Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Warmachine: Vengeance - Khador Review

Thanks to the fine folks over at Bell of Lost Souls (and presumably PP as well for giving them the info,) we now know the totality of what will be officially released when Warmachine: Vengeance releases next month (tentatively listed for March 19.)

With that list in hand, I thought it'd be fun to run through the list of things that each of my factions got from this release cycle and see how excited I am for each of them. This post will cover Khador and the few Mercenary options that are relevant, and I'll hit up Retribution in another post (spoiler: that post will probably be glowing.)

But first, a disclaimer with a little rant sprinkled on it for good measure because I see this come up every release cycle and it drives me batty:

There are few discussions less productive or wasteful than debating over who "won" or "lost" a release cycle. Every cycle has a few turds, just as every cycle has a few home runs. In the end, your faction just grew by x number of entries; what you do with that is up to you. I understand being elated or frustrated by a release cycle (oh boy do I understand that) but arguing or declaring that anyone "won" or "lost" the book is juvenile, tribal garbage that just detracts from actually discussing the models themselves.

With that out of the way, onto the models! I'll be running down the list of everything that Khador picked up in this release cycle, in the rough order of how much I'm excited to put it on the table crossed with how much impact I think it will have on the faction as a whole. After that I'll go over the one or two Mercenary releases that are Khador relevant and how I feel about them.

Coming in at #5 for me on the list is Khador's newest warjack, the Grolar. This entry ends up in kind of an odd spot, because it was spoiled relatively recently and it's the only entry in the list that I haven't had a lot of time to either theorycraft with, put on the table, or proxy in. All those things considered, I still really like this warjack, and I think it will find a nice niche in Khador. It has enough interesting rules and applications that I feel like it rewards you for trying to get use out of it, which is a lot more than I can say about most of Khador's non-character warjacks. Don't let it's low spot on my list fool you; this is a pretty great warjack, and I think it'll end up in Khador's narrow list of non-character warjacks that are still worth investing in.

From here on out, the list becomes harder to stratify, but since I have to pick (shared slots on lists are for the weak) #4 slot goes to the Iron Fang Kovnik. An absolutely fantastic solo that brings some very nice stuff to the table: a good passive buff for himself and Iron Fang Pikemen, a fantastic CMD value and the Commander skill to leverage it, a movement buff for Shield Wall models (which is nice when your faction has 3 different units with that rule,) and on top of all that he's a very good combat solo. Along with the Black Dragon Iron Fang Pikemen UA, the Iron Fang Kovnik has ushered back in an era of Pikemen being a strong infantry choice in Khador (though honestly they've never been less than "very good",) and he's just diverse enough to give the faction some splash benefits. One of few solos that I purchased two of without much hesitation.

That puts the Greylord Outriders at #3 on my list. Honestly, I think these guys and the IFK are equal levels of good and have a similar impact on the faction; which one rates higher than the other is mostly a question of the list and my mood. Initially maligned (though I was a fan of them even going back to their original rules spoilers,) this unit has gained widespread appreciation across Khador. Their Magic Ability 6 on their sprays can be off-putting, but if you can fix that with any kind of accuracy buff/DEF debuff they become fantastic anti-infantry models. Add that onto their raw speed, the mobility of being light cav, and their relative resistance to typical anti-infantry measures, and the Outriders have ended up being a fantastic addition to Khador's stable of options.

[Reasoning aside: I feel like the IFK and the Outriders are both massively useful models, but ultimately I think the Outriders open up more list builds than the IFK does. The Outriders end up being able to fulfill an anti-infantry role previously only achieved by the WGI (who are tied to Joe and thus essentially character restricted.) The IFK does a lot for IFP, but they are largely aided by the BD UA, and the other Shield Wall units have issues that the IFK's buff doesn't fully address (though I think he does help out the Man-o-War Shocktroopers more than Assault Kommandos.) As such I feel like the Outriders have the most immediate and possible long term impact on the faction, plus they're really fun to use on top of all that. That's not to disparage the IFK at all; I think they're about even, but I had to pick one for each slot so thems the breaks.]

Kovnik Andrei Malakov, Khador's new journeyman warcaster, earns the silver medal in my list, coming it at #2. I think all of the new journeyman warcasters are valuable to their factions - being able to fully fuel a warjack on their own opens up a lot of build options for every but Cygnar (who have had their own Journeyman for awhile now) - but I think Malakov is especially valuable for Khador.

