Last Updated: 9-May-2016

I still love this mech.



For a long time, the Thunderbolt was seen as a real piece of shit, a less-than-mediocre mech with a reputation for sucking, and sucking hard. But all of that changed when the quirk system went into place and now it sucks a little bit less! It has been nerfed back to mediocrity, but it’s really not bad at all.

Of the five variants, three are really special. The Top Dog is the tankiest and most agile of the bunch, but its offensive capabilities are best described as adequate. The TDR-9SE is more of a meta-friendly powerhouse, and its incredible quirks would be OP on many other chassis, but its power tends to be a bit underwhelming. The TDR-5SS has the power that you need, but it can be a bit squishy and it is more focused on short range. Your third choice of a mech if you don’t want to shell out the MC for a Top Dog (which isn’t really necessary, but it’s certainly one of the top 3 variants) has got to be the TDR-9S. Its excellent ER PPCs and great generics. Last up is the TDR-5S, which is on a pretty similar level as the TDR-9S, but I rate it as being a bit weaker.


Chassis-Wide Information


  • The RT energy hardpoints (on the variants fortunate enough to have them) are very high, located on roughly the same level as the cockpit.
  • Arms are serviceable at shielding – they may not be the best at it, but they do their job better than most other mechs.
  • It is one of the more heavily quirked mechs in the game, though this is mainly just to make up for the mech’s downsides.



  • As long as the enemy has decent aim, they’re going to hit whichever component they want, due to its blocky appearance and generally broad component hitboxes.
  • The non-RT hardpoints are rather low-mounted, some sitting directly below the cockpit, which can make peaking to the side and over hills rather annoying.
  • There is only one variant with jump-jets, the 9SE, and it does not really have the ability to make terribly effective use of them.


Generic Tips

  • Due to the Thunderbolt’s defensive weaknesses, your best bet is to just stick with a friendly larger and juicier target for most of the match (think Dire Wolf, Atlas, any other sort of mech the enemy team might find to be a more attractive target).
  • Remember that your cockpit is all the way on the left side of the mech. This has a few interesting results. 1) your LT weapons appear to be firing from directly underneath you, 2) your right-sided mounted weapons appear to be quite far away from your viewport, which can hurt your convergence and force you to expose more of your mech when you peek on the right side or hill-hump, and 3) if you are careful, you can corner peak any left-side mounted weapons around the left without even exposing your CT, or at least not by much.
  • Practice makes perfect. The Thunderbolt has a number of oddities which give it a unique feel (more so than most other mechs), so you will find that sticking with it can increase your skill with the mech by a lot more than the sort of results you get from sticking with other chassis.



If you’re not familiar with my Inner Sphere Master Guides, each pretty much follows the same formula. Each variant gets its own section; within that section I try to include at least two main builds, each with a few variations on the core principle (if applicable).

Each build has one paragraph about the build itself – going over anything I feel is relevant to understanding it such as quirks, tonnage issues, how it fits the meta, my general feeling about it…just whatever. And then there’s a paragraph about using the build, going over tactics, tips, and whatever I feel is relevant to that, including links to L2P guides, on occasion.

I may miss a build that you like, or my builds may differ slightly from what you find works best for you because our philosophies may differ – I strongly encourage that you experiment for yourself to see what works best for you.

The modules are listed in order of which one is most important and the consumables I’ve listed are the ones that are generally the best, but while leveling the mech you may want to swap the less important consumable out for a UAV. That is, if you can afford to use consumables at all (they aren’t necessary, just nice, and if you’re low on C-Bills they’re not necessarily worth it).

On with it!


Top Dog

It’s not head and shoulders above the other variants, but it is a great pick-up for anyone who already likes the chassis and wants more. It only gets 10% energy range offensively, but it has 16 extra CT structure and 15 in the side torsos and legs. It also gets 60% accel/decel, 45% turn rate, 30% torso twist speed, and an extra 20° of torso twist range of motion.

This is one of the most meta-friendly builds you can run on the Top Dog. Its lack of heat gen quirks seriously drops its DPS, but the range quirks are enough for it to stay very relevant at mid-range. It has very high mounted Large Pulse Lasers, which are pretty much heat neutral, and its total alpha strike is pretty brutal.

This build plays like most laser vomit mechs do, with a focus on high alpha strikes that you can use to win trades and punish aggressive bad guys. You have a few possible approaches to take to this – the first is to hill-hump or corner-peek with your right side, which is your safest option but sacrifices a solid portion of your alpha. This is definitely the one to take at longer ranges (over ~450m), as your medium lasers won’t be doing much anyways. The other is just to full expose a la Black Knight, risking return fire for extra damage. This is best executed when you have other teammates acting similarly, or feel that you’ll be able to get away with it for whatever reason (maybe you’re flanking, or know the enemy to have shorter-range weapons than you). For more on this style of build, check out the Laser Vomit guide.

