The Caldari Drake versus the Amarr Zealot. That's the flavor of the month in nullsec.
There are some serious set-tos going on between these boats. Large fleets of sniping Drakes maneuver for range as their counterpart Zealots attempt to stay outside the reach of the Drake's long range missiles until they can slip inside and lay in some heavy hits before dancing away again.
As many of you know, the current trend is away from the massive t1 battleship fleets toward a pairing of super-caps and armored HACs - particularly the Zealot. This is particularly true of what I like to call boutique PvP alliances. Such alliances don't have the membership of the traditional (and every day more extinct) heavyweight alliances. However, by pairing the right hook of the Super-cap with the jabbing left of the Zealot, they can outfight the traditional battleship fleets. In fact, standing orders for some alliances (C02, for example) are to train Zealots as a matter of course as soon as possible (See Rixx, I do read your blog).
Direct Zealot/Drake shootouts have tended to favor the Zealots in terms of sheer numbers. However, in terms of the cost associated with the losses, the Zealot's done far worse, with Team Zealot having to kill up to four Drakes in order break even for a single Zealot kill by Team Drake. Further, a lost Drake is much easier to replace than a lost Zealot, which may account for their reduced presence in fleets fielded by Zealot -intensive alliances.
Consequently, the Drake is taking a larger and larger role in fleets fielded against the boutique alliances. Take a recent dust-up in XWY-YM off in Impass where Circle of Two (CO2) with help from Pandemic Legion (PL), who are trying to put down the last pockets of resistance in the region, ran up against defense fleets fielded by Stain Empire, Against All Authorities, Red Overlord and Vera Cruz alliances.
There are conflicting accounts as to the number of Drakes fielded in the battle by defending Stain fleet. Some Stain accounts give the defenders an about four to three advantage of Drakes and Scimitars against the mixed fleet (Abbadons and Armageddons providing the primary punch) fielded by CO2 and PL. CO2 pilots place the number of Drakes higher, with one pilot reporting wave after wave of Drakes pounding the CO2 fleet.
In terms of losses, the kill count appears to have been somewhere around 120 for each side. However, many of the ships lost by CO2 were battleships, Armageddons showing a particular vulnerability to the Drake fleets.
The Drake fleet has become the cost-effective response to the Super cap/Armored HAC 1-2 punch that's the flavor of the moment. The Drake's success there has led to a broader role for it in the fleets of nullsec. Cheaper, insurable ships with a legendary shield tank and a long reach. Easy to fly and a low training threshold relative to armored HACs like the Zealot.
Pound for pound, isk for isk, skill-point for skill point the venerable Drake is showing itself to be one of the best ships out there.
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