This mech buying guide is designed to give players who want to get into competitive MWO an idea of what to go for in terms of mechs and builds. I tried not to go on for too long about the intricacies of each point, but if you have any questions feel free to post them in the MetaMechs forum.
Step 1: Decide on a role
While you don’t have to lock into one particular role and in general you will have to engage in multiple playstyles as fits your drop commander’s deck, it’s not a bad idea to have a specialization. However, it’s natural to switch things up as you develop just because you never truly know which role you will be more suited for. In the current meta, you have a few decisions to make as far as what sort of pilot you want to be.
The first is whether you want to be primarily a light pilot. It’s not easy, and talented light pilots are few and far between, but if you enjoy it then I would definitely go for it. A big advantage to being a light pilot is that competitive teams always need more of them, so even if you can do nothing else, a competent light pilot will have a good chance to be recruited.
However, if you’ve given it a try and playing lights just isn’t for you, you may want to pick a range bracket to specialize in at the start. I’ve divided ranges into 3 groups: short range (focusing on engagements between 0 and 300 meters), medium range (focusing on engagements between 300 and 700 meters), and long range (focusing on engagements between 700 and 1100 meters). In general, you will still have to bring mechs for all of these ranges due to the way competitive drops are set up with all of the assorted restrictions that go along with it (weight caps, banned weapons, selected maps and selected game modes for instance), but it’s a good idea to start with a concentration.
Step 2: Buy and master your role’s mechs
Once you know what you want to play as, you need to get the mechs to play in that role. The rest of this article is devoted to the optimal mechs to buy and the best order(s). Since this is a buying guide, I won’t include any chassis that you can’t actually, yaknow, buy. Since you need 3 variants of each chassis, I’ve included builds for at least 3 variants (4 for the ones with viable Hero mechs, and 5 for…special circumstances). The variants are listed in the general order of how competitively useful they are, though sometimes two variants are used for different roles so don’t take their order as a definitive “this one’s better” kind of deal. I also took the liberty of italicizing all of the mech builds I specified that are optimal for competitive play (often, you will see other variants fielded in restricted matches such as Marik Civil War, or when a pilot does not own a particular variant). I’ve also made the title of each Chassis’ section be the link to its Master Guide, if one is available.
Light Pilot’s Buying Guide
Chassis 1: Jenner
The Oxide is, at the moment, the most-used competitive light mech in the game, which makes it hard to recommend a light chassis over this one. The issue is that it is a hero mech, and if you don’t feel like shelling out the MC for the Oxide specifically, I would just ignore the Jenner entirely and move on to the rest of the bunch. Since there’s no Master Guide yet, the other 2 variants you’ll want for Mastering the Oxide are the JR7-F and JR7-D.
Not only is the JR7-IIC the most brutal light mech variant in the game, but the JR7-IIC-A sees a good deal of play as well, making the Jenner IIC a great chassis to pick up for comp. Each build is a bit situational, but it’s important for any competitive light pilot to have these bad boys mastered.
The Arctic Cheetah is the first Clan Light which fits the role established by the strong IS lights as a super-fast small mech which can do a lot of damage over time at short range. Occasionally, you have an added benefit of it offering an extra 5 tons to play with in tonnage drops, over the 35-tonners. Its popularity has been losing out to the Jenner IIC and Oxide, but it is still a very solid choice.
Chassis 4: Spider
This is a bit of a weird one. The SDR-5K’s crazy quirks (and hitboxes) have made it actually kind of legit, but unfortunately that is the only variant worth taking in comp. Even in PUGs, the others can be quite disappointing, but I feel that even if you’re not planning on taking it to comp, it’s important to understand the mech and having the option is never a bad thing. Since there’s no Master Guide yet, the other 2 variants you’ll want for mastering the SDR-5K are the SDR-5D and…I guess the SDR-5V…
It is safe to say that the era of long-range light mechs has come to an end, but being able to play this style can be very important, particularly on maps like Alpine Peaks. A short-ranged light mech will almost always offer more utility, but every once in a while you may be asked to take out an ER Large Raven, so it’s best you be ready.
Obviously, it’s not a light mech. But it is a competitive mech, and plays more like a light than a medium, which means that a light pilot will have a stronger background to draw from while playing it than a big pilot would have. It is an absolute beast of a brawler and has viable builds at medium range as well, but its main use is in drops where light mechs are not allowed and you want a fast mech for scouting or capping.
Being a light pilot is definitely the least financially taxing choice with the lowest entry bar, since light mechs in general are the cheapest. Being a competent light pilot is much more about skill than it is about being able to buy mechs, so the most important thing is to practice, rather than farming C-Bills.
