NOTE: This was a way-too long guide that I wrote on the now-exploded 99 Percent forums in February 2012, so I’m archiving it here (rather than actually writing any new content). I still fly Merlins a lot, even in the face of the recent OMGWTFBBQ assault frigate buffs that have made low and null very T1 frigate-unfriendly, and anything posted in Fleet Finder as a "FRIGATE ROAM" actually mans "ASSAULT FRIGATE ROAM, though if you have a Daredevil maybe we’ll let you in as a +1 scout." Fuck the haters.


I’ve gotten some questions about Merlins, which as some of you know I have an unhealthy obsession with. It’s the ship I want to get good with so I don’t embarrass myself horribly in bigger ships. For those who got conned introduced into UHF by Xystance from a life of highsec Caldari-specced missile slinging, it’s a good choice.

Here are some things I’ve learned by getting myself exploded a bunch of times in this porky, underrated, fantastic boat.

General Crap about Merlins

PROS

  • It’s pretty cheap, like all T1 frigates.
  • It’s forgiving due to its tanking ability for PvP newbies.
  • It takes advantage of all those shield skills that missionbears like myself trained up in order to overtank through level 4s.
  • It’s got good capacitor for a T1 frigate so you’re not that jerk who has to double-jump on a roam.
  • It has 4 freaking midslots which allows you to try all sorts of comedy fitting.
  • It’s one of the few Caldari ships that doesn’t look like a bunch of space garbage stapled together randomly.

CONS

  • It’s slow, one of the slowest base speed frigates around, which makes it hard to deal with kiters and makes it a worse tackler than almost any other combat frigate, except possibly a 3x trimarked plated Tristan.
  • It has split weapon systems with no damage bonus, requiring more skills for less oomph. 4 weapon highs only partially makes up for this.
  • It has no utility high for a nos/neut.
  • The optimal range bonus is hard to take advantage of, and in many cases you might jus want to forget it exists.
  • It looks like it has a good powergrid, but you quickly find out this is not the case.
  • It’s unpopular, which makes it harder to track down than a Rifter if you’re in a pinch.

ACTIVE/BUFFER

I’m not gonna lie, I’ve seen some freaking amazing active tank Merlin videos. You can force on a medium shield booster and a cap booster and tank a ridiculous amount of incoming damage, if you happen to know about how much damage you’re going to take. This means that you’re hunting people for 1v1 combat, and you’re going to die as soon as one other aggressor comes in. In a gang fight, 2v2, 3v3, even 7v4 when you’re on the larger side, if you get primaried you won’t get enough rep cycles off to make up for the lack of buffer. You can pull it off in some ships like a Myrmidon, Rokh, or even a Raven if you’re wacky and have a bunch of drugs on you, but a Merlin is too little. I’ll include an active fit later on, and I might try them later if I’m feeling frisky. For now though I’m going to stick with buffers. It’s already hard for me to keep everything focused.

Note that with an active fit you’re usually giving up your web, which means your rocket damage is going to suck.

AFTERBURNER/MWD

Some ships can get away with an afterburner in nullsec bubbles and all. T1 frigates can do it, but it’s difficult and mostly for solo roaming/baiting. It’s even harder with a Merlin because you’re just so damn slow. For fleet work, an MWD is generally required because you need to catch things to hold them, and an afterburner Merlin is slower than a typical MWD shield Hurricane (unless you overheat). I honestly really like afterburners, but generally in null I use an MWD. I will try to rectify this situation in the coming months.

With an afterburner, you get the advantages of capacitor (base amount and drain), better fitting, range dictation and defense. Because it’s not shut down when you get scrambled, you have a better shot of controlling range within the fight, and you can also dictate transversal better than someone with a shut-down MWD. Of course, you might never catch them in the first place because you’ll never get there in time.