Mech Modules: Radar Deprivation, Seismic Sensor

Weapon Modules: Medium Laser Range, Large Pulse Range

Consumables: Cool Shot, Air Strike

This is more of a typical build, spamming 3 Large Pulses with Medium Lasers for backup. I don’t like the XL on a Thunderbolt (no matter the structure quirks) because of how squat and wide it is, but you do get a good bonus from it.



The TDR-9SE has a lot of great stuff going for it, but its low hardpoints hold it back from being incredible. It gets 10% to generic energy cooldown, heat gen, and range, with an extra 10% to the heat gen and range of Large Pulse Lasers, and 15% missile cooldown on top of all that. It also gets an extra 10 structure on the side torsos.

The TDR-9SE has the best LPL quirks in the game, so we might as well make good use of them. The main downsides of this build are the mediocre firepower and the required exposure profile. Despite this, it can put out good damage, and the heat is an absolute breeze. Thanks to this, you can put out some nice DPS at a good range with low exposure time, making it a great all-rounder. Unfortunately, this build has a pretty low alpha strike for a 65-tonner, and its cooldown quirk isn’t exactly incredible.

You’ll want to play as a supportive style than a front-line laser vomit, poking to add DPS but avoiding fire whenever possible. Since your beam duration is particularly low, you also can avoid taking full return fire by only peeking out for a fraction of a second and then retreating to cover – something your jumpjets can also help with. As long as you play a bit cautiously, you can put out very respectably damage in this mech. As far as shielding goes, I would recommend using your right side as a buffer all the way down to when your CT starts to get hit, at which point you’ll want to give the enemy your left arm so that you can survive a bit longer.

Mech Modules: Radar Deprivation, Seismic Sensor

Weapon Modules: Large Pulse Range, Large Pulse Cooldown

Consumables: Cool Shot, Air Strike

This is forced into using an XL, but goes slower than the first build. The ghost heat and weapon placement is enough to discourage alpha-strikes, but it can certainly be done every once in a while. Honestly, if the fourth energy hardpoint was anywhere but the RA i would prefer this build, but I am not a fan of the weapon placement at all.

This also forgoes the survivability of a STD to get a more powerful laser vomit build, something more appropriate for a 65-tonner. It gets more speed out of the trade and doesn’t have to deal with ghost heat, but the range and duration holds it back a bit.

Weapon Modules: Medium Laser Range, Large Pulse Range

This uses SRM4s to enhance your short-ranged firepower so that you have more options on enemies that get close. You can also be more aggressive in short-range trades, as your weapons remain entirely left-sided.

Weapon Modules: Large Pulse Range, SRM4 Cooldown



This is the classic MPL variant, and while 7 of those now trigger ghost heat, it still has some sweet options. Its quirks give it 15% extra energy cooldown and heat gen, 10+15% energy+MPL range, and 15% missile cooldown. It also gets 10 structure in each side torso.

Between the fantastic heat and range quirks, high alpha strike, and low durations, we’re looking at an absolutely brutal mid-range build. Its range is still a bit lower than that of most traditional laser vomit mechs, but if you can get into that distance, you can absolutely tear up anything you see with a very high and very focused burst.

You definitely don’t want to treat this mech as a brawler, but your relatively low range does force you to trade from within 400 meters. This means you’ll want to focus on shutting down enemies that try to poke, and hitting enemy flanks aggressively. While you are shooting, you do want to make sure that you can hold the beam steady on your target while it’s going out. It may only last around a half a second, but that means that missing the initial bit of the burn is much more of a loss than it would be with a longer duration laser, and try to keep it trained on the same component throughout the burn. The alpha is crazy, but you need to get it all onto a vital component. One of the advantages of pulse lasers is that this part gets much easier, so make sure that you take advantage of that and get the full burn right where you want it. For more on this style of build, check out the Laser Vomit guide.

Mech Modules: Radar Deprivation, Seismic Sensor

Weapon Modules: Med Pulse Range, Large Pulse Cooldown

Consumables: Cool Shot, Air Strike

It’s basically just the Top Dog build, but it gets much nicer offensive quirks on this variant (missing out on the defensive and agility quirks, unfortunately).

Weapon Modules: Med Laser Range, Large Pulse Range

ER Large spam works best on this variant (though the TDR-9S and Top Dog certainly compete).

Weapon Modules: ER Large Range, ER Large Cooldown



For a few weeks, this was an incredible mech, but now it’s pretty average. It gets a 15% quirk for energy cooldown and heat gen, with an extra 10% for ER PPC cooldown and 5% for ER PPC heat gen. It also gets 15% for laser duration and missile cooldown, and 30% for ER PPC velocity. And finally, it gets 10 structure in each side torso.