Non-Light Pilot’s Buying Guide
The non-light mechs (or “bigs”) play pretty similarly, but there are a few distinct sort of specializations that you might see, and a few way to break down these specializations. For the record, this isn’t every single mech you’ll ever see in competitive play, but it is all the ones that I feel are currently relevant and which I could easily see including in a drop deck myself. Obviously, if you have a DC who wants you to get a specific mech not on the list, or low in the listed priority…you should probably get that mech ASAP.
Black Knight, Banshee, Blackjack
These three mechs are basically all that you need in order to fill a slot in comp and I recommend picking them up right off the bat so that you understand why they’re good. After that, you can look at specializing, or you can just try to maximize your usefulness by practicing the most useful mechs.
Grasshopper, Griffin, Battlemaster, Timber Wolf, Hunchback IIC, Mauler, Atlas, Jagermech, Stormcrow, Dire Wolf, Quickdraw, Enforcer, Shadow Hawk, Hunchback, Shadow Cat, Trebuchet, Nova, Stalker, Gargoyle
Really not using “generically” in a bad way here – being able to fill mechs on demand is incredibly valuable, and it makes your DC’s job so much easier. In SJR we take for granted that someone can always switch to that one chassis, but most teams aren’t so fortunate. Be the hero your DC needs.
Mauler, Battlemaster, Atlas, Dire Wolf, Stalker
Since the agility nerf, I’ve noticed that the bulkiest mechs have started to feel different than their cousins. They’re still terribly similar, but playing these mechs extensively will get you more accustomed to the subtle differences and more comfortable playing them.
Griffin, Shadowhawk, Hunchback, Atlas, Nova, Stormcrow, Timber Wolf, Gargoyle
Some of these brawlers play much differently from one another, but they’ll all be in varying levels of demand in any sort of brawling drop. Buying them and practicing their brawling builds will help you out when it’s time to get your feet wet.
Battlemaster, Grasshopper, Shadow Cat, Hunchback IIC, Stalker, Timber Wolf, Quickdraw, Jagermech
This is perhaps the least in-demand playstyle in the current meta, though there are a couple of maps that it is often used on (Polar, Alpine, and to some extent, Tourmaline).
If you do decide to go for a certain specialty, I recommend rounding out your mechlab with the rest of the mechs that were listed in the Generic list, or going down another specialty’s list in that order if you’re interested in that style of play as well. Then, I’d also advise getting the light mechs in their priority order, since playing those mechs can give you an insight into playing against them.
So in alphabetical order, here are all of the non-light mechs worth having for competition play, and their main competitive build(s).
The King is back, baby! Well, now he’s more like a duke, but hey that’s something! The Atlas is a very solid choice in some very specific situations (and most of those seem to happen on Frozen City). But in those specific situations, it does real work. It’s the tankiest mech in the game, it draws a lot of aggro, and if the enemy team doesn’t take it down fast, it will punish them hard. In comp, you will usually be “leading” charges, which usually means pushing with your team, firing whenever possible, and shielding for the majority of your time spent in combat.
The modern meta has elevated the Banshee to supremacy with its focus on XL-viable (not gonna say safe) mechs running high-alpha mid-range lasers vomit builds. With high mounts. And good quirks. As you can see, it ticks a lot of boxes. But it does have a few builds that are all competitively viable, and they all do some serious work. Like many Assaults, its strength comes from its offensive power rather than any sort of durability, using its health pool to extend the amount of time it gets to spend on target rather than tanking for its team. But it performs this role exceptionally, and has the bonus of being one of the easier mechs to play.
The Battlemaster is, in many ways, a budget Banshee. Its hitboxes are a bit more even (making it a bit riskier to run XLs), but it carries many of the same loadouts and performs almost exactly the same. There is a bit less flexibility to be had, but it does have the bonus of 6 high mounts that can all fit 2- or 3-slot weapons, whereas the BNC-3M is limited to 5 and requires extra weapons to use them. It also is 10 tons lighter, which makes it a great choice for tonnage-based drops.
See what I mean when I say the two are similar?
The Black Knight is the most recent king of the meta (btw, “Kings of the Meta”? or maybe “Knights”? Great name for a new comp team – that one’s on the house). It ticks almost all of the boxes for a competitive laser vomit mech – it has decent hitboxes for an XL, can fit some brutally high alphas, and has both heat gen and range quirks at a sweet spot for tonnage. The main things it’s missing are high mounts and jumpjets – oh boy is it missing those. And it hurts, but it still puts out some serious work in a variety of configurations.
