
None of the armies are really stronger then the others, they all are fairly balanced, and they all can be really good if you take the right things. As the others said above, tiers really are not the best way to go, unless you want like a fun sort of game. While most people like to be competitive ( not my thing ) then I wouldn't suggest using a tier of any sort.
It's pretty even balanced atm. Maybe retribution has fewer options then the 4 "main factions", but it's still good. Mercenaries have issues to make very powerfull lists atm. But overall, balance is pretty good.
As for it being all about the latest toys, that's a load of bull really... I haven't bought any new stuff for well over a year because of the immense backlog in painting I have. Some new releases are pretty good, but they definatly don't just make older units obsolete. The new stuff (especially warcasters) will change and shift the meta every now and then, and introduce new synergies. But so far, that's a quite healthy system. New character/solo's/unit attachments tend to buff excisting units that struggle for viability. And that way, you can always puzzle and add to your force.
As for the tier armies: they are for fluff, not for hyper competitive builds. They give you extra perks to offset the restrictions they impose.
As for balance purposes: The game does suffer slightly (but nothing drastic) from their new, VERY limited point games. The average game should be around 35-50 points (at least, that's the format I enjoy most).
Some units do tend to be really good for their point cost. You only have a few points to spend, and some units are just plain better for their point cost then others (when you look at them on their own).
But then you have to start looking at the intricate synergy and buff web that a good build has... When you start factoring that in, some units that are normally not that good, will find a spot in your army list because of these synergies.
So yes... there are top competitive army lists in this game. Luckily, there are several REALLY competitive lists for every army out there, so there is a ton of diversity (because of combo's, synergies,...). A good sign that the system is healthy, are the top tournament results. There is a pretty good variation between the factions AND between the builds within that factions.
I honestly don't think that there is really one top faction in WH. All of them have power builds and units that are hard as nails and such, yet all of them have their weaknesses as well. None of the armies really compares to GW style armies like Vampire Counts or Daemons that just dominate the entire scene. And with all the different casters and units in the game there is an absolute ton of builds available to you, most of them just as good in their own way as any other.
It isn't... at least, not on the tabletop. You'll often have a new set of cool combo's that will open up, or models that were previously considered subpar will be revamped with the addition of an attachment or a cool solo.
But that seldom means that you get insane powercreep going. In fact, many of the "oldschool powerbuilds" still stand strong in high end tournaments around the world. But you will get the occasional new top tier build that can be made up with new releases.
As for the the it's all about the latests toys from a collecting point of view: yes... yes it is. It's just a better way to release their stuff, it's not just releasing an army in 1 or 2 waves like GW does, but rather a steady suply of new stuff for your army. And because that often means older stuff will be adjusted in powerlevel because of new releases, they'll continue to keep selling too. It's a more exciting way of releasing stuff imo.
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