AUTOCANNONS/BLASTERS

Because the Merlin has such a shitty weapon bonus (10%/level optimal bonus to small hybrids, which is weak for blasters), you can put pretty much whatever you want into the gun slots. I used a lot of autocannons for fitting, falloff characteristics, and damage type flexibility. Even with the hybrid buff, the real problem with small blasters is the grid requirements. However, I’m turning around on blasters and am using them now to pretty good effect. I’ve even seen effective pulse laser/scorch fits on Merlins, usually in conjunction with a double web system. I haven’t played with this yet personally.

Basically, autocannons = no cap use, much better fitting requirements. Blasters = better damage at all ranges, better tracking, HUGE headache to fit neutrons. You can fit ions easily, but (1) you don’t get any grid benefit from the recent hybrid rebalancing since small ions/electrons weren’t affected, (2) your Null range is pretty bad, and (3) your damage is slightly lower. If you are thinking of using electrons, just use autocannons.

TANK/DAMAGE

Since your damage is weak and your tank is pretty good, it seems to make sense to use some damage mods, right? Maybe, but I disagree. You have 2 low slots, and on a standard buffer fit you’re using those for a power core and a damage control which exploit the main benefit of the Merlin, its tank. If you slap on a damage mod, you are only affecting 2 of your hardpoints. It’s a good mod to use on a Rifter, which has 3 projectile mounts and inbuilt advantages for them, or on a Rokh with 8 identical guns, but 2? Meh.

Also keep in mind that damage controls aren’t stacking nerfed, and so the seemingly tiny shield resist bonus is actually pretty significant, even if you ignore the vital armor and super-awesome structure bonuses. You’ll be in structure more often than you think, believe me.

Skills

Generally, to fly a Merlin well requires a larger skill investment than a Rifter due to fitting and split weapon systems. While on paper the Merlin looks like it has awesome CPU and grid, you run out pretty fast when filling the generous midslot allowance and the 4 weapon slots. This is a problem for a brand new character, but for the converted mission runner it’s an advantage since you probably already have good fitting skills. If you’ve been speed-running level 4 missions in a PVE Drake/CNR/Nighthawk, you’ve probably neglected some of the skills you need (like almost all of Gunnery), but they train up pretty fast.

I haven’t sat down and figured out exactly how much of each skill you need to use fitting X, except that my personal fits tend to require max skills and have about 0.09 grid left over. You can always play with the fitting a bit to make things work.

SHIP-SPECIFIC

  • Caldari Frigate: Obviously. More resists are better. You won’t be stacking Invulnerability fields on because you like having some cap left after 15 seconds, so make the most of your ship bonus. 5% shield resists/10% small hybrid optimal per level.
  • Small Hybrid Turret/Small Projectile Turret: 5.
  • Small Blaster Specialization/Small Autocannon Specialization: At least 1, but 3 takes like no time and 4 is required for the next tier of specialization skills within the weapon class. Plan for 4.
  • Rockets: 3 minimum, 5 if you plan to specialize. Unlike gun skills, missile skills don’t use the previous tier as prerequisites, so you don’t technically need to specialize in any of them. However, you might as well plan to specialize, since there’s no grid benefit to using named rocket launchers, and the extra damage is very very nice. You need as much damage as you can get out of your skills since you ship won’t help you.
  • Rocket Specialization: However much you want. I went to 4.

GENERAL COMBAT SKILLS: You need these anyway, no matter what you fly. They make every ship better.

