I was drawn into a lively debate about spider-tanking sentry Carriers, also known as Slowcats. The context: Last week, Black Legion brought about 150 armor Lokis plus support to a timer in Delve. TEST responded with Drakes, which died en masse to focused medium artillery volleys, and Slowcats, which didn't die at all. Thanks in part to reshipping but mostly due to the dependable alpha from sentry drones, TEST held the field and drove Black Legion away with about 50 Loki losses, while TEST lost around 300 Drakes and support.
I have no problem accepting that the tipping factor in this fight was the TEST Slowcat fleet. But people are beginning to question whether the Slowcat is another iteration on the rock-paper-scissors game or another trump card much like Tracking Titans were before a series of nerfs rendered their previously held strengths moot.
Tracking Titans: Death By Spacedongs
Not long ago, Titans were the absolute endgame for fleet combat. A wave of Titans could decimate any subcapital force regardless of size or composition. Some argued that subcapitals could counter a Titan fleet - assuming enough subcapitals and few enough Titans - but it was never seen. To this day, the only thing that has ever countered a Titan fleet has been another, larger supercapital fleet.
The reasons for Titan superiority were diverse. First and foremost, the Doomsday was a subject of much loathing, capable of taking out any target on the field within range except for another Super or a well-tanked Carrier. This meant logistics, command ships, hictors and dictors could be selectively removed from the battlefield regardless of tank, size or speed. A subcapital fleet with twenty logi versus twenty Titans had twenty less logi in the second minute of the fight than they did in the first due to selective Doomsdaying.
Second was the ability of Titans to track and kill with guns. Aided by Huginn webs and target painters, Tracking Titans made quick work of any fleet idealistic enough to stand in the way. PL FCs often bragged that they stopped calling primaries as one Titan could two-volley an Abaddon off the field. Smaller, faster targets could be painted and webbed down, while the most obnoxious targets to kill could be selectively Doomsdayed without consequence.
Third was the defensive potential of each Titan. With enormous EHP and inability to be affected by any Ewar except for Hictors/Dictors, many options that are normally available in subcap vs. subcap fights simply aren't on the table against Titans. It's certainly not possible to field enough subcaps to volley a Titan, nor to jam them out, tracking disrupt them, make them softer targets, or selectively dismantle a Titan fleet by taking out crucial elements. The only true counter to a Titan fleet was a larger Titan fleet.
More Slowcats, More Problems
I'm not surprised that some people would like us to remember the days of Tracking Titans when we talk about Slowcats. They would like to say "The only counter is more of them" or "Their tank is impossible to break with subcaps" or something to that effect. Neither of these statements are true, however.
The main advantage that Slowcats exploit is the drone assignment mechanics. Slowcats deploy sentries and then assign them to one fast-locking subcapital, usually a T3 Cruiser which is already receiving remote reps such that it's nearly impossible to volley. This means that Slowcats don't have to follow or lock up primary targets - their only responsibilities are in repping each other and replacing sentries if they are destroyed. But the FC subcapital, if identified, can be jammed or sensor damped into being unable to give the sentry drones a valid target.
Plus, many forget that Carriers do not get a bonus to drones. They receive a significant bonus to Fighters, but not to combat or sentry drones. Sentries themselves do not have phenomenal tracking or optimal+falloff - at under 15km, they have trouble hitting anything smaller than a BC. And since Slowcats are entirely dependent upon these drones for DPS, removing the sentries from the field via Stealth Bombers is easy. Of course, they can easily be re-deployed, but it does provide a short break during which the carrier pilot has to re-deploy and re-assign drones. T2 Sentries are also expensive: A successful bombing run against twenty Slowcats will take 200 Sentries off the field for a total loss of 300mil.
The final weakness of Slowcats is that they can be hit with Ewar. The spider tank on something with as much buffer and capacitor as a Slowcat is excellent, but focused jams can neutralize remote repairs and sensor damps make them very slow to lock, which buys ample time to reduce a primary. And a Slowcat that hits Triage to save itself has become a liability, as it can neither use drones nor receive remote reps.
A Fistful of Counters
Are Slowcats easily killed with a certain kind of subcap, or will they be killed by equal numbers of some subcap? Almost certainly not, but I wouldn't expect a capital to be matched by a subcapital. However, if the goal were to kill a fleet of lightly supported Slowcats (note that 300 Drakes is not 'light support'), I would choose AHACs. Able to sig tank a great deal of drone damage while keeping two mids open for sensor damps, killing a group of Slowcats would come down to beating their reps. It has also been suggested that sniper platforms with damps applied to the target caller can stay out of harm's way, though they likely don't bring enough DPS to kill any targets.
This hasn't happened yet, of course, because Slowcats are never 'lightly supported.' The side with the Slowcats always brings more to the field. It's debatable, for example, whether Black Legion could've held the field in their most recent Loki fight if it weren't for the Slowcats. But I strongly believe that the Slowcats would have died in a fire without their support fleet. More importantly, Slowcats without support leave themselves vulnerable to the most obvious counter of all - Dreadnoughts. Regardless of reps, a small team of Moroses would make quick work of unsupported Slowcats. The same was said about Titans (that they die without support) but before Crucible, in a hopeless scenario, Titans could still doomsday dictors off the field and jump out, as long that the opposition does not bring more within the next ten minutes. Meanwhile, a Slowcat can be tackled indefinitely by a Rifter.
I would not conclude that Slowcats are overpowered, and further, trying to attach them to Tracking Titans is a severe exaggeration of their abilities. I'm hearing a lot of Slowcat paranoia because they are used by leading powerbloc alliances almost exclusively. The HBC and CFC can afford to field Slowcats because any escalation by a hostile force would inevitably lead to counter-escalation. More than anything else, they are a show of force - perhaps not as spectacular as Supercarriers or Tracking Titans used to be, but the next best thing. But without support, they can be broken just like subcaps.
Thanks to StevieTopSiders for the original thread on Kugutsumen.