Since season 4 dropped a lot of people have been mainlining Ox as their Butcher's captain of choice, but I've had some notable successes utilising Fillet as my primary pick into some of the key match ups in the early Season 4 meta. So I thought I'd put some ideas and strategies down in print in case it is actually any use to anybody.
Firstly, who am I, and why should you listen to me?
I've been playing Butchers pretty much solidly (and exclusively competitively until Falconers were spoiled) since retail launch. Jamie Perkins has told me I am probably the most experienced Butchers player in the world. I'm not sure how true that is as I don't actually get to play as often as I'd like nor as often as many people manage. But, I've stuck with Butchers through thick and thin. Through the days of Season 1 Ox, who was pretty solid until people figured him out and he became a high skill piece. Through the Fillet-Apocalypse of season 2, where I was able to achieve a smattering of top 3 results. Through the lean days of early Season 3 when Midas and Shark, and then Thresher, tore up the world. And now into Season 4, where Ox's tail is up and he's back on top of the popularity charts. A few near-misses aside, I've been a fairly consistent upper-middle table player — the sort of player who hovers around a 500 rating on Longshanks. Overall what I think this means is that I'm in a good place to offer advice for players operating at a similar or lower skill level: some of you new guys to the Guild who want some advice from a journeyman old-timer, maybe. I'm sure there's little I can add for the players at the top of the heap, but given the dominance of Ox in people's minds, I hope I might be able to, at least, give people pause for thought over how Fillet might be the answer in some of Ox's bad matchups.
The top-end of the early season 4 meta seems to be dominated by Morticians (Scalpel especially), Hunters and other butchers, and Fishermen and Navigators are likely to be popular teams, too. In my mind Fillet is THE pick into all of these teams.
Scalpel is fast, has some solid hit-and-run options, and makes a mess of any sort of scrum Ox wants to put together. Fillet has a much better time killing Scalpel in one activation then Scalpel does in return, especially with a little help from one of her friends, Boiler or Meathook, getting bleed down before she activates. Having the amazing vet Ox available also keeps that pesky puppet out of the way (unless your opponent is foolish enough to bring him anyway, in which case enjoy being able to pop the owner for free practically every time you activate him).
Hunters are now largely dominated by Skatha, too. Another light, mobile captain that means you're going to need Fillet to be able to chase her down. However, Skatha brings with her a MASSIVE FUCKING BEAR. Fillet is one of the Butchers best answers to the bear. As DEF 3 ARM 0 he's defensive enough to stop Ox from hitting his Butchery result, and They Ain't Tough has no effect, so you just want someone who can put out enough raw damage to take him down quickly enough to stop him wreaking havoc. Now, Seenah also has a pretty damned amazing counter attack, so you'll need to charge him, but you've got a ninety-odd percent chance of KDing him if you do (it's still 61% if he defensive stances), so it's well worth it. Once KD'd you're probably doing 4 or 5 damage per hit, depending on whether you've got an extra damage bonus from Ox or Meathook), so it's within the realms of possibility that you can take him down. At the very least, the Legendary can finish him off. I had a great result against (worlds' top 8) Henry Kay where he was setting the bear up for a massive turn 1 activation, but Fillet was able to go in and, with the legendary, take him down from full health to dead before he got to activate.
I am yet to try it out, but I have a suspicion that Fillet is also the right choice in the mirror. She certainly was in Season 3. If nothing else, I think she will certainly be the surprise choice, and at least at the moment there's some mileage in the surprise package. What Fillet provides in this matchup is a chance to kill whichever model is stacked up with INF before they get the chance to act. Pretty much every butchers squaddie is one-roundable by her, so use her to stop them spending influence and, in theory, you'll have the better of the match up.
As for the other teams mentioned above, these are teams that want to run away from you and have the speed to do it. Fillet just gives you that extra model that's great at chasing people down. She's also the perfect answer to Ebb's 2-damage-per-hit rule, being the only model in the team who can take him out in a single activation. They work be stretching you out and spreading out your team, making it harder to get the benefits of Ox's aura. Now that aura got a lot harder to avoid this season, but that's not to say these guys don't have the tools to keep away even from his 6" aura.
Who Makes Her Team?
I've been working with a fixed 6 for Fillet, but I think there's a few swaps you can make, and possibly a few things you'll want to change when Cooks come online. My team so far has been Fillet, Princess, Boiler, Meathook, vet Ox and Tenderiser. This is a good solid 13 INF team that can stack up Fillet and one squaddie (usually boiler) and have two threatening activations a turn whilst still providing Fillet with a healthy suite of support abilities
Princess is a great mascot, I don't think there's any argument here. Not only does she turn Boiler up to 11, but she's a nice little battery mascot even without him. Just jogging around and putting melee zones on people makes their life difficult: hit her and risk triggering Loved Creature, or take a nasty 8 dice, +1 damage parting blow. She's a great late-turn activation to go and sit on someone who's already activated, ready for the following turn where Boiler will invariably be able to delete that model.