These are some high DPS ER PPCs, and they’re in very high mounts. The medium lasers offer great backup firepower for when enemies get close, but 90% of the game will be spent just hitting peeps with your peeps.

This build takes full advantage of both the quirks and the hardpoint locations to poke at the enemy with minimal risk, and uses above average maneuverability to stay one step ahead. I’ve always thought of the Thunderbolt as being the little brother of the Awesome and Battlemaster, and this variant is like the AWS 9M had a smarter, stronger, and generally superior baby. Obviously, you’ll want to shield with your left torso, and your speed combined with your STD engine give you a fair amount of survivability as you kite your enemies to their doom.

Mech Modules: Radar Deprivation, Seismic Sensor

Weapon Modules: ER PPC Cooldown, Medium Laser Range

Consumables: Cool Shot, Air Strike

This basically just swaps out your Mediums for a Gauss (and an XL), the convergence isn’t great but at least you have a heatless option.

Weapon Modules: Gauss Cooldown, ER PPC Cooldown

This is a stupid build, no doubt, but it has ridiculous ranged potential and the “low-heat” option will let you DPS at shorter ranges, and add to your burst (might as well put the duration quirk to use).

Weapon Modules: ER PPC Cooldown, Large Laser Range



While the quirks are great, its low hardpoints and lack of anything really special hold it back. It get 15% for energy cooldown and heat gen, laser duration, and missile cooldown, with an extra 10% to large laser cooldown and range. And of course, it gets the 10 structure on each side torso.

Build 1:

This build is as meta as you can get in the variant, with a focus on medium-long range weapons that pew. It’s decently effective thanks to its quirks, but the low mounts, split hardpoints, need to break ghost heat…there’s just a lot of things that hold the mech back.

If you can stay at range and manage to only poke when nobody is looking, you should be able to get away with the left-side peak most of the time, without even exposing your CT. Unfortunately, not exposing your CT means that you will be exposing your left torso…which risks losing most of your weapons. So if you feel threatened, do not be afraid to return to cover before your full laser burn is up – better to do slightly less damage than to take a lot more damage. Whenever possible, shield with your right side (up until you start taking internal CT damage even), but this mech was not meant to take damage so…better you don’t put yourself in a position where you’d have to shield at all.

Mech Modules: Radar Deprivation, Seismic Sensor

Weapon Modules: Large Laser Range, Large Laser Cooldown

Consumables: Cool Shot, Air Strike

Probably one of the better asym builds you can run on the chassis, staying way out at around 600 meters without a problem just pewing and gaussing all the bad guys. You can run it with an XL for more speed and heatsinks, but that’s up to you.

Weapon Modules: Gauss Rifle Cooldown, Large Laser Range


Build 2:

I spent a while trying to figure out how to make the Large Lasers work out without purely boating them. Unfortunately, it ended up with me putting LRMs onto a mech. It hurts me way more than it hurts you. The 3 Large Lasers have an optimal range of over 600 meters (just under that of unenhanced ERLLs) and let you fire every 3 seconds or so, which means that we can use them as our offensive weapon without having to rely on the LRMs, which do have an acceptable amount of synergy with the lasers.

You’ll definitely want to avoid getting shot at in this build, but being in the back of your team should help with that. Just please, ignore the urge to only use your LRMs for the entire match, and emerge from cover only after your ammo has been depleted. Your main weapons are going to be those Large Lasers, and the missiles are only there to provide extra suppression and DPS, or for if you get very hurt and need to play in the back for a while. Make sure that you’re staying in a position where your team can protect you, ideally either at the tail of a push or in the back of a firing line, but where you can also get shots of all sorts.

Mech Modules: Radar Deprivation, Seismic Sensor

Weapon Modules: Large Laser Range, Large Laser Cooldown

Consumables: Cool Shot, Air Strike

If you, like me, have a LRM allergy, you may want to run this more brawler-centric style of build. It still retains the ability to poke at range, but now you get to close and wreck the enemy face to face.


Pilot Skills

I’ve figured that this is the best skill order for pretty much any mech, and so I’m just going to customize it for mechs that have to emphasize unusual pilot skills.

Basics: Cool Run – Heat Containment – Hard Brake – Kinetic Burst – Twist Speed – Twist X – Anchor Turn – Arm Reflex

Elites: Speed Tweak – Fast Fire – Quick Ignition – Pinpoint

Then just master it. You really want to get both the TDR-5SS and TDR-9SE, and the Top Dog too if you bought that. They’re all just swell!


And that’s that. I hope you enjoy your mech, let me know if you have any questions, and as always glhf

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