The Blackjack has been strong for a while, but the meta has shifted to a point where it’s really highlighted as one of the more powerful medium mechs in the game. It has a good amount of tankiness and some pretty sweet build options to take advantage of that, with some sweet quirks added into the mix. Usually, it plays as a support mech for brawlers or just a filler medium, but it can really shine in those roles. It’s also the best value-per-ton of any mech outside of lights, so if you need to squeeze in some big mechs, this is a great option.
Oh boy, the Dire Wolf is in a real sad state, but it manages to cling on to the competitive scene by the barest of grips. This chassis reigns supreme as the offensive powerhouse, and it is doubtful that any mech will ever replace it there (not even the Kodiak), but it comes at a hefty loss of durability, speed, and of use. It can be a very rewarding mech if your comp is built to include it, but there are very few comps that can afford to just slot in a Dire Wolf.
This is easily one of the most powerful medium mechs when played at range, but there are really only a couple builds that we’ll see from it in a competitive setting, and they’re quite niche. But it has great hitboxes, decent mounts, and is great at exploiting openings. The trouble is, it’s not even the best at its niche, and it ends up struggling with mechs like the Blackjack and even Trebuchet to be the second-best mid/long-range laser mech (if you’re curious, HBK-IIC-A is #1). As such, it usually gets forgotten in the bin. Damn shame.
The Gargoyle is hands-down the best fast brawling assault mech in the game. There’s a niche. Honestly, the situations where you’d take this over an Atlas or a brawling Timber Wolf are pretty much non-existence, so it’ll pretty much always be relegated to a second or third choice of mech in a restricted drop. But it’s still quite good, it has the DPS, structure quirks, and speed to keep up in a brawl and to survive getting into range in the first place.
The Grasshopper comes with some pretty sweet quirks, some decently high mounts, and plenty of tonnage to make it all work. It’s most frequently compared to a Black Knight, and not quite favorably. It doesn’t suffer the same issues of low mounts and lack of jumpjets, but it can’t alpha as hard or carry as many heat sinks, and its quirks just aren’t as good. It’s still a fantastic mech for medium and long range play, however, and I personally prefer it.
With the resurgence of brawling (particularly in lighter drops), the Griffin has returned as one of the most frequently-seen medium mechs in competitive play. It can’t do much other than brawl, but it has the tankiness and damage to out-pace pretty much all of the competition, with plenty of maneuverability to boot. It has even been seen outside of pure brawl drops, where it can use its high damage at short range to apply pressure that a ranged medium could not, sort of like a fat light mech.
Quirks have turned the HBK-4SP into, ton-for-ton, the tankiest mech in the game (citation needed). While on its own, this is not particularly valuable, it also has enough offensive quirks to make use of its very limited hardpoints in a positive way. As with a few other mechs on this list, it’s a second or third choice in specific limited drops, but it fills a role that not many mechs fill. Even more so than the Atlas, the Hunchback is meant to soak up damage so that its team can get free shots, and it does this job even better.
This is easily one of the strongest medium mechs in the game, and part of what makes it so strong is its flexibility. It has variants for laser vomit, dakka, even brawling, and they all do a serviceable or insane job. The high mounts are what really make the mech, but full access to clan tech and a few jumpjets really help it along. The only thing that holds this mech back is its squishiness – its shoulder hitboxes are huge and it has no quirks to help out with that problem. But its ability to hill-hump while taking minimal return fire makes up for that.
The Jagermech has always been a versatile mech, but for a long time it has been a bit too weak in all of its roles. But lately, we’ve seen a massive boost in the popularity of the Dakka Jagermech for good reason. The JM6-DD with 3 UAC/5s does, on average, about 90% of the DPS of the MAL-MX90. Which is absolutely insane, since it weighs 25 tons and a class less, and has extra speed and high mounts to help. As the dakka playstyle grows in strength, this will be one of the main mechs to benefit, so it’s definitely worth picking up.
Speaking of dakka…the Mauler is at the forefront of that playstyle. It can put out some great DPS to be sure, but the real strength is the range and velocity quirks on the MAL-MX90 which allow it to compete with laser spam at some pretty crazy distances. I feel like this mech is a bit overrated right now, but it’s still one of the top 3 Assaults for competitive play and may soon be the best if current trends continue. Its ability to DPS down any target is only matched by the Dire Wolf, and it has more speed, higher mounts, good quirks, and better hitboxes. Just a fantastic mech.
With the return of more traditional SRM brawling, the Nova has fallen out of favor a bit. This does not mean that it is weak, though, as it still has the ability to tear off limbs like no other. Indeed, its numerous jumpjets and laser-heavy arm mounts still lend it a flexibility that some times find most appealing, even if it means giving up a bit of potential DPS in a full-on brawl engagement.
