I finally came around to the Farstriders right after the BAR list dropped, which was ... well, let's just say that no one has accused me of power-gaming by running these guys.
The deck I've been running is built around my leader, whoever he is. "But Sanson Farstrider is your leader," you say. "You should know that." Well, that's true ... until it's not. Fortunately, I brought back-up!
So! Let's take a look under the hood, shall we?
Overall goal: The Farstriders' inspire condition requires them to get end a round in enemy territory, so combat is unavoidable. I don't want to play this game defensively, and if I did, I'd pick Steelheart's Champions instead. Since we'll be heading into enemy territory, we need to be prepared to enter combat. And since our fighters aren't fast, we need some ways to get into enemy territory. We'll also want some defensive tech. And we want a handful of score-immediately objectives.
Objectives: I've chosen only three restricted objectives. Because we'll be heading into enemy territory, Advancing Strike is a given. We have more activations than models, so Change of Tactics seems like a good pick even though the Farstriders don't gain much from going on Guard unless the opponent has Cleave. Escalation is too good to pass up for 2 points, and I don't think Extreme Flank with this group is a very good idea. (You will likely end up with one fighter on one edge and two on the other, and if you lose that one fighter, you lose the ability to score Extreme Flank.)
I've also added three immediate scores: Strong Start, Intervention, and What Armour? Because we have reasonably tough tanks who can ping tougher opponents at range before they close with us, I feel Strong Start is easy enough to score during one of the first two rounds, and it can really help get the ball rolling, particularly for Escalation and Ready for Action. Intervention may seem like a weird one, but it's money against any warband that is trying to play for objectives, and between Mischievous Spirits and Distraction, it should be an easy score even if your opponent is doing what he can to ignore holding objectives. (It also gives extra value to those two ploys when you are facing a faction that doesn't care about such things.) What Armour? can be a bit hit-or-miss, but Swiftblade's melee attack has Cleave when he inspires, and I also have the Overcharged Boltstorm Pistol for one of my sidekicks. With 3 hammers and Cleave, that upgrade hits quite reliably. I have tried the deck with only four score-immediately cards, and it doesn't work nearly as well. Unfortunately, if you're playing Farstriders with the BAR list, you're going to have to dig a bit for some good immediates, which is how I ended up with these.
Since we'll be aiming to get into enemy territory, Swift Advance seems like a no-brainer. I prefer this card to Conquest because I don't have to hold it until the end of the third round. The extra glory is generally not worth the opportunity cost of failing to score other objectives in rounds 1 and 2. Plant a Standard is a sneaky play, and since you'll generally win the roll to start the game, you will usually have the option of going second, which should give you an easy way to score this card. Against warbands that are playing for objectives, you can use your push cards and Mischievous Spirits to get this score; against those who don't, you'll get this one uncontested. (Aim to put an objective just inside enemy territory if you're playing against Fiends, orruks, etc.) Shining Example is a relatively easy score unless Sanson gets taken out of action, but as I've said, we've got that covered. Ploymaster is generally an easy score because of the Improvisation/Duel of Wits combo, as well as having more activations than fighters. And with five score-immediately cards, Master of War is a relatively easy score even in round 1. Finally, we have Superior Tactician to tie it all together with a nice little bow.
Gambits: I always start my decks off with Improvisation and Duel of Wits for reasons I've explained elsewhere, and since I never lack for upgrades to put in a deck, they never come out. This means I can choose my ten "real" gambits. Hidden Paths is a lock, especially for a slow warband. (As an added bonus, many opponents will put an objective on an edge hex in their end, which means you can sometimes get Sanson there right away.) Given the recent surge in hold-objective play, Mischievous Spirits is becoming nearly automatic for me, as it's extremely difficult to counter.
Of course, I have a couple of push ploys in the deck. I like Distraction because it serves as backup against hold-objective play. Ultimately, I settled on Rangers, Advance for my own pushing. It comes with the risk of being unusable if I lose two fighters, but this isn't usually a problem for two reasons. First, if I have lost two fighters already, I likely have bigger problems! Second, the combination of Improvisation, Duel of Wits, and a lot of "anytime" gambits means I can usually get through the majority of deck during every game.
Warning Cry is one I'm not sold on, but since I don't like wasting an activation to go on Guard in order to score Change of Tactics, it occasionally frees up an activation. In a pinch, it's good against brawlers who pack a lot of Cleave. When I need to get a hit, I have Fuelled by Fury, which works very well with an inspired Sanson's birdzooka! Two hammers and three swords are more or less identical, right? Well, sure. But if you have Fuelled by Fury, the default expectation is that you will end up rerolling one attack dice if you hit on hammers and two if you hit on swords. And when you do the math, you'll see that you end up with more expected hits, on average, with three swords. Oh, and if you're looking for birdzooka crits, this is a very good card to have,
I'm also packing Retribution. It's basically a modified version of My Turn, so you're trading a non-BAR card for the shenanigans My Turn can pull. But it's a worthwhile trade, IMO. Enemies will often charge a Farstrider who has already charged, in which case they will likely not push him back when they charge, expecting to get an assist later. SURPRISE! Punch to the face. Falling into this trap against Sanson is a very good way to get your head shot off with a birdzooka.
