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I focus almost exclusively on PvP, whether solo, small gang, or large bloc warfare. In the past, I've been a miner, mission runner, and faction warfare jockey. I'm particularly interested in helping high-sec players get into 0.0 combat.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Much is made – on both sides – about e-honor in Eve – usually in the context of its lack.  There are many definitions, but they all boil down to keeping one’s word.

On one side are folks like scammers and inexperienced pirates.  These folks take advantage of the newer player and the high-sec player who have not yet been steeped in the dark side of the “sandbox” – that while CONCORD will respond to attacks through mechanics (turrets, missiles, drones), there is no entity in Eve to defend you from white-collar crimes  like fraud (reneging on agreements), extortion (miner bumpers, bribes to afk campers, protection rackets), corporate theft, and sabotage (the latter two of the “I let the wrong guy into a director role” variety).  This group believes they can profit most from exploiting any opportunity to its fullest.  Because they can do something, they feel they should do something.

On the other side are professional pirates, pure PvP allinaces, and wormhole players.  The first will honor ransom agreements, and the latter two engage in staged fights or attack towers solely to elicit a defense fleet (in some cases, even repping your tower after they scatter your fleet).  These players take a longer view, realizing that keeping their word will pay dividends in the future and that how they conduct themselves is as important as what they do.

I’m fall very much within the latter camp.  I have plenty of isk for my purposes, and I derive no joy from deceiving my way to a victorious fight.  When I offer a 1v1 and it is accepted, I’ll honor it, even if I lose or if I have another character in system.  (Naturally, if it’s not accepted by the other party and I track him down, I’m not bound by any promises).

Just today, I heard there were two Sabres a few jumps from my staging system.  I didn’t form a fleet of 30 people to kill them, I went out in my Stabber Fleet Issue to take care of them myself.

Why do I play this way?  Quite simply, it gets me the best results.  I want to win fair fights.  I don’t improve or demonstrate my skill by tackling one guy who I promised a 1v1 to, then dropping a fleet on him.  The best way to get those fights is to honor my agreements made in the past.  When I face those people again, they remember that I was honest and they’re more likely to fight me again.  The short-term gain is outweighed by the long-term benefits of integrity.

Let me give you two examples.

In the first case, I was flying a Jaguar when I came across a Wolf in a faction warfare system.  I started to probe him down with alt’s my Rapier while I offered him a 1v1.  His response was, “No thanks.  You’ve got your buddy in here.”  I tried to explain that I would honor a 1v1, but he wasn’t interested.  What did I do?  I continued trying to probe him down, landing on him on several occasions, but I was unable to lock him down before he warped off.  This continued for a few systems before I finally gave up.  For the last couple systems, I even left my Rapier behind, all to no avail.  I would have honored the 1v1 if he’d accepted.  As he didn’t, I felt quite justified in continuing to hunt him with both characters.  It would’ve been a nice fight; AF fights are awesome.

In the second instance, I tried to convince a Vexor to fight my dual-ASB Harpy.  He showed no interest in fighting me until I saw a Sabre jump through to the other side.  We both ended up warping to the gate at 100 coincidentally, and – seeing that I was too close to escape, I engaged.  I had him into half armor when I went down.  Rats and one of his buddies added up to 1,800 additional damage that killed me just as my ASB reloaded for a second go-around.  Against just the Vexor, I would have gotten a second round of both my ASBs and the fight would have gone very differently.  No worries from my end… it was a fair fight, without a 1v1 agreed to, so all was well.

But what annoyed me was a gang of 12 that camped my pod (no fleet discipline; they attacked before everyone got on the killmail) in that system.  A dozen guys for a pod?  Really?

The overkill involved with forming a fleet of 12 for a single Harpy made me do something I rarely do… I unplugged all my implants when I jumped through, and let them kill my blank pod.  Had it been a single Sabre, I’d have let him get the full pod.  There’s nothing I hate more than bad PvPers ganging together for overkill (it’s worth noting that Molly Shears was willing to let my pod go for engaging him, and he was not with the camp gang).

Molly Shears has my respect; the others do not.  Waiting to move until you have a fleet of 12 to kill one Harpy is not the way to earn respect, the end result of e-honor.  They only needed two Sabres (after all, one could be poorly positioned).  I will be returning to that area to inflict some damage.  I’ll let Molly Shears’ pod go, but can’t say the same for the others.

