The single most versatile T1 Frigate in Eve Online is easily the Tristan. The sheer amount of variety in fittings is what makes this ship so exceptional. Heck, the one in the image above has laser beams on it! Name another cheap ship that you can fit so many different ways and still have it be effective at one task or another? Blaster brawler? Check. Kitey Speedster? Check. Neut Boat? Check. Drone Boat? Check. The list is almost never-ending.
It is a tough universe for any T1 Frigate these days and the Tristan is no exception. Polarized double-web nasties have all but removed the brawling Tristan from existence. And you will typically only find speedy drone boats lurking around low sec these days. I haven't seen the variety lately and it seems as if the meta has swung around on the ship, forcing it into a niche. Which can happen from time to time. What that typically means is that the stage is ripe for someone to change things up a bit. So we'll keep an eye on things and see if anyone can discover a new role for the Tristan in the coming months.
This isn't the Tristan's fault. All T1 Frigates are being squeezed by the meta right now. Thank Bob for novices. If it wasn't for novice plex I'm not sure we'd ever see solo T1 Frigates.
In the meantime there is nothing wrong with speedy drone boats. I fought one yesterday for what seemed like forever in my Astero. Despite all my fancy sling shot manual piloting skill, I was unable to land a scram and eventually he got tired of me and warped away. They can be rather annoying. Unfortunately for the Tristan he also didn't have a scram on me, so I also could have left the fight at any time. Which is the drawback of that approach.
Right now Tristans work best as part of a group effort. Even in pairs of just two ships, one of them being a Tristan can be extremely effective. Partner a Tristan with any other Frigate and you immediately have a super group. As things stand right now, the Tristan is the best wingman ship you can have on your side if you are flying Frigates. They aren't scary and will encourage fights and they can bring some great support to the fight with drones, neuts, or even support in the form of TDs, TPs, or webs. WHatever supports the other ship.
And in small gangs the Tristan excels for all of those reasons. It's cheap, flexible, and a great platform that can be adapted to almost any task. What more can you ask for?