Boiler has a two-fold role in a Fillet team. Firstly, during the first turn he is an excellent support model for Fillet. Axe Throw and Marked Target dial her threat range up to 16" if you're willing to take quick foot. At the very least it causes your opponent to spend a couple of momentum to clear the bleed and stop Fillet just deleting whichever model he hits. Later in the game he becomes better as an early activation murderer, going first and taking out a model that has princess sitting next to it. Boiler doesn't need Ox to be a significant threat, just his pet dog.
I love vet Ox, perhaps a little more than I should. He slipped out of favour with most people during Season 3 after his set-up pal, Harry the Hat lost most of what made him strong for Butchers in the first round of errata. But the Season 4 vet Ox is a very different piece and does an entirely different job for the team. In Season 3 I would have classified him as a Control piece and a minor battery. He was someone you wanted to give 1 INF to most turns and he'd give you a useful activation out of that, turning it into an 11 dice charge that would allow you a big push or a KD, maybe both. His 2" melee gave you plenty of opportunity for gang up and crowd outs, and he wasn't a particularly nice target to go after with the previous incarnation of lash out. Getting the Owner back up was always a bit of a crap shoot with him, though. If he needed to attack to take out a model he was losing his efficiency and did not have a playbook designed to deal a reliable amount of momentous damage.
Now he is, I feel, more of a support piece, and a much better battery. You can quite happily give him zero INF once the game is going and him still be incredibly relevant. One trick I've learnt from playing Devana is to try and leave Fillet's activation until as late in the turn as possible. What this allows is for you to leave a model on a guaranteed number of HP at the top of the next turn. What you want is that number of HP to be 3 or less. Don't worry about taking the model out with Fillet, let vet Ox do that at the start of the next turn. He deals 3 damage just by walking up to within 2" of a model. With careful spreading around of damage he can potentially take out 2 or 3 models without spending an influence, trigger The Owner and then set up you team for the rest of the turn. Further, his ability to spend 2 INF to trigger whirling chains, whilst situational, can make an important difference at key times. Fillet really enjoys having the enemy in a tight little bundle that she can hit them one at a time, dance around them and trigger bleed on them all from a single low DEF model. Whirling chains can set this up. Those who have been around since Season 1 will remember the original chain grab on gutter, which created a 14" zone from where gutter could pick a model and grab them and pull them in to range of the rest of the team. It was one of the things that made her a massive NPE for many in those early days of the game. Vet Ox can do the same thing. He's only got an 11" threat with it, but can target multiple models at once, and even if he can't quite go to town in the same way gutter used to, his lash out damage probably averages a similar amount of damage that a typical gutter activation did if you had to push her outside of Ox's aura.
Let's face it, Tenderiser doesn't really do much. He just sits there and makes you opponent take longer over their goal runs, and once in a while a shot that would have hit, misses instead. But now that he brings 2 INF that's not a bad thing to do. He's usually a nice quick activation on your clock and adds time to your opponents clock. Other than that he might just be a battery, but fillet is a proper little Energizer Bunny and needs batteries in her team. Now that I'm thinking about using Tenderiser more often, I'd probably get better at my clock discipline: I'm far too often letting my opponent run their activations on my clock!
Last season Meathook was a tasty support model who could also churn out a nice amount of damage for just 3 INF. This season she's not really lost anything from her support suite. New hooked that gives bleed and snared adds more utility to her than previously, and the fact that snared may stay on a model over the turn is nice, but the fact that they CAN remove it is perhaps overall a sideways step in power. Where she has lost out, however, is in her damage output. Losing Smell Blood means that not only does she charge less to clean up the aftermath of a Fillet activation, but she's not doing anywhere near like the same damage Season 3 Meathook dealt. To be honest, that's probably fair, and I'm not surprised she got a bit of a nerf. Tooled up is still pretty useful in a Fillet team, but with vOx getting to trigger The Owner much more easily it's less useful than it was. Beyond first turn I probably don't use it and instead give her 1 INF just to hit something to snare it. Counter attacking is also good for this. She's also a model with momentous pushes. Those are at a premium in Butchers and that they come with damage, too, is pretty nice. The trouble is they don't come until higher up her playbook and so you need to give her a full 3 to get her to do this work if you're needing some pushes.
Overall I'm lukewarm on Meathook for now. I don't think there's a better model in this six for now, but I think she's the first out of the door when Roast comes along, and is the one that you flex out when you want a more situational model.
I've been thinking about this team as being somewhat similar to the Fillet team that had some success at the start of Season 3: Fillet, Princess, vOx, Harry, vBrisket and Meathook. The idea with that team was that if you received, you worked for a vBrisket goal turn 1 and reaped all that lovely extra influence. After that you probably stack up Fillet, Harry and Meathook as your main activations, with vOx getting the 1 or 2 you have left over, and just use vBrisket to kill the ball if they score a snap-back goal. With that team I found I would often swap vBrisket out for Boiler if I was kicking to give me the added support suite and the threat of an Assisted Boiler activation at some point in the game.
