There have been some preliminary bouts out in nullsec. I consider these sparring matches; warm-ups as a number of alliances such as Against All Authorities, Gypsy Band, The Initiative, Brick Squad, Test Alliance and Pandemic Legion exercise various aspects of the Crucible changes in fleet fight mode. The main event has yet to come, but the long and tedious Great Sitzkrieg that occupied the better part of 2011 is finally coming to a close.
Letting slip the dogs of war sooner rather than later must be tempting. It has been a long, dry season of waiting for the Winter Supercaptial Nerf, and there is a restlessness bordering the nullsec space presently held by the DRF, their vassals and their tenants. Even so, I expect the opening skirmishes to continue through December. The Winter holidays loom, and any invasion begun now will soon stall as capsuleers abandon the fleets in order to man the carving board, travel and spend time with family. Only when they return, well fed, over-socialized and wiping the last smears of plum pudding from their chins, should the battles begin in earnest.
Alas, the holidays may be cheerless for poor Morsus Mihi. Toward the end of November they had redeployed from Delve along with Gypsy Band and Brick Squad to nullsec's NPC Curse region in anticipation of a post-supercapital nerf invasion of DRF space. They may not make it past the dessert buffet at the latke party . At the turn of the month, with the end of the 2011 Sitzkrieg in sight, four key corporations (Fusion Enterprises, Oberon Incorporated, Macabre Votum and hirr) which comprised fully half of MM's membership bolted for the door.
Even Crucible's bundle of spaceship love can't overcome Mord's Maxim: If your guys aren't having fun, they'll soon be someone else's guys.
In this case, Macabre Votum and hirr, the two largest PvP corporations exiting MM have become Against All Authorities' (-A-) guys. That move should dampen any early celebrations of MM's misfortune of the part of the DRF. -A- has spent the Sitzkrieg substantially improving the quality of their nullsec fleets. Adding two seasoned nullsec PvP corporations to those fleets, each with over three hundred accounts, will not be a cause for joy in the DRF board rooms.
The termination of the 'logoffski' mechanic, which allowed supercapital ships to escape if they could endure 15 minutes of inbound fire, has added a new layer of risk to deploying supercapitals. Likewise, a number of changes to the ships themselves have made them more vulnerable to subcapital fleets. Initially this may favor the DRF more than their enemies as the Drone Russians should have a sizable stockpile of supercaptials left over from the NC campaign and, given the vast income that comes of holding 70% of nullsec's large-bore Isk faucets, will have likely added to it during the Sitzkrieg.
In a RL military, the equipment involved is normally the property of the state. Sending an aircraft carrier or a platoon of tanks into harms way may risk the lives of the soldiers and sailors manning the equipment, but the loss of the equipment itself does not put the personal wealth of said soldiers and sailors at risk. In Eve the opposite is true. Fleet pilots killed in action simply wake up in their clone vat, but the loss of a ship, along with its fittings and the implants needed to effectively fly it, represents a personal financial loss to its pilot. In the case of supercapital pilots this loss is profound, both in terms of personal wealth and future revenue. Thus, a supercapital pilot may well be risk-averse when it comes to committing his or her property to combat.
Of course, well-heeled nullsec alliances typically offset this risk aversion by offering replacements for supercapital ships lost in combat (usually with a don't-be-stupid clause voiding replacement if the ship was lost due to pilot idiocy). However, in the case of supercaps a financial reimbursement may be insufficient to bring a new ship to the line if no actual replacements are available. Despite their post-Crucible vulnerabilities, the supercapitals the DRF has stockpiled should allow their FCs to be aggressive in their deployments of the ships as they can afford losses their enemies couldn't begin to absorb. Meanwhile, enemies without such reserves will be even more tentative about deploying supercapitals in post-Crucible Eve than before.
However, the DRF paradigm, based on a relatively small number of elite and highly mobile supercapital pilots, depends heavily on the ability of large supercapital fleets to operate in relative safety against subcapital fleets unsupported by their own supers. With grouped Titans unable to target Hictors, Command, or Logistic ships, or instapop enemy fleet commanders, subcapital fleets will have the opportunity to make the DRF pay big any time they play the supercapital card too aggressively.
If the DRF is challenged on many fronts, their ability to properly support supercapitals with subcapital fleets will be diminished. In that case, the likely response will be their usual tactic of giving ground on selective fronts and letting their enemies spend their strategic momentum in reducing undefended stations and sovereignty infrastructure while the DRF deals with more immediate threats elsewhere. However, that tactic could work against them this time. Even non-supercapital alliances now have the opportunity to take space as long as their fleets are well supplied with Heavy Interdictors and have the DPS needed to grind through a supercapital's defenses. By giving ground too early and too easily, the DRF could encourage alliances that might have stayed on the sidelines to enter the fray.
Of critical importance now will be the diplomatic maneuverings that occur between now and the new year. Information will flow freely, wound about and shot through with disinformation. Offers and promises will be made; some sincere and some intended to be broken. This is the true great game of nullsec; the prelude to the coming dance.
Eve at its Machiavellian best