Based on their e-honor, I have very different opinions on each of my opponents.  And those opinions will affect how I fight tomorrow.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Interdictions ≠ Ice

Goonswarm announced another ice interdiction.  To be honest, I don’t much care what their goals are.  As a loyal CFC member, I relish the opportunity to kill folks in high-sec.  My security status isn’t quite low enough yet, and I make plenty of isk to afford to buy it back.

This will be my fourth interdiction.  “But Tal, we’ve only had one ice interdiction before.”  Did I say ice?

In my mind, we’re not interdicting ice, but rather laziness.  Hulkageddon, Burn Jita 1 & 2, the ice interdictions… to me, they’re all the same.  We’re a force of Darwin come to show you how to become better players.  In the end, it’s not the high-sec player we prey upon.  It’s the stupid high-sec player.

Mining ice without protection during an ice interdiction?  Yeah, that’s stupid.
Flying a 9-bil mission Tengu in any situation?  Stupid.
Auto-piloting a jump freighter through high-sec?  Stupid.

Because, in Razor, we don’t’ limit ourselves to the identified targets; we’re looking to run an isk-positive ganking operation.  Ganking isn’t a play style we’re used to (for example, I was on 5 fleets during which we had to explain the new aggression mechanics to our members… we simply don’t hang out in CONCORD space).  It’s fun because it’s different for us.

Our strat ops are the place for objective-oriented PvP.  For interdictions, we’re out for fat, juicy kills.  And tears.

How can you survive?  Don’t fly officer-fit Tengus.  You don’t need them for missions.  Ever.  Don’t be predictable.  Don’t assume that innocuous-looking ship is alone.  Don’t warp directly to your target.  Keep dscan open.  Simple.  Well, it’s simple if you’re used to it.

But wisdom is coming.  Embrace the knowledge we provide.

Lessons: The Fights You Don't Take

With a Sabre, I feel pretty confident rolling through null-sec.  It’s probably the second-safest ship you could travel with, behind cloaky ships.  You can usually kill any solo or small gangs that can catch you.  All you need to worry about is another Sabre – not as much for what the Sabre can do as for what friends he may have nearby. But in those cases, you can always burn back to the gate and escape.

Last night, I was returning from an alliance operation in my double-bubble Sabre.  And I saw nothing but a few ratters that immediately warped to a POS up when I entered system.  Except for one guy, an Insidious Empire bloke.  And he was in a Sabre.

Normally, I’ll take a Sabre-on-Sabre fight.  My skills are very good, and I trust in my ability to tactically overheat and fly head-to-head.  But I was in a double-bubble Sabre.

To fit two bubblers, you need to make some fitting compromises.  The double variety tends to be used in gangs and fleets more frequently, since the ability to bubble both sides of a gate isn’t as crucial when flying solo.  In addition to losing a gun, it also drops a Damage Control.

I had every reason to believe this guy was flying a single-bubble variant, so I passed on the fight.  I was faster than him and he clearly had an MWD as well – proving my theory that I out-skilled him.  That, and his eagerness to engage me (a fleet nearby, perhaps?) left me confident in my decision to avoid the fight.

But you can’t help but second-guess yourself on occasion.  It’s the type of fight I really enjoy – equal ships, in which the final result comes down to pilot skill.  Even if I lose, I have a perfect example of how to fly the ship better in my opponent.

I passed because I suspected my opponent had a better fit.  He came out to hunt folks; I was returning from an op that required a specialized fit for my Sabre.

Sometimes, knowing when NOT to fight is the smarter move.  Like in poker, winning players don’t win big, they lose small.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Subterfuge, Deception, and Dash Cunning

PvP in null-sec is hard work.  Unlike low-sec fighting, you don’t have the advantage of a full local channel to mask your nefarious intent.  Generally, ratters are happily plugging away at pirates until you show up in local, at which point they safe up.  Various suggestions have been floating around the Eve forums about removing local entirely or delaying it, but I find that a bit extreme.

I sympathize with the ratters who want to have some warning they’re about to be dropped on (and dscan isn’t enough… if an interceptor is traveling at 9.0 au/sec, you have maybe 4-5 seconds from the moment it hits dscan until you’re targeted, and a battleship can’t align that quickly).  But I also think we need to boost the ability of roamers to get a target once in a while.

My solution: planetary nebulas1.