  • Navigation, Evasive Maneuvering, Afterburner, High Speed Maneuvering, Acceleration Control: As much as you can. You are slow; don’t make things worse on yourself.
  • Propulsion Jamming: 3. Save your cap, and at some point you can go to 5 and become the dictor pilot everyone loves if you feel like it.
  • Signature Analysis: 3, 5 when you can. You will hate life in a larger ship if you don’t have this, and it’s always nice to GET THE POD.
  • Targeting: 3, with more later. You can lock 4 targets, and when you’re tackling some dude in a battleship, you want to kill his drones.
  • Energy Management/Energy Systems Operation: 3, 4 for blasters, and 5 before too long.
  • Shield Management/Shield Operation: 4-5.
  • Controlled Bursts: Not necessary for autocannons; 3-5 for blasters.
  • Gunnery: 5.
  • Motion Prediction: 3-5. More necessary for autocannons since blasters now have awesome tracking. Even more necessary if you use tech 2 ammo.
  • Rapid Firing: 3-5. Your ship hates your DPS, so make up for it.
  • Sharpshooter: 2-5 for autocannons, 3-5 for blasters. You actually don’t need 4 for blasters, but as long as you’re going for the optimal range, you may as well makes the most of it, especially with Null. Autocannons have crappy optimals anyway.
  • Surgical Strike: 3-5. Your ship still hates your DPS.
  • Trajectory Analysis: 2-5 for blasters, 3-5 for autocannons. With autocannons you’re always fighting in falloff anyway.
  • Hull Upgrades: 4 minimum for a DCU 2. Take to 5 eventually.
  • Mechanics: 4-5. You need 5 eventually anyway.
  • Nanite Interfacing/Nanite Operation: Not strictly necessary, but if you’re doing it right you’re going to overheat a lot, and paste is expensive.
  • Missile Bombardment/Missile Projection: 4-5. Rockets have terrible range, and you just feel like an idiot when you see them wiff out just short of a target at the edge of web/scram range. At least I do.
  • Missile Launcher Operation: Minimum 4 for Warhead Upgrades, but get 5 anyway.
  • Rapid Launch: 3-5.
  • Target Navigation Prediction: 3-5.
  • Warhead Upgrades: 3-5.
  • Biology: Useful if you want to use combat boosters. I have the skill, but I haven’t found a dealer.
  • Science: 4, because you need…
  • Thermodynamics: 3-5 for tech 1 fits, 4-5 for tech 2 fits.
  • Spaceship Command: 4-5. You should already have 5, or will soon.

FITTING SKILLS: These are the best skills in the game, and the ones that every new player complains the most about. Get them all. You have no idea what your ship can do unless you have fitting skills cold. These will all (except rigging) get to 5 sooner rather than later if you’re doing it right, so just plan on it.

  • Electronics
  • Engineering
  • Shield Upgrades: You really want 5. Most of your grid is being used to cram on a medium extender. When you’re tooling around in a Drake or welpCane, you will really want this at 5.
  • Weapon Upgrades: Go to 5, bite the bullet, and then bask in the glory that is…
  • Advanced Weapon Upgrades: A lot of people take this to 4 and do fine with it. It does take a hella long time to train to 5, but I think it’s very much worth it based on the tiny amount of grid I have left over on my ships when I get them the way I want them. YMMV.
  • Jury Rigging: 3.
  • Shield Rigging: 2-4. Minimum 1 to fit shield rigs. More skill reduces the sig bloom you get from using shield rigs, which can actually be pretty significant when you use an oversized extender. I have this at 4, but 3 is fast and painless. You could go to 5 I guess but there are probably higher priority skills for you, like titans of all races.

Sample Fits – MWD-Focused

All of these fits use an MWD, which is required for any sort of fleet action. Some fits for Merlins you find on Battleclinic or Failheap are decent, but use afterburners for lowsec hunting. In null the MWD winds up being more useful in general, for getting around on the field or burning back to gate or even just keeping up with that goddamn Drake that’s burning away from you. Don’t be that guy who can’t tackle the goddamn Drake.

 

[Merlin, 200mm cheapo meta 0]

200mm AutoCannon I, Phased Plasma S
200mm AutoCannon I, Phased Plasma S
Rocket Launcher I, Inferno Rocket
Rocket Launcher I, Inferno Rocket

Medium Shield Extender I
Stasis Webifier I
Warp Scrambler I
1MN MicroWarpdrive I

Micro Auxiliary Power Core I
Damage Control I

Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Anti-Thermal Screen Reinforcer I

 

This is the base model of the generic buffer merlin that I recommend. This requires pretty minimal skills to fly and costs around one million ISK (probably more in nullsec, but everything costs more in nullsec). The rigs are all resist rigs to patch up the holes in your shield resistances, and they’re cheaper than extenders. Fitting blasters on this is possible but requires more grid skills. Note that I use thermal damage as a default in these loadouts because in most cases it’s a good choice versus most T1 hulls. Shields resist at 20% and armor at  45% base, and shield tankers will go through hell patching for EM damage without thinking about thermal. However, mix and match damage to your taste, and carry an assortment of rockets/projectiles for different targets.