Raptor Strike is very tough to avoid taking in a Farstrider list, IMO, because ranged ping damage is strong. Unfortunately, it won't help you score certain objectives, so you do have to be careful in this list, but it's worth it. It has the same leader limitation as some of the other cards in this deck, but I can get around that.
Inspiration Strikes is almost always valuable. It's good for adding a second defense die to a fighter, or for getting the birdzooka locked and loaded, or for getting Cleave in play in order to score What Armour?, or to turn Eagle-Eye into a surprise Saek. Knowing I have this card in my deck, I will sometimes leave a fighter back to play cleaner in my half of the board in round 1, figuring I can inspire him in round 2. (Swift Advance works against this, but hey, I didn't say this deck would be easy!)
Finally, I have Ready for Action. It's very strong, especially when you can shoot people at range with a Very Angry Bird.
Upgrades: I started this list with a few staples. First came the Wound upgrades. I dabbled with Sudden Growth and Deathly Fortitude, but they didn't work very well for me. The Farstriders need to be able to get to a particular spot on the board, and those upgrades mess with that ability. On the other hand, Potion of Constitution and Great Fortitude do not.
I also packed some defense rerolls: Trusted Defender and Champion's Fortitude. I'm not their biggest fan, in large part because the math doesn't indicate that they're any great shakes, but I've seen these cards do some real work in Fiends decks. They're just demoralizing, especially if you can neutralize any Cleave threats. Many players will be very reluctant to attack my fighters if they're effectively rolling 3 shields. The major drawback is that you almost always want to put them on separate fighters, so they become less valuable as the game progresses. As a bonus, though, you can nearly turn an uninspired fighter into his inspired version in round 1 after a kill: just equip one of these cards.
I've also taken two damage upgrades: Gloryseeker and Fighter's Ferocity. Gloryseeker is sometimes worthless, but when you need it, you REALLY need it. Fighter's Ferocity is on the cutting block as of this writing, but since most of my fighters roll three dice for most of their attacks, it can, in theory, do some real work.
Potion of Rage is great for those times when you really need a hit; no need to explain it. Swift Stride is a late addition to the party, if only because having one of these fighters unexpectedly moving five or six hexes can really surprise an opponent. As an added bonus, you can use this card to unexpectedly get into your opponent's territory.
I also have two weapon upgrades: the Overcharged Boltstorm Pistol, and Awakened Weapon. The OBP is a decent upgrade. It grants Cleave, it swings three hammers, and it can be combined with Fighter's Ferocity or Gloryseeker to do a solid two damage at range, which is no joke. Unfortunately, if I am down to Sanson at some point, it becomes useless because BIRDZOOKA.
Which brings me to Awakened Weapon. Giving this upgrade to Sanson effectively give him a very solid attack that is effectively four dice and often hits for two damage. Does he have Gloryseeker? Great! You can do two damage to hard targets at range, with the strong possibility of a third. Does he also have Fighter's Ferocity? Wonderful! Now he can one-shot Magore . . . from four hexes away.
Yes, I have found that there are few things scarier than Sanson Farstrider in your backfield firing a fully loaded birdzooka. Bonus points for you if you have Ready for Action ready after you've already loaded up the Potion of Rage, or Awakened Weapon, or Gloryseeker, or Fighter's Ferocity. (Gloryseeker and Ready for Action alone with him can effectively one-shot any 4-Wound target in a single activation.)
And that brings me to my leader-based cards: Hero's Mantle and Second-in-command. Hero's Mantle is a poor man's Destiny to Meet,but since Sanson is a hard target who tends to end the game in a safe spot with 5 Wounds, a Potion of Constitution, and two defense dice with a reroll, he's usually in good shape.
So why Second-in-command? Well, let's look at what falls apart if my leader is taken out of action:
Plant a Standard
That's one score-immediately objective, an easily score end-phase objective, another end-phase objective that most players won't see coming or won't be able to stop, a four-hex ping, and a possible end-game glory point. Really, I can't afford not to run this card in this deck, unless I want to rip out those five cards and find replacements. And the thing is, there aren't a lot of good replacements there.
So! This is my deck. It has done a lot of good work against objective-focused warbands (specifically Thorns and Gitz), but I haven't really taken it for a good spin against melee-focused warbands. You have to play this deck loosely and simply look for targets of opportunity as they arise, knowing what's left in your deck and when to pop Mischievous Spirits, for example—or when to head to the back line for a free shot at an Intervention/Plant a Standard combo. (Trust me, few things will tilt your opponent as hard as charging in to kill a goblin on an objective, scoring Advancing Strike or Intervention, and then using a push ploy of Mischievous Spirits to also pick up Plant a Standard.)
Thanks for reading! Time for bed; I'm exhausted