#1 - The standard or play your favourite model/units build
Under 7th Ed I had an exercise book full of different army lists at different points sizes all of which aimed to get different units and combos on the table at various times. During friendly games at my club I would chop and change between various lists at random, often for no real reason.
The units these lists included usually consisted of (a) those I had finished painting - due to my aversion to playing unpainted models or (b) my favourite units. Often this resulted in my taking armies that didnt work well against particularly opponents or didnt work well in general. But as long as I got my favourite figures out on the table (Hammers & Quarrellers for Dwarfs/Phoenix Guard for High Elves) I was happy.
At other times I would just take really weird character builds to try things out or even odd unit choices. The point being to experiment with what I had to learn more about my respective armies.
This is probably how most people put lists together initially. Over time though you'll start to develop a more consistent build to the point where you frequently take the same character/unit builds in nearly every game. Tournament experience really helps here as it provides a huge learning curve as to what works. For most of 7th Edition my lists at various points always included the following:
- Core troops - for Dwarfs 2 units of Quarrellers, for High Elves - 2 blocks of Spears
- Specials - for Dwarfs a big block of Hammerers, High Elves - Phoenix Guard
- Rare - Organ Gun for Dwarfs, 2 RBT's for High Elves
#2 - Tooling up vs. a particular opponent
At my local club the range of armies I faced is (unfortunately) very limited, even more so this year, and consequently I often found myself facing the same armies time after time principally Warriors of Chaos (the old book) and Lizardmen (the old book). While I often took my "I like these models" lists I also, notably for bigger games, tryed to specialise to counter a particular army, e.g.
- vs. Warriors of Chaos - Quarrellers would go and Thunderers would come in as would a Cannon, and GW weilding units would get precedence.
- vs. Lizardmen - Quarrellers and Thunderers would get fielded to counter the Skink horde my club mate usually fielded (upto 60 in some games) and I would maximise my anti-magic protection.
The tooling up approach really depends on what you and your friends are going for, sometimes its fun to have your opponent make your list for you or even to swap armies once you get to the table.
But to build this kind of list you really have to know whats in your opponents army book. To be honest outside of my Dwarfs and High Elves I know stuff all about the contents of the other army books - although Armybuilder helps here somewhat.
#3 - Tournament play
If you want to improve as a WHFB player particularly when it comes to list building tournament play is the only place to go. In my first two outings I took standard "#1 - I like this unit" type lists. This was a bad mistake but a good one to learn from. At tournaments you will encounter the uber-combos tooled up characters and units put together by players who can get the most out of their respective army books and the rules. Its here that you learn the little tricks that turn an average unit into a killer, or a standard hero into a rampaging menace.
You also learn pretty quickly what parts of your army work and what dont and in which combos. After competing in 8 WHFB tournaments I have come to the conclusion that to build an effective tournament army list you have to:
- Know the contents of every other army book inside out - what units are the killers, what items should be feared, which combos are going to hurt your army the most.
- Know the contents of your army book inside out - what combos work best for you, which units do other armies fear, what units do other armies least want to see on the table.
- Maximises your advantages while minimising or removing your disadvantages compared to other armies.
- Can take advantage of other armies weaknesses while avoiding or at least protecting you against their strengths.
In 8th things have changed to the point where I believe you need to dominate or at least be competitive in every phase, although for Dwarfs this is damn difficult.
I've also found that after playing in tournaments my #1 and #2 lists changed to the point where after a while #3 Tournament lists were all I played in most games - outside of my High Elf vs Dwarf grudge matches. Still its sometimes fun just to take a unit because you like it i.e., the High Elf Dragon Mage - as a unit it sucks, but it looks cool so I use.