The Quickdraw is much less sexy than it was a few months ago, but it’s still worth considering. Many people have moved over to the Grasshopper for their jumpjet high-mount heavy mech since the Quickdraw got nerfed, but the Quickdraw remains to be a very solid choice for heavy mech, whether you’re looking for extra mobility or simply less of a tonnage investment. Not to mention, it is one of the most fun mechs in the game.
The Shadow Cat is a very situational mech in comp, but it shines quite brightly in those situations. Basically, it takes over the role of the old RVN-3L – running around at crazy range under cover of ECM with high-mounted ER Large – and takes it to a whole new level. No mech causes quite the nuisance in long-ranged drops as the Shadow Cat, to the point where it can totally change the way the enemy team plays on its own. Unfortunately, it is weak to a push and incredibly vulnerable to enemy lights…which, come to think of it, are the reasons why people don’t take ER Large light mechs anymore.
Once upon a time, the Shadowhawk was the only medium mech anyone would even consider taking. Now, it’s a solid second or third choice in restricted drops. There are certainly times where you’d go out of your way to bring a Shadowhawk, but these are rarely actually witnessed, and usually it is just a pseudo-Griffin. But even that is an impressive feat, as the mech can outbrawl virtually every other mech in a class full of brawlers.
The Stalker only made this list by the barest of margins – I still think it is “better” than quite a number of the mechs listed here, but I just feel like the situations where I would take a Stalker over a Battlemaster or Banshee are far too few, and most people think less of the Stalker than I do. But with all that said…I don’t think we’ll ever see another mech with hill-hump skills that even come close to this – the cockpit and top energy mounts are right at the top of the mech and in line with each other, to the point where it can get free shots constantly in stand-offs with mechs that have low mounts. But these situations just don’t happen anymore.
Most of the Stormcrow’s roles have been stolen by the Hunchback IIC, but it remains the most broke-ass streak mech in the game, with the perfect blend of speed, hardpoints, and tonnage to make it work. Including a streak mech to specifically take down lights has always been a bit of a controversial decision, but no mech has ever come close to the Streak Crow’s cost-effectiveness, and I expect that it will remain as a mainstay of comp for a long while yet.
This mech has seen better days to be sure, but it cannot be counted out. Even if things like Laser Vomit and Gauss Vomit were to completely die out, it would remain as one of the best poptarts/brawlers/dakka mechs in the game. The hardpoint layout, tonnage availability, maneuverability, and mounts all combine to make what is absolutely the most solid mech in the game. Maybe it’s not always the best, but there are Timber Wolf builds that will work really well on literally every map in the game, even if they’re not always the single best option. Very few mechs on this list can claim that.
The Treb may have awkward mount locations and the squishiest CT in the game, but it has some absolutely incredible quirks. The issue it runs into is that it needs to be ignored in order to do real work, and that is almost never a bet that you should make. As such, the Enforcer is recommended over this in pretty much any drop in which you’d expect it to get shot at. Since there’s no Master Guide yet, the other 2 variants you’ll want for mastering the TBT-5J are the TBT-7M and TBT-7K.
I think that the Firestarter is a bit too obsoleted by the Arctic Cheetah, and the Oxide and JR7-IIC have surpassed it most of the time anyways, so I don’t really think it’s worth being considered as a main competitive mech for the time being.
Other mechs which are absolutely competitively viable but are not in this list for one reason or another (mainly I just don’t see them being taken enough) include the Catapult, Marauder, Orion, and Executioner. These aren’t mechs that I would raise an eyebrow at when I see them in a comp match, but I wouldn’t exactly expect them either.
What about Modules?
There are a few modules and module-related skills that you need to be competitive. For this reason, don’t spend your GXP on anything but module unlocks, and prioritize those well. In general, I would advise following the priorities laid out in my guide to Modules & Pilot Skills, but I’m also including a direct competitive-oriented list of priorities here:
- Seismic Sensor
- Radar Deprivation
- Advanced Seismic Sensor
- Cool Shot 9 by 9
- Improved Air Strike
- Cool Boost
- Improved Artillery Strike
- Improved UAV
- UAV Upgrade
With those pilot skills unlocked and modules bought, you can dedicate all of your C-Bills to buying mechs, but still hold on to your GXP because you need weapon modules too! In general, you want to prioritize the Cooldown modules over the Range modules, but having both is nice too.
That’s it for the buying guide. It’s been a while since the latest update, but I’ll be updating it more frequently from here on out. I hope you enjoyed the article, and glhf!