Yes, the name is absurd, as nebulas are huge swaths of space that don’t fit within a single solar system, but I’m sure the good folks at CCP can come up with something that works equally well.  These nebulas would be cosmic anomalies existing in every system that would not only mask any ships inside from dscan, but from local as well.  The only way to tell if anyone was inside would be to go in there and have a visual look.  But – and here’s the kicker – you could see everyone outside the nebula on dscan and in local without any problems.

Being cosmic anomalies, they would move regularly, so scouts and afk campers would at least have to warp to the new anomaly from time to time.  The nebula would need to be only about 200km across to prevent folks from slow boating off the grid to become perfectly undetectable.

You could light cynos in them without showing up on the overview, making it possible to bring whole fleets in surreptitiously.

Roaming gangs would have a place to hide their numbers until their scouts found a target.  Find a nice empty system, warp into the nebula, and wait while traffic passes you buy, entirely unaware of your presence.  The possibilities are endless, whereas now, intel channels make it impossible for any gang to travel any distance in secrecy.  If a gang disappears from intel, they could be hiding in literally any system.

Ratters could still see the initial local spike when the roamer enters system, but he would disappear when he enter the nebula.  Curious if it’s safe?  Better go in and have a look yourself.  Warping at range would work just fine, but did you pick the right distance to be out of his point range?

I love the possibilities of this kind of mechanic.  If we removed local entirely or delayed it, the ratter would only have the time it takes for a ship to appear on dscan to escape – with nebulas, this would be the same.  The only difference is that in a nebula system, the ratter would have warning that someone entered, then “left” system, and would have the opportunity to make a judgment call as to whether it’s safe to resume his PvE activities.

I think a mechanic like this would help roamers tremendously, while allowing smart, cautious ratters a good chance to survive.  That’s what Eve is all about, right?  Punishing the reckless and rewarding the intelligent?

1And yes, I know that the proper plural is "nebulae", but "nebulas" has become ubiquitous and is more comprehensible to most readers.  It's a living language, yo.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lessons: A Kiting Camp

Lessons articles will detail engagements I was involved in and break down both good and bad decisions made by myself and my opponents. The purpose of these articles is to educate, not embarass.

I had intended to write more of these battle break-downs, but I honestly haven’t had many successful PvP roams.  No kills, but at least I haven’t died either.

After a major null-sec war, all the participants are usually a little burned out.  The round-the-clock fleets come to an end and folks need to generate their own content again – they need to look for their own fights.  As a result, PvP tends to drop off for a week or so.  The same thing happened to me, but it’s thankfully coming to an end.

Yesterday, one of my corp mates, an alliance mate, and my 2 characters rolled through a wormhole to try to find a few targets in Catch.  (Incidentally, I also have a few things to say about the advantages and difficulties dual-boxing.)

We popped into Catch in K717-8, deep in Initiative renter space, and found the typical ratters who safe up immediately upon a local spike.  Pickings were slim, and we only got one Noctis kill before we decided to head back.  On the way, my prober jumped into two Tornados and a Naga at range.  Finally, someone we could fight.

The Engagement

I quickly cloaked, warped off, and launched my probes to get a hit.  The rest of my fleet sat on the other side of the gate.  After getting a hit on one of the Tornados, I warped in at range to get eyes on them, and I was glad I did.  They were smart – continually moving from one safe spot to another in a diamond shape in relation to the gate.  At most times, the three ships were occupying different points along the diamond, shifting randomly and frequently.

With the scanning system, it’s important to remember that if you get a hit, but the enemy ship warps off, your scanner will still warp you to the position where you got that hit.  So when one of the Tornados warped away, I warped to his safe at 0 and burned off a little, ensuring that I was at least 160 km off the gate and that I wouldn’t be decloaked when one of the hostiles warped back to that safe.  My calculations were exact… one of the Tornados landed about 6 km off me.

At this point, the other Tornado was 280 km off, and the Naga was 230 km off, and I gave the order to jump.  The Sabre (my other character’s ship), Proteus, and Talos all jumped in and warped to my prober at 10 km – landing right on the Tornado.

Alt-Tabbing to my Sabre, I knew I had to build up enough transversal before he could lock and shoot me.  Even at point-blank range, a sniping Tornado can melt anything standing still.  He managed to hit me once – taking me down to 30% shield – but by then, it was too late and I had him bubbled.  With my Sabre in a tight orbit, I decloaked my probing character’s Rapier and put both my webs on him as the rest of the fleet got in close and cut him down.