If you plan to fly something like this, check the market for named versions of the gear listed. Oftentimes it’s even cheaper than the meta 0 version, and it will improve your performance.

 

[Merlin, 200mm]

200mm AutoCannon II, Barrage S
200mm AutoCannon II, Barrage S
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Inferno Rocket
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Inferno Rocket

Medium Shield Extender II
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator
J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
Limited 1MN MicroWarpdrive I

Micro Auxiliary Power Core I
Damage Control II

Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Core Defence Field Extender I
Small Core Defence Field Extender I

This is the version I flew for a long time while cutting my teeth on the Merlin. The autos have very nice fitting requirements, allowing you to get 2 extender rigs in place for a huge buffer. A mixture of Barrage and faction phased plasma/EMP/fusion lets you whack around at the edge of tackle range or up close and personal, and you don’t lose most of your DPS when you’re neuted out. Recommended for dedicated tacklers, as your survivability counts for more than your damage.

[Merlin, Ion MWD Merlin]

Light Ion Blaster II, Void S
Light Ion Blaster II, Void S
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Mjolnir Rocket
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Mjolnir Rocket

Medium Shield Extender II
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator
J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
Limited 1MN MicroWarpdrive I

Damage Control II
Micro Auxiliary Power Core I

Small Ancillary Current Router I
Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Core Defence Field Extender I

This is a pretty good blaster fit that can be flown in a clean clone. Carry Null for scram range dancing/hitting jerks in Rifters who kite you, Void for blasting the shit out of people at 2km, and CN Antimatter for tight orbiting at 500m to take advantage of the ridiculous tracking you get from blasters nowadays, or killing drones. However, since Ions have pretty good tracking, Void is a decent default. Note also that the rockets are Mjolnir, since you no longer have an EM option in your primary turrets.

If you run into grid problems, you can (a) use a meta shield extender, (b) pop in an implant for a tiny bit more grid, or (c) use a Micro Auxiliary Power Core II. I recommend the implant, as it doesn’t cost that much more, you should lose it less often, and it can help you out with other ships.

[Merlin, Neutron MWD EG-601 I Can't Believe This Stuff All Fits]

Light Neutron Blaster II, Void S
Light Neutron Blaster II, Void S
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Mjolnir Rocket
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Mjolnir Rocket

Medium Shield Extender II
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator
J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
Limited 1MN MicroWarpdrive I

Damage Control II
Micro Auxiliary Power Core II

Small Ancillary Current Router I
Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Core Defence Field Extender I

This is what I fly now, and it’s silly. I wanted to see if I could cram on a tech 2 extender, neutrons, and a microwarp, and it all fits… if you have perfect fitting skills and drop in an EG-601implant. If you love neutrons but don’t want to go this insane, use a named extender (the meta 3 is reasonably priced). I recommend against using more than 1 ancillary router for the same reason I recommend against using more than one reactor control unit, or any fitting module. If you find yourself using more than two fitting modules (preferably one), you are trying to push your hull too far. That being said, with a PG2 implant I’m effectively using 3 fitting modules so I’m a big hypocrite.

The reason that I went for Neutrons is not for damage; the damage on Ions is actually quite comparable, and with better tracking in a 500m orbit. However, Neutrons better exploit the range bonus you get out of the Merlin, allowing you to deliver better applicable damage throughout scram range, as well as a better whack at the edge of it using Null versus kiting autocannon frigates. Hold a little longer orbit/range so you don’t wind up with tracking problems.

How Do Fly Ship

Flying a Merlin is pretty much like flying any short range tech 1 frigate. You zoom in and tackle and shoot. There’s a lot more to it than this, but that’s a good way to start. You are slower than a Rifter, but when you think this makes you bad at tackling remember that you also don’t blow up if someone sneezes at you, so you can hold that tackle longer.

