Saturday, 26 November 2011

Know Your Enemy - Pirate Cruisers

Unlike the navy faction cruisers which lie somewhere between their t1 and t2 counterparts, the pirate faction cruisers are the true alpha males of the cruiser line. Pirate cruisers tend to be fairly front-loaded, with high damage outputs, good range dictation abilities and moderate tanks. Like the pirate frigates their abilities vary quite significantly, incorporating features of both of their chosen races (for the most part, they have the same bonuses and general characterstics as their frigate and battleship counterparts). While navy cruisers tended to be simply powered up versions of existing ships, some of the pirate cruisers offer unusual bonuses and exotic combinations of tank and weaponry that aren't really found elsewhere.

At the time of writing, most of these ships are quite rare in PVP (and in PVE for that matter), with the exception of the cynabal which tends to be very popular.

Really just an excuse to include the new nebula and engine trails...

Cynabal (Angel Cartel - Min/Gal)

Like the dramiel, the cynabal is the king of speed. While the dram was relatively unchallenged in this regard, cruisers already have one ship which far outstrips all others - the vagabond. Not only does the cynabal match the vaga for speed, it even shares the same bonuses - 10% per level to projectile falloff and 10% to projectile damage (roughly equivalent to the vaga's dual damage/rate of fire bonuses). This leaves the two ships very very similar.

Any differences between the two ships generally favour the cynabal - it swaps one of the vaga's high slots for an extra mid, giving it a 5/5/5 slot layout with 4 turrets (the loss of a turret is compensated by a fixed 25% rate of fire bonus, bringing its damage output back in line with the vaga). The lower turret count combined with a stronger powergrid makes the cynabal much easier to fit, allowing higher calibre guns, dual prop, or a stronger tank (the latter two options made possible by the extra mid). Finally, the cynabal receives 50m3 of drone bay and bandwidth compared to the vaga's 25m3 - enough for a flight of mediums or two flights of lights (for example, one damage and one ecm).

The cynabal has other advantages - it's significantly more agile (almost as agile as a frigate in fact), locks quicker and is harder to jam. In the vaga's favour goes warp speed (3.75au/s as opposed to 3), greater locking range (63km compared to 56km - not a lot but potentially useful when you have over 40km of falloff), and most significantly - higher resists. The cynabal has vanilla t1 resists, while the vaga has the strong minmatar t2 resists. This makes the cynabal slightly weaker when supported by logistics ships, although it's higher base HP keeps the two ships roughly in line when it comes to pure EHP.

The standard cynabal fit is very similar to the standard vaga fit: Mid slots provide a 2 slot shield tank with MWD and long point (along with either an afterburner, third tanking slot, or cap booster). Highs will invariably offer autocannons (usually 425mms) along with a medium neut, while low slots are generally a mix of gyrostabs and tracking enhancers, boosting the cynabal's already impressive falloff. A standard cynabal offers a falloff range of around 45km with barrage, with a fairly moderate damage output (alternatively it can put out stronger damage inside 25-30km with close range ammo).

Like the vagabond, fighting a cynabal revolves heavily around getting a scram on it - the cynabal's excellent speed and agility make it very proficient at maintaining range and evading tacklers, and this is exactly how most smart cynabal pilots will fly. Its agility in particular makes this ship exceptionally good at throwing off fast, long pointing tacklers like interceptors even when caught, and attempting to hold a cynabal in such a ship is both risky and often futile (since the ships which are actually capable of killing the cynabal are far from able to keep up). As a long point tackler, manual flying and fast reflexes will be required in order to hold on while staying alive.

Even with scram tacklers, you should avoid chasing the cynabal directly - this is usually exactly what the cynabal pilot is looking for, and they may put themselves in an apparently vulnerable position specifically to tempt such a move - a cynabal can exceed 3.5km/s with an overheated MWD, which is enough to kite many potential tacklers for long enough to kill them. Be equally wary of chasing a cynabal in warp between celestials - this is a textbook method of splitting tacklers off from a gang. If you're a tackler in such a situation, always try to keep in mind where your gang is and how easily or quickly they can reach you.

Long ranged scrams, long ranged webs and long ranged neuts are all very effective counters to the cynabal, but given that it almost always has the luxury of choosing its engagements, most cynabal pilots will simply not engage under such circumstances. If you don't have these, I recommend you simply avoid playing into the cynabal pilot's hand, and try to use their eagerness for a fight to your advantage -  a cautious pilot may never truly put themselves at risk, but if your opponent is eager and overconfident, they may well leave themselves vulnerable.