As we were taking the first Tornado down, the other Tornado warped into my Sabre’s bubble.  Switching my Rapier’s point and one of the webs to that second Tornado, we took him down as well.

The Naga was still on field, albeit in 230 km away.  Knowing what was coming next, my fleet mates had already burned out of the bubble and aligned to him.  After another hit of my scanner, we were in warp.  First to get tackle was our Proteus – I had been focusing on my prober and didn’t have time to align my Sabre.  Once the Sabre did land, we got this beautiful pod.  A good showing for us, all things considered.

The Analysis

I have to give credit to the enemy gang… they recognized that their ships would crumple up close, and they set up a diamond formation to ensure that only one ship would be tackled at a time.  Their ships had enough of a tank to let them survive while help warped at range.  And they kept moving to avoid being dropped on directly.

But this fight shows that small mistakes can have tremendous costs.  When I dropped my probes, they didn’t align out.  And they kept using the same safe spots – warping to 0 every time.  You should always warp at some range so the enemy can’t crack your safe spot.  Those two mistakes lost them their first Tornado and a 100 mil pod.

I highly suspect that second Tornado tried to warp to his friend at range to apply his damage without exposing himself to danger.  But, he was dragged right into my Sabre’s bubble.  Not realizing this would happen was their second mistake.

Once the first Tornado was tackled, his fate was sealed.  The smart move would have been to let him die.  Perhaps the presence of a Proteus in our fleet gave the second Tornado visions of a shiny T3 killmail.  Or maybe – since all three were in the same corporation – he wanted to defend his brother.  In either case, it led to his death, too.

As far as the Naga… I can’t imagine why he wasn’t aligned out and ready to warp off.  Perhaps he forgot about my probes, or perhaps he was focusing too much on comms chatter about the fight.  In either case, he wasn’t paying attention, and died because of it. 

But our performance was hardly a complete success, either.  The enemy had a scout on our side of the gate.  We should have kept the Proteus within jump range of the gate, but cloaked, to disguise our strength.  If the enemy gang had been more cautious, we would have scared them off.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of folks will pull their probes after they get a successful hit to minimize the window of time an enemy might see them on dscan.  This is fine if you’re hunting a single ratter, but is a mistake if you’re engaging multiple ships.  The more enemy eyes, the less successful your probe-hiding maneuver will be.  If I had pulled my probes, we would have missed out on that Naga kill.

All in all, it was a good engagement, and offered some lessons – both positive and negative – about small gang warfare.