APPROACH

Generally you approach enemies on an oblique, especially gun toting enemies. You are making sure you have some transversal so you don’t get blown away in one volley. The basic spiral approach goes like this: You center your target on the screen, and you double click about one-third to halfway between the target and the edge of your screen. Repeat as the enemy slides across the screen, until you hit your desired orbit range. After that you can keep manual piloting if you’re a boss, or hit the Orbit button (which you have preset to your desired orbit range) and pay attention to other things like overheating your guns, local spikes, or your FC going Oh God Oh God on comms.

Sometimes you do want to just zoom in straight with the approach button. This is good if you are trying to catch a cloaker or against a ship with no guns, like a Drake, Kestrel or juicy hauler your gang caught in the bubble.

It’s not a bad idea to pre-overheat your scrambler on the approach. This lets you tackle the target a little further out than you normally would. Just remember to stop overheating once you settle into your orbit. In fact, even when solo travelling the first things I do when I break cloak are turn on my damage control and pre-overheat my scram and web. Be prepared.

On a Microwarpdrive approach, try to shut down your MWD a little before your land on the target so you don’t go slingshotting off out of scram range and let him escape. It’s embarrassing. If you’re afterburner fit, just leave it on.

ORBIT DISTANCE

In most cases, your ideal orbit range is the optimal range of your gun/ammo combination, which will vary with the gun/ammo and your skills. This can be around 1.5kish for antimatter/500m for EMP/phased plasma to about 6-7k for null or barrage. Set your orbit distance to a little bit tighter than that since your orbit will take you outside you desired range, and remember to stay inside scram range. This is usually not a problem with tight weapons.

If your target is something like an arty-fit Hurricane or a tier 3 battlecruiser, set your orbit to the minimum (500m is good). This destroys the target’s ability to track you. If it’s a Drake, you may want to use about 7k to keep your velocity as high as possible to minimize missile damage and stay out of small neut range if the target has fit a small neut. If it’s a welpcane with medium neuts, well, you’re going to die anyway so just get in there under his guns and hold on as long as you can for your squad. Hopefully he’ll be shooting at someone bigger or more expensive than you for a while.

FIRE MAH GUNZ

Gogogogo.

If this is a frigate battle, go ahead and start overheating right away. A lot of frigate combat is so fast that you can overheat all the way through. If this is something like a wolfpack swarming a Drake, you may want to hold off on overheating until the target’s shields get to about 33%, which is the peak recharge point for passive shield tanks. Overheat then to get through the tank.

Always be moving. Your rockets don’t care about transversal, and your blasters have great tracking. (If you are in a snowflake fit like a Prometheus Exenthal 75mm Railgun II thingy, then you just approach/keep at distance to minimize transversal. But you’re not, so don’t.)

TAKING BAIT

One thing that roaming gangs like to do is send a frigate out ahead of the gang to sit on a gate and try to get people to aggress. Sometimes if you’re in a cheap T1 frigate like a Merlin, you want to take the bait. You want to land directly on the target, lock it up (preheating and preactivating all guns) and destroy it before the enemy gang lands. You may get a little extra time if the bait pilot is cocky (lol a Merlin). When the bait gets into structure, start aligning for your warpout point, and warp away as soon as he pops, which should be just about the time the bigger ships in the gang start trying to lock you. Sometimes you get away, sometimes you don’t. If the bait is significantly more expensive than you, like an Ares or a Taranis that lets you get too close, it’s worth the trade. If you do get tackled before you can get out, no big deal. Get the baitship’s pod as long as you’re there.

OMG DRONEZ

When you’re hitting something bigger than you, like tackling in a gang, kill the drones. Once you’re settled into a close orbit (assuming you’re attacking something that will have problems tracking you), start targeting drones. I have a separate overlay tab that’s hostile drones only (excluding drones belonging to my corp, alliance, or blues). If your target doesn’t need to be webbed, say to prevent it from burning to gate and escaping, keep your point on him and use your web to trap the drones as well so you can fully apply damage.