As such I'm thinking the adding in original Brisket when receiving would be a very nice option. Compared to my previous team, Tenderiser is the model without an obvious analogue, and Brisket's role in the team is largely as a battery anyway (that's why you go for the early goal with her), but Tenderiser is also a solid model to include against teams with strong kick pressure, like Shark, so it's a tough choice but one worth considering, especially against teams without that sort of kick pressure. After she's scored, not only are you a couple of INF up on what tenderiser brings, but you can then also likely aford to put a couple on Brisket to throw out a Dirty Knives. You could even consider just putting 1 INF on her for a cheeky charge under Roast's aura and use the charge to trigger dirty knives instead.
When Roast comes along, I think he plays the Harry role in that S3 team. He's got a lot of pushes on his playbook, that come with both momentum and damage, and a very reliable KD, and probably the best support ability for Fillet in the game. He's also the best Butcher's squaddie for raw damage output after Boar (similar to a charging vet Gutter, Shank and Boiler without assist, but better vs the high DEF low ARM models), although he's probably going to be giving up a point of INF each turn to turn on the charge aura.
Another thing to consider when Roast comes out is how much he turns Gutter into a 1 INF battery missile. She quite happily does 6 damage on a charge (including potentially spreading 3 damage around a few models) to a 4/1 model, but only 1 or 2 on the follow up attacks. There are few other options that turn 1 INF into 6 damage! A team with Roast and vet Gutter in it reduces the amount of INF available to Boiler, but that's probably fine. He's still putting out bleed and doing a reliable 2 damage per influence on him, and with his nice suite of ranged and support abilities to make good use of the 2 or 3 INF you can now afford to give him.
The more I think about veteran Brisket in this season, the more I think she's a trap. I think you might take her for field Medic, but if you're doing that you're putting INF on her and making attacks with her. And if you're doing that you're using the worst damage output model in the guild — I'm not convinced by her yet at all.
Boar is an interesting model with Fillet. She can use Quick foot to give him an extended threat, and his damage output got even better (only the captains and Boiler with assist can deal more damage), but he's still the easily controlled DEF 3/0 liability he always was. The real key to Boar, though, is that he forces people to deal with him, so if you're positioning him well he's forcing players to come in to where you want them. Personally I think Ox gets more mileage out of this than Fillet. I feel most of the match ups you're playing Fillet into are teams that are fast and want to stay away from you as much as possible. Boar is not a useful tool into these sorts of teams. Assuming you're still wanting to play Fillet into teams that are more natural to take Ox against, I think he's probably worth giving a shot. I wouldn't drop Meathook for Boar, though — I'd be looking to tool him up as often if not more often than Fillet.
Shank is a solid model, and there is a place for him on a Fillet team. The trouble is I think it's essentially the same place as Boiler, as both are going to want to take influence off the rest of the team. You could certainly use them both in the same team, but then you can only really afford to give one of them the influence they need to do work for you. What Boiler lacks in range, though, he makes up for by adding it to everyone else when he can't get in the fight. It's a tough call where he fits into the team, so I think it will come down to personal preference. I like to have a team in which each model has a clearly defined role, and I like to know where my influence is going every turn. Allocating Influence is a delicate balance in any team, but especially a Fillet team where you're looking to give Fillet 6 each turn. That doesn't leave many to spare and unless you've already scored, you've not got enough to stack up Shank, Boiler and Roast. I think realistically you've got space for two such models in your team and I think the flexibility between damage output, control and support that both Roast and Boiler provide outweighs whatever shank might bring in terms of range. Maybe while we're wating for Roast he can swap in for Meathook against teams that are difficult to hunt down, but after that I think he becomes a more difficult proposition.
To try and summarise this all, I think firstly I want to state that there's a strong case for using Fillet against many of the top meta teams that are tearing up early Season 4: Scalpel, both hunters captains, the Butchers mirror, and any fast scoring team (Fish, Navigators, etc) are all teams I'd want to drop Fillet into. Secondly, I'd look to her team composition. As a super solo she needs a mix of battery models, support models to turn her up to 11 and backup damage models so that you're not entirely reliant on her. Vet Ox and Tenderiser are you batteries (with Vet Ox also providing some support), whilst Boiler and Roast are your back up damage dealers that also offer decent support and control. Whilst you're waiting for Roast, though, I think Meathook is your go-to for the extra support, although Shank's additional ranged threat can be a useful asset against some teams. Original Brisket is also worth considering for her battery potential when receiving, and going for an early goal for the big Influence boost you get for the rest of the game, and the ability to chuck out Dirty Knives. Vet Gutter might have a similar space in the team with Roast for an explosive 1 INF charge, but overall I think she doesn't bring enough to justify the INF you'd need to allocate to her. If you like Boar and can get work out of him reliably, then take him, but he's not for me.