Dancing With Yourself

In Eve, dual-boxing can give you a significant advantage in combat, if you’re able to pull it off successfully.  This article will discuss the types, advantages, and challenges of dual-boxing.
What Is Dual-boxing?
In Eve, each account can have one character online at any given time.  Many players have more than one active account, with multiple characters on each.  Some use that second account (secondary) for invention, running research, invention, and hauling characters.  A lot of null-sec PvPers have one client open with a ratting alt while they PvP on their other character (primary), effectively paying for any PvP losses in real-time.  I imagine there’s someone out there who actually *gulp* mines with their second account while they PvP, but I’ve never met that person.
For my purposes, I’m talking about having two PvP characters roaming together, either by yourself or in a small fleet.  I’m not including scouting alts for large fleets, as the scouting account has very low handle-time requirements.
In PvP, the second account typically serves one or more of these functions, and confers all the usual benefits you’d expect from them:
Prober: Your secondary jumps in first and quickly tries to find and tackle targets. You have a probe launcher, combat probes, and usually a cloak.  These ships need to survive some punishment until your primary character can come to the rescue, and typically have bonuses to tackle. Examples: Rapier, Arazu, Loki, Proteus.
Tackle: Your secondary jumps in first and has the sole objective of tackling targets until your primary can arrive, at which point your secondary warps to safety.  Examples: interceptors, assault frigates.
EWAR: Your secondary is held in reserve to assist your primary character, who jumps into system first.  Jumping your secondary in too early will often scare off the targets, as seeing ewar ships on dscan immediately kills an opponent’s desire to fight.  This type of secondary will piss off the maximum number of opponents.  Examples: Curse, Pilgrim, Rook, Falcon, Celestis.
Logi: Having an Oneiros or Scimitar in your back pocket can prolong an engagement indefinitely.  With your logi keeping range from you, your primary can freely engage larger targets and focus first on destroying any drones prior to engaging the actual target.  If your logi is cap-stable, you can fight indefinitely without risk to your ship, making it possible to take down even heavily tanked mission battleships.
Bubbler: A secondary character in a Sabre or Broadsword can make it much easier to pin down an enemy target, particularly in pipe systems.  In pipes, you can sit with your Sabre cloaked in line with an in-gate and flush targets to it with your primary DPS ship.  Just remember to decloak and bubble -before- your target enters warp.  Your DPS ship can warp directly to the gate, be caught in the same bubble, and destroy your target.  If your secondary is a Sabre, you can either engage or simply cloak it back up.
Scanner: Sometimes, particularly when high-sec ganking, having a secondary with a fast lock time that can scan potential targets to help with cost-value is useful.  These ships are small, innocent-looking, and have a Passive Targeting system and cargo/ship scanners.  A quick lock and scan can reveal whether it’s worth hitting the target.  Doing so can, for instance, identify officer resistance-fit Tengus that you can alpha-strike with a single Tornado.
You’ll note that I didn’t include Scout as a role.  If you’re out by yourself or a small gang, you don’t have the manpower to have a dedicated scout – that character is more frequently a prober.  Boosters are also excluded, since they remain safely away from the fighting, and don't require the same attention as engaging with two characters does.  Also, I intentionally excluded dedicated probers – Buzzards and the like – as having a prober that can’t tackle targets is a waste of a ship when you’re in a gang of 2-5.  You need to cover as many roles as possible without compromising your fit.
The Pitfalls: Two People, One Brain
I remember the fist time I died to a dual-boxer with a boosting Loki.  I thought it was cheap, and spouted off something about e-honor in local.  I hated him for having that advantage.  I promised not to make the same mistake again and, in the future, avoid fights with obvious dual-boxers.  I also promised myself that one day I’d be that guy.
It’s natural, to see a tactic and want to exploit it yourself.  By all means train up or buy a new character.  But before you take him out for the first time, consider some of the downsides of splitting your attention between two characters.
Sure, in most fleets, and during most roams, a lot of your time is spent waiting, and watching your ship slowly whittle down an enemy.  You can use that time to control your second character, right?
That thinking would work fine if sudden changes in battles were predictable, which they aren’t.  Even if you’re using two computers instead of two clients on the same computer, you only have one attention span to split between them.  You’re bound to miss a ship sliding into web range on your kiting Cynabal, or a brawler moving in on your Rapier.
Target selection and situational awareness are absolutely critical.  You need to understand where you are, whether you can take that ship you’re about to drop on, and whether he’s actually alone.  When dual-boxing, you must be absolutely committed to the fight before you begin it – retreating is not an option.  With two characters to control, you can only enter commands on one client at a time (unless your maker blessed you with four hands).  If the engagement goes squirrelly, you’ll – at best – only be able to save one ship.  You best decide which one it’ll be before you undock.
Look at it this way.  Think about how you react when you get into a fight.  Think about all the mistakes you’ve ever made, the moments of hesitation, and the poor decisions.  Now, try imagining facing those same decisions, but with two ships of very different capabilities and limitations.  You need to have two fighting styles in mind at once, and seamlessly switch between those two styles as you Alt + Tab or change monitors.
Dual-boxing carries the possibility of winning fights you couldn’t win with a single character, but it also risks double the isk and requires triple the attention.  I recommend trying it out on low-value ships and clean clones first, then gradually moving up to more specialized and expensive fits.  It takes practice, but when you master it, you’re in for a whole new world of PvP on your own schedule, without having to wait for others to be available.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Null-Sec 101: Surviving Bubbles

Null-sec 101 is a series of articles meant to teach new players about null-sec, with a focus on PvP and daily life.

The most basic – and often most ignored – aspect of survival in null-sec is being able to successfully navigate it.  Most people who spent their entire Eve lives in high-sec, or even low-sec, may think it’s simply a matter of traveling from gate to gate in a fast frigate, running from anything that they can’t handle.  But bubbles change the dynamic in null-sec.

There are two things you need to know about them.  First, if you’re inside one, you can’t warp until you escape its range.  If someone puts a bubble up around a gate as you jump in, you either need to burn back to the gate and jump through again, or burn out of the bubble before warping.