Once scrambled, the cynabal loses its main advantage. It's still a very fast ship, and with dual prop even a scrammed cynabal can push 1km/s under afterburner, however it is generally no longer able to dictate range against hostile dps ships. The cynabal is still fairly tough, with a damage output and tank comparable to the vagabond (or potentially slightly stronger, depending on how its mid slots and drone bay are put to use). This makes it more than a match for most other cruisers even at close range, although battlecruisers and true brawler HACs should come out ahead quite easily. Tacklers should beware of the cynabal's medium neut - unless they have a nos or cap booster to keep their tackle running, they may find the cynabal is able to neut them down and burn out of range again (swiftly followed by the demise of the now almost stationary tackler).

In gang, cynabals will usually fly with other fast, medium ranged ships like vagabonds. The same rules apply here - get scrams and webs on your targets where possible, and avoid letting your own gang get spread out at all costs. The damage output of these ships is relatively low compared to other damage dealers, especially if they are operating deep within their falloff range. While they shouldn't be ignored, they are likely to be less of a threat (and more difficult to catch) than other potential targets.

With vanilla resists on a shield tank, the best damage to use against a cynabal is usually thermal, followed by EM, kinetic, and finally explosive.

Vigilant (Serpentis - Gal/Min)

The vigilant has a relationship to the deimos much like that which the cynabal has to the vaga - it's a very similar ship, and in many ways simply outperforms its t2 rival. Like the deimos, the vigilant was born to be a blaster ship. It swaps the deimos' spare high slot for an additional mid (much like the cynabal), giving the vigilant a 5/4/6 layout all told with 5 turrets and 50m3 of drones. Rather than have any per level bonus to turret damage, the vigilant gets a fixed 75% bonus to hybrid turret damage - leaving it a fair chunk ahead of the deimos in terms of damage output, and giving it one of the best damage outputs of any cruiser (only the shield tanked navy vexor is capable of outdamaging it). Like the deimos, the vigilant also receives a 10% per level bonus to hybrid turret falloff, lending its blasters a small degree of extra flexibility (with ions and null, the vigilant can hit out to around 14km for reasonable damage - not that it would ever need to, as we'll see in a moment).

The biggest advantage that the vigilant has is one it shares with its other serpentis cousins - a bonus to web strength. A meta 4 or t2 web when mounted on a vigilant will slow down its target by 90% as opposed to the usual 60% - enough to almost guarantee range dictation against any target within web range. Most vigilant pilots spring for a faction web, pushing out the range at which they're able to apply this effect even further (up to 14km base, or 18km with overheat). This effectively removes the main drawback of blasters as a weapon system - namely the difficulty of getting into and staying in range.

The vigilant's fourth mid slot allows it to field more than just the 'holy trinity' of blaster boats (that is, propulsion, scram and web). A tracking disruptor or a cap booster seem to be the most common options, but given that this ship is fairly rare your experiences may vary. Some vigilants also fit a long point instead of the scram, on the basis that they already have such good range dictation with their web alone that the extra tackle distance is simply more useful than disabling the target's MWD (and the last thing you want is to web someone at 15km, only for them to warp off).

There are a few things that the vigilant lacks compared to the deimos. Again it lacks the t2 resists which make HACs so effective in logistics gangs (in terms of total EHP the vigilant isn't far off that of the deimos, thanks to its higher base HP). The vigilant also lacks the deimos' spare high slot leaving it unable to fit a neut, although the deimos struggles to fit one anyway given its weaker powergrid. Finally, the vigilant doesn't get the deimos' reduction to the MWD capacitor penalty (as well as having significantly weaker cap regen already) meaning the vigilant is far less cap stable than its counterpart. This means that the vigilant is easier to cap out via neuting, or forcing it to run its MWD. That said, since the vigilant can choose to fit a cap booster in its fourth mid slot this isn't a weakness that you can reliably exploit, and its cap autonomy is still much better than some of the ships we'll discuss later.

For the most part, vigilants are fit with a fairly strong armour buffer, with a 1600mm plate and a couple of hardeners or EANMs. While it's possible to active tank a vigilant, its lower resists and weaker cap make it relatively underwhelming at doing so, although its ability to fit a cap booster is something of a help. You may also occasionally see a shield tanked vigilant, much like the thorax and vexor fits we discussed along the same lines. This is generally rare since it involves fitting a very expensive ship with a paper thin one-slot tank, but it can be done and gives the ship a significant speed boost as well as additional damage output. With 50m3 of drone bay the vigilant can field either a full flight of mediums or a flight of light drones and a flight of ecm. Since most of the times its targets are almost stationary, medium drones tend to be the more popular choice.