The same concept applies when fighting ships like Dramiels, who get a significant chunk of their DPS from their drones. If the Dramiel pilot isn’t an idiot, he’s got a long point and is staying out of your point range and siccing his drones on you, so kill them off. Usually this ends in the Dramiel leaving, assuming he doesn’t have backup, but it’s better than a lossmail.

Advanced Merlin Upgrades

ACTIVE TANK

[Merlin, Active AB]

Light Neutron Blaster II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
Light Neutron Blaster II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Inferno Rocket
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Inferno Rocket

Medium Shield Booster II
Small Capacitor Booster II, Navy Cap Booster 400
J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
Experimental 1MN Afterburner I

Damage Control II
Micro Auxiliary Power Core I

Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Anti-Thermal Screen Reinforcer I

(Blue Pill in cargo if you’re a baller)

You can get a really surprising tank out of a Merlin using a medium shield booster. It’s not as good as a Harpy or a Hawk, but people don’t expect it. It’s very difficult to pull this off with a MWD though, so I haven’t played with it in nullsec. I might try it out for solo roaming when I don’t have a squad depending on me to get tackle on a nanodrake. Note the CN Antimatter; your range control isn’t as good, and neither is your transversal control, without a web.

EWAR MODULES AND SNOWFLAKE FITS

With 4 mids, you can drop a bunch of cool stuff into the Merlin like tracking disruptors and dual web fits, but I tend to stay away from these as a rule when I’m in a fleet. These tend to be very specialist fits, and really best suited for frigate vs frigate combat, or against targets where you carefully select and hunt. A tracking disruptor can ruin the day of a gunnery pilot, but only if he’s really a gunnery pilot, and then only one of him. Dual webs and pulse lasers look pretty sweet, but again you are holding down a single opponent at scorch optimal. Most Ewar modules are only good against a single opponent; a medium shield extender is good against several opponents, and a web is useful against everything.

In a gimmicky wizard fleet though, this could be insanely funny. "I’m being dampened!" "By who?" "A merlin!" "They’re ALL merlins!"

HAWT MERLIN PRON

I haven’t made any; the first time I tried it I was soloing in lowsec in a Merlin for the first time and caught a failfit Jaguar at a customs office and cut it to about 10% armor, but I was a douche with a MWD in lowsec and let it get away because I was scrammed. Here are some relevant videos with Merlins.

Lord of the Tits: MWD nullsec with autocannons. The intro is really weird. I paid RUSROG like 30M to translate the captions, but it wasn’t really worth it. Just imagine some typically depressing Russian writing there like One Day in the Life of Ivan Merlinovitch and you’re probably doing okay.

Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGWAAxQLt_U

HQ Download:

http://dl.eve-files.com/media/corp/sanjar/TheLordoftheTits.mkv

Sweet Little Frigates: Fishing for interceptors and stuff in null with a small bubble.

HQ Download:

http://dl.eve-files.com/media/corp/dimich/sweet_little_frigates.mkv

Frigank 2: Lowsec with Prom in cheap ships. He used a 75mm gatling setup and hovered at 7km to minimize transversal.

HQ Download:

http://dl.eve-files.com/media/corp/pyro5hit9rind/FRIGANK_2.mkv

Brawled: Awesome active tank AB stuff, which is a different way to look at the ship. A great vid.

HQ Download MKV:

http://dl.eve-files.com/media/1109/Brawled_%28MKV%29.mkv

HQ Download WMV:

http://dl.eve-files.com/media/1109/Brawled.wmv

WHERE TO NEXT

Once you can fly the Merlin half decently, you are well skilled to train into a Drake, Shieldcane, or maybe a Harpy if that’s your thing. I can fly a lot of these ships, and have taken blaster Brutixes and Rokhs out for a spin as well as brobirds, manticores, combat probing buzzards, and even a raven to bravely torpedo a customs office and Raynaldo’s Typhoon. But my first ship of choice when a neut shows up or when someone says, "Fleet" with no other useful information is still a Merlin.

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