The new T1 frigs are interesting beasts. I won't lie, I feel a little left out with the Rifter being unchanged. The day of the patch, I watched Sard Caid's stream as he tested a bunch of them out (here's the link to the VoD of that stream), and it really seems like the Merlin is king of the hill now.
After watching that for a while, I decided to see what I could find in the way of frigates around, and I went roaming in my trusty Firetail. As I was roaming and chatting with Penumbra, he said something about that he had fought an Incursus who's tank he absolutely couldn't break with his Crow. Not too long later, I heard from my friends in the Amoen/Avaux loop that there was an Incursus around there, piloted by Gulidor that was looking for a fight. I've fought him a couple times before, and knew he's definitely a pilot that'd be good to see how ships stack up against each other with. Telling them to pass along that I'm on my way, I head towards Amoen, and get there just before he gets into system, and warp into the sun. With barrage loaded, I burned away from the warp in for a couple AB cycles to make sure he wouldn't land on top of me, and waited.
As he landed, we began the deadly dance, with him scrammed/webbed, and range distrupted, and with myself in the faster ship, I most definitely had range control, and what I thought was the upper hand. That was, until I hit his armor, and proceeded to see all the damage I did, repped back up. I asked Penumbra before getting into this fight who was piloting the Incursus he had fought earlier, and it was the same pilot.
After a while of this, with him not landing decent shots, and with my fire not breaking his tank (apparently the fit is cap-stable with cycling the rep), I decided it was time to stop falloff kiting with barrage, and I took the time to reload. At this point, I think he figured I was giving up and about to let him go, and he had also stopped firing. Hitting approach, I overheated the guns and went for it, and it was soon apparent that my DPS with fusion in close was going to be enough to break his tank, but the real question was if my tank would hold under the fire from his blasters in close.
Approaching and turning off the TD, I switched to the Tracking Disruption script, and watched the combat log with a hawk's eye, and sure enough, I did notice enough of his shots that weren't landing all that well, but it was still enough incoming damage that I had to perma-run my SAR to keep up with the incoming damage. With guns and NOS overheated trying to squeeze out the extra cap for a few more cycles of my SAR I started to think I was about to lose this fight, and started to align out as I hit structure. He was a little deeper into structure then I was, but I was also afraid of the Gallente frigate hull-tanking me. Pulling a little bit more range, I landed a few good shots, and it was over. With my Firetail trailing smoke, with 80% of it's hull still intact, I was happy to have won that, and we chatted in local for a while about the fits and how things have changed.
Still looking for a Merlin fight a couple days later, I ended up in the Shades of Gray home system of Pellile. There were a bunch of them home, but all in ships larger then my Firetail could handle, so I asked in local if any of them would be down for a frigate 1v1. Caige DarkBane replied that Nopset was interested, but a few jumps out, so I said I'd be down to wait, and asked what he was in... a Merlin.
Finally going to get a fight with the dreaded Caldari powerhouse, it wasn't too long before he got in, and we fleeted up, I had dropped a new safe for this fight, as I didn't really trust them not to BM the spot and possibly come looking for me in a safe some other time, and as it turns out, this may have been a really smart idea.
Not sure what tactics would be the best against this newly buffed blaster boat, I chose to try the standard falloff kiting, figuring that I would probably still have the damage advantage with my TD's range script in full effect, and it did seem that I did, but I also didn't keep a very close eye on the fleet window, before long, when it seemed that I was getting the upper hand, he dropped fleet, and joined up with a bunch of the Shades guys, who soon enough warped into the safe spot that we were dueling in. I right away targeted the Stiletto that came in, and aligned out while taking pot shots towards the Stiletto, but he never did point me before I got out.
That's definitely some bad points towards that alliance from me. At least I learned it without having to pay for a new ship. Luckily that sweet bitch Karma reared her head, and ended up dropping Nopset's Merlin a short time later, and I got on the KM for it.
I also dropped another Merlin later that night, but he was "PvE" fit running a minor FW plex. I chased him around for ages, and he could have warped off, but never did. SMRT me though, I had tried to go and pop the pod (wasn't going to ransom it with the FW rats shooting me), and hit my guns before the lock resolved. When I then went to grab the loot, it targetted the wreck, and shot it right away, and I didn't get any of the loots. Sad day.
Finally today, I got the Merlin fight I had been waiting for. PenumbraWolf, fellow Repo. member had picked some up and fit them while I was away for the weekend (skiing in May, can't beat that), and was willing to waste a bit of money on ammo and repairs so we could see where the Firetail stacked up vs the Merlin.
The first fight we had, I tried to falloff-kite with Barrage, with my orbit set at 7500. It was soon apparent that this isn't the way to go, with his web on me, it turned out he was faster then I was. This may partly be my current skills (I'm really starting to feel like I'm falling behind in the Navigation side of things, though I'm finally finishing up High Speed Maneuvering IV right now, mostly for flying Cruisers more). But with that, it didn't take long until he was right in his optimal, and I was shooting against his best resist. I had him to around 2/3 shields when I hit structure.
Round two, I loaded EMP and set my orbit to 1000m, along with having the tracking speed script loaded in my TD. Landing on grid, we opened up on each other, and this time it was soon apparent that the reverse from the first fight was playing out. With him landing weak hits, I was eating through his shields at a decent rate, while he wasn't hitting me hard at all. Once he finally hit my armor (after a wrecking blow taking out half my shields), it was the occasional cycle of the small armor repairer to keep it at full strength. Though the last 1/4 of his shields took their time to actually break through, I never thought with that fight there was much chance of coming out on the losing side of it.
With that figured out, we both went on our ways, with more knowledge as to what we can engage. I can safely say I still feel confident taking on any T1 frigate with my Firetail, and quite frankly, I do think that's the way it should be with the price difference between them.