As a solo opponent, the vigilant is probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest, cruisers to fight. Assuming it has a faction web (which is likely) you're going to need to stick outside 18km to have a hope of dictating range, and given that the vigilant isn't a slow ship (doing a little under 1.5km/s with a standard fit) you're going to need plenty of speed and agility in order to do so. If you do get snared by its web, the fight is essentially going to be a dps race - you're unlikely to have any range dictation ability, nor are you going to have the angular velocity to evade fire up close. While dps is something that the vigilant has plenty of, its tank is less spectacular - this is probably the biggest thing you have going in your favour. With a stiff tank and a reasonable damage output, you can still stand a chance of coming out ahead despite not being able to outdamage the vigilant directly. It's fairly common for a vigilant fit to include an explosive hardener, making kinetic and thermal jointly the best damage types to use, followed by EM (or you can just go for explosive if you like a gamble - if they're just using EANMs it's the best).

Needless to say, if you encounter a vigilant in a gang scenario they should be treated as a significant threat due to their combination of high damage and tackle capability, and they should be considered a priority target.

Something I haven't really talked about before is incoming damage types. With the vigilant, the vast majority of its damage output is thermal and kinetic - especially if the pilot chooses to bring thermal drones too for maximum damage. This is significant because if you're flying a caldari or gallente t2 ship, you're going to have very high resists against these two damage types. A deimos or ishtar for example would probably stand a good chance against the vigilant, despite the latter being the stronger ship on paper. Similarly if you know you're going up against a vigilant (or any other powerful blaster ship for that matter), fitting thermal and kinetic hardeners can significantly improve your chances.

Gila (Guristas - Cal/Gal)

The gila is an unusual ship - despite apparently being caldari, it's far closer to the ishtar than it is any of the caldari HACs. In short, the gila is a shield tanked ishtar with some nominal missile capability instead of some nominal hybrid capability. Like the ishtar, the gila gets a substantial bonus to drone damage and hitpoints as well as the maximum 125m3 of drone bandwidth - enough for a full flight of heavies or sentries. It doesn't get the ishtar's drone bay bonus, but it doesn't need it since it already has the largest drone bay in the game at 400m3. The ishtar still retains one slight edge in terms of drone capability due to its bonus to operation range, but otherwise the gila does exactly the same thing.

Outside of drones, the two ships still remain quite similar. The gila offers a 5/6/4 slot layout compared to the ishtar's 5/5/5, with three launchers matching the ishtar's three turrets. It doesn't receive any damage bonus to missiles, although it does get a built in 50% to missile range. More significantly, the gila receives a 5% per level bonus to shield resists - this lets it field a very strong shield tank potentially on par with the of the drake (it has the same resist bonus and the same number of mid slots, as well as the grid and CPU to do so).

Like the ishtar, the gila comes in two main forms - as a sniper with sentry drones, or as closer-range fit which may field heavies or sentries (it can quite easily carry both). As a pure sentry sniper the gila is effectively identical to the ishtar outside of some fairly minor differences, so we'll cover that later. It's at closer ranges that the gila is more interesting.

While the ishtar gained a reasonable chunk of damage from its blasters, the gila's missiles are far less powerful - with light assault launchers (which are the most common choice) they only provide 10% of its damage output, and even on a max damage setup with HAMs they still contribute less than a quarter. What they do have however is range, and as a result the gila tends to be flown quite differently to its gallente cousin. Most gila fits feature a long point, a moderate shield buffer tank and speed mods, allowing it to function effectively as a kiter - holding its target at range while letting its drones do all the hard work, supported by some light missile fire. These fits can work with both heavies and sentries (usually gardes - the close range, high damage sentry option), although heavies are generally more popular given that sentries are easily lost and also less effective at close range (if you're not able to catch the gila itself, simply orbit its sentry drones and you'll avoid most of its damage). Some fits will feature more or less tank, EWAR such as damps or tracking disruptors, or trade speed mods for damage mods and larger launchers, however the general theme remains the same.

While a kiting gila might be easier to snag than some of the faster kiting ship, it is by no means helpless if caught up close - this is a tough ship, and while it may not quite have the damage output of the ishtar is still outdamages most other cruisers and shouldn't be underestimated by any means. Given the size of its drone bay, there's very little point trying to kill the gila's drones. It may however be possible to out-run them, especially since gilas don't usually fit webs or scrams with which to slow you down - even if you just force them to drop off and catch up periodically, you'll be cutting the incoming dps significantly. If you're flying a smaller or faster ship, expect the gila pilot to shift down to smaller drones to suit, making this more difficult to do.

