I'm a big fan on Privateer Press's theme lists. In fact, I make a point of running them, and with a number of casters, run their theme lists to the exception of others.
I've written extensively on Magnus and his theme lists (just below this post), have played with some success a number of Khador's (Zerkova's, both incarnation of the Vlads', and even the Old Witch's maligned list), which I eventually would like to focus on in turn, and dabbled others.
However, after Mercenaries, my favorite army is Cygnar, which suffers from some thoroughly mediocre, to just plain bad theme lists. There are exceptions, of course, but I'm looking at one particularly unfortunate theme list in specific: Captain Caine's The Street Sweepers.
There are a few reasons I've chosen this list. The first is straightforward enough: I don't want to play insane lists that I don't intend to be able to field,* and I have most of the models I want to play in this list. Second, Caine is a strong caster, but the list has little synergy for him, and I enjoy finding the best solution to a problem, even if there is no perfect solution.
The Weak Points:
Caine has incredible offensive potential, but this is limited by:
1- having only one turn of shooting strong enough to take out heavies
2- having no way of directly increasing the range in this list
3- having no Rangers nor Gorman to increase accuracy without a check required (meaning knockdown will often be the only obvious option)
The list compounds these problems, because:
4- the list has few serious threats in melee, except for possibly Caine himself, who you generally don't want engaged
5- the list has no serious armor to speak of
The basic solutions:
1- there are three other ways of getting powerful attacks in the army:
-warjacks (hunters, chargers, minutemen): The downside to this is 1- none are very tough, 2- they require focus to shine
-trencher infantry (CRAs): The problem with this is that 1- they aren't throwing up smoke, and 2- they aren't all that effective at it, for the cost
4- commandos can deal with lighter infantry, but there isn't much to deal with anything tougher than a Light. I'd say, movement shenanigans are the only real answer here, unless it's damaged enough that Caine wants to wade in, himself.
2, 3 & 5 nothing to do, here, though I guess a Sentinel or Lancer could, in theory, help with armor.
The core list:
Caine is required
-Hunter x2 for damage output
Trencher Commandos so at least they have some melee capability, and their grenades are actually pretty solid at taking out medium DEF high ARM, also accesses tier 2 (free scattergunner) and 3+.
Trencher Infantry** for bodies, blocking LOS, better ranged attacks, also adds the benefit of third tier (1 wall template)
-Grenade Porter x3, to increase the above, with more versatility from AOEs
This reaches 22 points. At 25 points, I would exchange 2 grenade porters for one Grenadier light warjack. This would be attached to Caine's battlegroup because, with that many attacks, it would be worth it to have the option to pump focus in to it, and conveniently, this also pushes the list to tier 4 for pathfinder for the whole army.
At the 25 point level, you've got a decent amount of denial (not much that can deal with smoke, stealth, and cover that doesn't cost too much), and you should have plenty of firepower to make a harder element cautious about coming forward. Stealth shouldn't even be a horrible problem, as Caine should be able to take on the stealth elements (or at least soften them up) while the rest of your army deals with what it can. Certainly not optimal, but it should be able to get the job done.
Expanding to 35 points is trickier.
First, the list is fragile enough, so I'm looking at a Sentinel to protect Caine or a Hunter. Without Rangers, I'm not expecting much offensive potential, though.
That leaves 6 points, which can buy
-a third Hunter: this can make your firepower even more impressive, but at the cost of even more hyperspecialization. Also, I'm not keen on owning 3 hunters.
-a unit of Commandos (which effectively adds 3 scattergunners for free). This means you'll have a decently well-rounded army and is how you can get the most possible number of bodies in your army. A decent option.
-a Minuteman and a weapon attachment. This could work, but I don't have a minuteman and, even though it has a strong shot, it's very focus-inefficient for an already focus-starved warcaster
-a charger and an artillerist. This is looking like a solid choice, mostly because I've always had good experiences with Chargers, and the artillerist adds to the accuracy of the Grenadier
-a Lancer. This is an odd choice, but might actually be able to hold its own against something in melee. If I were worried about Lights, I'd take it in a heartbeat, but, with almost guaranteed Heavies (especially those without Cortexes), it isn't worth the cost for something that will likely inefficient with focus. If I find myself with plenty of firepower but desperately needing any melee capacity after a couple games, I may try this out.
So, for my first test drive of the list, I'll be taking:
-1 Grenade Porter
(+ 1 wall, 1st turn pathfinder)
Now, the issue here is, of course, running jack-heavy. I'm looking at 1 focus per hunter for damage (2), one for the charger's powerful shot (3), never any for the Sentinel (inefficient), and, depending on the circumstance, some for the Grenadier, but often the bonus to hit from the artillerist, in combination with extra shots, should be enough to keep him running with little-to-no focus.
This means that, since it's such a range-heavy force, I'm actually looking at running with a decent amount of focus. This, however, will mean that my feat turn will be less flexible. My options include letting my jacks starve for a turn, or wait until enough are gone that that doesn't matter. Given my preference for late-game feats and the attrition I expect to suffer, I expect to use his feat to take out whatever remains of my opponent's hardest targets once, my own jacks have been destroyed.
Well, here goes nothing...
* For instance, while I've had fun playing Vlad's Berserker swarm, I never intend to buy and paint more than 2 (1 + Drago), so am not going to devote serious time to that.
** While I prefer Commandos' offensive potential, and would probably go with them in a situation with infinite resources (read: the time and money for even more toy soldiers), I'm partially taking these guys because I'd like to get decently good with what's generally regarded as a sub-par unit.