Second, if they are positioned close to and in line with your destination, they can drag you off-course when you exit warp.  What do I mean?  Let’s say you’re warping from Gate A to Gate B.  Evil Pirate has put a bubble 100km away from Gate B in the direction of Gate A.  If you warp to Gate B at 0 from Gate A, you’ll actually stop right inside the bubble – 100km away from the safety of the other side of the gate (called a stop bubble).  The same mechanic works if you position the bubble in line with Gate A, but on the other side of Gate B (drag bubble).

Expect your enemy to use bubbles.  Most fleets have at least one interdictor, and often many mobile bubbles in the cargo holds of otherwise innocent-looking DPS ships.  In many cases, they’ll even drop cargo containers near the front of the bubble to decloak any ships caught.  Covops cloaks won’t save you.

So, how do you avoid them?  How do you survive solo travel in null-sec?

First, you need to choose the right ship.  Any gate can have a gate camp with a bubbler on the other side.  In these cases, your ship has to be able to survive the 11km or so you’ll have to travel to burn back to the gate and jump through.  Most gate camp fleets have a couple dedicated tacklers.  At least one or two of them will point you on the bubbled side, and won’t be able to jump through with you when you reach the gate again.  You’ll likely be followed through by the remainder – usually one or two additional tacklers. If your ship is fit in such a way that you can kill this tackler, you can survive.

But the best way to survive bubbles is to avoid them altogether.  For that, you need to be smart.  When you travel, if you see any neutrals/reds in system, do not warp directly from gate to gate.  During your first trip through a system, you’ll have no choice but to warp to a celestial first – a planet, a moon, an asteroid belt, a cosmic signature, even the sun if you have no other choice (the sun is a common warp-to, so many PvPers will default to looking for a ship at the sun).  When you warp to these, don’t warp at 0 or 100 km… warp at some range in between.  When you’re in warp, make a safe bookmark in the middle of nowhere (open People and Places, click on “Add Bookmark”).

That brings me to the next point… bookmarks are your friend.  Any time I deploy anywhere in New Eden, the purpose of my first solo roam is to make scout points off all the gates I may be traveling through.  I never warp directly to a gate, I always warp to my bookmarks.  During my first trip, I’ll warp to every gate at 100, then burn off in a random direction – in line with no celestials – until I’m about 250-300 off the gate, and bookmark that scout spot.  That way, I can warp to it at 100km from any direction and still be at a distance to warp to the gate.  These scout points let me land on grid, but safely away from any gate camps or bubbles.

I cannot stress scout bookmarks enough.  Just yesterday, I was roaming through a null-sec wormhole to drone space in my armor-fit Stabber Fleet Issue (double web, point).  In system were 5 neuts.  Luckily, I had been there before, and had a scout point off my out-gate.  I warped to the bookmark and avoided four Daredevils.  I probably could have taken at least one or two with my 220mm ACs and double webs, but I didn’t know what else was on the other side of the gate (the hostiles lived in that space), so I avoided the engagement.  I wouldn’t have had the option if I’d have warped right to the gate.

Bouncing off celestials and using bookmarks can avoid most bubbles, but not all of them.  Some constellation and regional gates are far out of line with the rest of the solar system, and can’t be “warped around”.  In these cases, there’s one last option: burning capacitor.

This trick is easy.  When you engage your warp drive, your capacitor immediately drops by the amount needed to complete the warp – even if you have to accelerate before warping.  If you then cancel your warp before entering warp, that cap energy is still gone.  By warping and stopping multiple times, you can bleed out your capacitor until you no longer have enough to warp all the way to the distant gate.  On this last warp, let it kick you into warp, then hit stop (Ctrl + space).  Your warp won’t get you all the way there, but with some practice, you can get within dscan range (14 AU) so you can see what’s on the gate.

I have one overview tab I use exclusively for scanner probes and warp bubbles.  I normally scna for ships first, then switch to my bubble/probe overview and scan for those.  If it’s clear, I’ll finish my warp and jump through.  Many times, I’ve used this cap-burning trick to get within range to scan and detect a bubbled gate camp, and avoid it.

If you see a neutral in system, always assume he’s in a Sabre, or is sitting on a bubble in-line with both your gate and the nearest planet.  No neutral is safe.  If you get used to these tricks, you can successfully navigate past any bubbles without being the next fish caught in the net.

It seems cumbersome and slow at first, but remember: this is not high-sec.  CONCORD will not save you, and there are no gate guns.  You’re on your own here.  Fly like it.