The gila's mid slots are something of an unknown - they may just feature more tank (making the gila exceptionally tough for a shield tanker, but providing few surprises), or may contain something more unusual - tracking disruptors or webs can significantly upset those who attempt to engage it up close. Additionally, the gila's two free high slots are likely to house neuts (although probably not two mediums, due to the grid required - a medium and a small isn't uncommon). Obviously this is a very difficult ship to engage in anything small, due to the combination of bonused light drones, neuts, and more than likely light assault missiles too.

The sentry gila as I mentioned is very similar to the equivalent ishtar - a pure sniping variant can hit out to about 150km with bouncers or wardens, or around 60km with gardes, all with excellent damage output compared to other ships which operate at these ranges. Alternatively you may encounter slightly more combined-arms gilas operating with a mix of sentry drones and missiles, at ranges of somewhere between 50 and 100km. Sentry gilas may be more lightly tanked, especially if operating at extreme ranges, however a mid ranged sentry gila can still be relatively tough. It's likely that one or more of its potential neuts will also be replaced by a drone link augmentor, making such a ship easier to tackle than it might be otherwise.

As with all other sentry ships, the drones will be unable to follow the gila and warping off will cause it to lose them (however as of the upcoming expansion, it should be possible for the gila pilot to reconnect to those drones after doing so, making this less of a problem). Remember that range and tracking are calculated from the drones, not the ship, and sentry drones typically have good range but poor tracking - fly close to them if you have the option, and you'll take less damage.

Obviously most longer-ranged sentry gilas will be unable to tackle anything by themselves - generally these are more common as gang ships. On that note, you'll probably find most gilas in gang scenarios engage at longer range than they would solo - with assault missiles they can hit out to around 60km (or 30km with heavy assaults), and there's little reason for them to come closer providing something else is holding tackle.

With its resist bonus, all of the gila's shield resists are likely to be fairly strong. The order of preference remains the same as any other t1 shield tank however, with thermal generally being weakest after the usual anti-EM rig, followed by EM, kinetic and finally explosive.

Phantasm (Sansha - Ama/Cal)

With a 5/6/3 slot layout the phantasm is the most mid slot heavy of the pirate cruisers, and a natural shield shield tanker. Rather than field a full rack of turrets, the phantasm receives three turret hardpoints with a fixed 100% bonus to energy turret damage, freeing up its final two high slots for cap warfare or other goodies. In addition to this fixed bonus, the phantasm also receives per level bonuses to turret damage and tracking speed, making it a very capable damage dealer. This is all backed up by a small drone compliment of 15m3.

With pulse lasers, the phantasm can put out strong damage for a cruiser to a respectable range; 20-25km with scorch, or 10-12km with multifrequency. It doesn't quite have the damage potential of the zealot or navy omen, but its tracking bonus does make it more effective at close ranges. When it comes to tank, most phantasms feature a two or three slot shield buffer - respectable, but nothing spectacular. The remaining slots are generally used for tackle, propulsion and cap boosting. This brings me on to the phantasm's main weakness - cap dependency. This ship has a fairly weak capacitor to begin with, and energy turrets (without a cap use bonus), neuts, and a MWD really take their toll; fitting an invuln or a long point (both of which are fairly tempting options given how the ship is used) also doesn't help. This often leads phantasm pilots to fit in ways they wouldn't otherwise, simply to preserve cap - for example, fitting small neuts instead of medium, or scram/web instead of a long point and a shield hardener. To compensate for its capacitor problems, almost all phantasm fits run a cap booster and are forced to rely on it heavily. It's possible to fit a phantasm with nosferatu to help maintain its cap levels, but giving up the neuts robs this ship of one of its main selling points.

The phantasm is most dangerous in a short-duration fight, when running out of cap is less of a concern. It's a difficult ship to engage in something smaller, given its combination of neuting power and excellent tracking. In longer fights, the phantasm tends to become less effective since it's forced to conserve capacitor - it doesn't have a huge cargo bay, and even while charges are still in good supply it can be difficult to run all mods without having the cap booster running constantly. If you have neuts yourself, this is an excellent way to ruin a phantasm pilot's day. Similarly, forcing them to run their MWD to get into range or chase you across a long warp before a fight can take out a chunk of that capacitor before the fight even begins.

Don't underestimate the phantasm of course - even without its neuts it has a very strong combination of gank and tank for a cruiser; just not quite as impressive as some of the other ships in its class. Equally remember that while the phantasm is able to run its neuts, it's going to be eating into your cap more than its own - it may not be able to run them for long, but if you're not cap boosted yourself you'll probably find you encounter cap problems of your own as a result. Be wary of engaging a phantasm in a heavily cap-dependent ship.

When it comes to damage types, your preference should be the standard thermal > EM > kinetic > explosive. If you have the option, tank against EM and therm (or use a minmatar t2 ship) and you'll significantly reduce the incoming damage.

Ashimmu (Blood Raiders - Ama/Min)

The ashimmu is an unusual ship, and the only faction cruiser to receive its main bonuses towards EWAR. Initially it looks quite similar to the phantasm - a 6/4/5 slot layout with 3 turrets and a 100% bonus to energy turret damage, along with a slightly smaller 10m3 of drones. Rather than the phantasm's damage and tracking bonuses, the ashimmu receives the same web strength bonus as the vigilant, along with a nos and neut transfer amount bonus similar to (but slightly weaker than) that of the pilgrim.

The damage output of the ashimmu is reasonable, but relatively poor compared to most of its faction counterparts. It's range is fairly respectable, at around 20-25km with scorch. That said, most ashimmu pilots will attempt to get closer in order to bring their neuts to bear - the bonus is only to drain amount not to range, so it still has the usual 12km range on medium neuts. Be prepared for a faction web allowing the ashimmu to snag you at up to 18km with overheat.

In terms of tank it tends to be on par with the other faction cruisers, and given its web bonus the ashimmu is usually fit with a moderate armour buffer. Like the phantasm, this ship tends to be fairly weak on the capacitor front, especially since neuting is a significant portion of its role. That said, any cap spent running the ashimmu's neuts is significantly more effective than it would be on a non-bonused ship. Again, almost every ashimmu fit will feature a cap booster as standard.

The ashimmu is pretty slow for a cruiser, with a plated fit not doing much over 1km/s. While its 90% web still presents a significant danger, it doesn't take much to simply kite the ashimmu and pick it apart from range - while it will probably still be able to return fire, its damage output and tank are nothing special for what it is, and you always have the option of disengaging should you need to. If you do get webbed down, you will effectively lose all ability to dictate range and will soon enough be neuted too. At that point you'd better not be too attached to your capacitor, since it won't be around for long; capless weapons, a cap booster or a nosferatu will serve you well here. As with the phantasm, anything you can do to force the ashimmu pilot to expend cap before the fight begins is a plus (if you were kiting the chances are they were burning their MWD to chase you, so you're already killing two bird with one stone).

Avoid ashimmus if you're flying something very cap-dependent unless you're confident that you can kite it. If you have capless weapons and a reasonably strong buffer tank, the chances are you can simply disregard its neuting capability and just go toe to toe if needs be. While it doesn't have the drones of the curse or pilgrim, this is not a good ship to be tackling or attempting to take on in a frigate (or frigate gang) due to 90% web and the vulnerability of frigates to neuting.

In terms of damage choices, the ashimmu's smaller low slot count means explosive is still probably your best choice, followed by kinetic > thermal > EM. Again, tank EM and thermal yourself to avoid most of its damage. If you encounter an ashimmu in a gang environment, simply keep range on it if possible while you primary more threatening targets, or primary it if you're unable to keep range.


  1. Very nice, good job m8.

    (also "That said, since the vigilant can choose to fit a cap booster in its fourth high slot " ,shoudnt that be midslot?)

  2. Discounting some very unusual fitting options - yes it should! (fixed)

  3. To be honest, an Ashimmu is even worse for frigates than a Curse or Pilgrim, as that 90% web means that it's turrets can hit them and turrets >> drones for applying DPS to frigates.

  4. Fair point, having never yet tried to fight an ashimmu in a frigate I'd forgotten about the effect of the 90% web!

  5. Confirming that ashimmu are really terrible to fight in frigs, its impossible to underfly them even in a faction fit dramiel with nos + ab for more than 30 seconds.

  6. Nice guide. Don't neglect the Ashimmu's strength in a armor HAC fleet. In that scenario, an Ashimmu can go with a two or even three neut fit and be supported in its cap needs by a friendly Guardian. Such an Ashimmu will be double-webbed at least, and will be acting as heavy tackle. This is particularly deadly against T3s.

  7. I didn't realize about the web bonuses, this is good info

  8. I love your guide's. Thanks a lot dude!

  9. Thanks to this I can directly credit you leading to my first proper pvp kill, after coming across a hulk in low i proceeded to educate him in why he shouldn't go out alone with my slicer. Of course he didn't think the message was as friendly as I intended and came back in a vigilant and begun a bit of smack talk in local. A quick google later and i was orbiting him between scram and web range at full shields whilst his armour whittled away to nothing, leaving a very angry man in a pod to fly home in. So in conclusion, thanks for an amazing article!


The Altruist is the Eve Online blog of Azual Skoll, PVP instructor and small gang PVPer.

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