Before getting to "why", a quick history lesson. I've been playing Khador for a long time, and during that time I've used every warjack that Khador has access to. When you hear people mention how Khador warjacks "suck" or are hard to work with, they're probably talking about one or more factors that you run into when using Khador warjacks:

  1. Khador warjacks have low native threat ranges. They all have SPD 4 and Reach is very hard to come by.
  2. Khador warjacks do not have awesome offensive stat lines. MAT 6 is okay but not amazing. RAT 4 makes it very hard to leverage warjack based shooting in most situations, since even against a DEF 10 you need a '6' to hit and it only gets worse from there. 
  3. Khador warjacks also don't have especially high hitting power. Some models hit hard but a stunning percentage of Khador's heavies are P+S 16, and hard hitting is regulated to either "super basic" with the Juggernaut, or else you need something expensive like the Behemoth or a Conquest (Beast-09 is a also valid, but he's primarily a souped up Juggernaut.) 
  4. Combining #s 2 and 3: It's easy to end up in a situation where your damage output takes a nosedive because MAT 6 forces you into "boosting" range, or you need to boost damage because your base damage isn't high enough (much more common than it used to be as more ARM 21 models come into the game, and of course colossals complicate matters.) Once you get out of the realm of a 1:1 between focus:attacks, Khador warjacks don't do very well.
  5. Combining #s 1 and 4: Khador warjacks are big 'ol resource hogs if you want them to do what you probably brought them for (in almost all cases: kill an enemy heavy.) They require focus to reliably hit and do damage (not altogether remarkable; most warjacks operate like this,) they want accuracy and/or damage bonuses to keep their damage efficiency up, and they need a movement buff/shenanigan to initiate combat (what you normally want to be doing, as taking on the chin can end very badly with just a little sour luck.)
In light of those issues, Malakov is like a gift of manna for anyone wanting to run more Khador warjacks (which I think is necessary as anti-infantry tech becomes more and more prominent.) He only brings two things, but they're almost perfect: Redline is a spell that addresses issues 1 and 3, and his ability to fuel a warjack all on his own addresses issues 4 and 5. If he had some kind of passive accuracy buff, he'd single handedly fix everything troublesome with Khador warjacks, but as-is we'll just need to settle for him fixing almost everything.

Malakov is not without his downsides: whatever warjacks you take with him are in his battlegroup, so your opponent can neutralize those points by killing him. He does have the 'Sucker' rule to help out against that a bit, but its still something to be wary of, and its going to be the hardest thing about getting good use out of Malakov.

Even with that downside it's hard to express just how much potential Malakov has for making Khador list builds a little more compatible with the current meta. Most Khador warcasters struggle to run more than one warjack on their own, but at the same time one warjack usually isn't enough to get the job done (especially if you're looking at dealing with any of the colossals that do a good job of neutralizing infantry.) Being able to bring a second warjack that has excellent damage output and threat will be a huge help when making some lists. Also excellent is the fact that Malakov is solid gold with pretty much any warjack; Redline makes any warjack respectable in melee and Malakov can happily afford to toss focus onto a shooting warjack in order to get the most out of it each turn.

I backed the Warmachine: Tactics Kickstarter just for Malakov, and I don't regret that investment for a second (limited edition sculpts be damned.)

That just leaves one possible entry for the #1 slot, and it should come as a surprise to no one who has paid attention to Warmachine in the past year. If there were any other contenders for this spot up to this point, Orsus Zoktavir, The Butcher Unleashed (aka Butcher3) would have charged in and chopped them all into grisly bits. Butcher3 is a funny entry for me, because he's equal parts underwhelming and extremely exciting all at once. 

Butcher3 is underwhelming for a reason that's entirely personal: at this point we've known the full rules for him for around half a year. Butcher3 was the first of the Vengeance warcasters released, as he was the meat of PP's 10th anniversary celebratory model set. Over those six months I've heard/read tons of battle reports, musings, list thoughts, tech, and counter-tech for Butcher3. Now that he's finally in the hands of all the players, he feels a little "worn in", if that makes sense.

However, after thinking about it I realized that getting Butcher3 ended up being a bit of a blessing. One of the fascinating parts of a new release cycle is the mad scramble where everyone is trying to figure out what impact the new models will have on their army/lists. During this period a lot of random thoughts float around, and the barometer for most new 'casters/'locks goes all over the place as players scramble to come up with new ideas and put them in practice (unless the model is pretty clearly powerful, like the relatively recent Morvhana2.)

That scramble period is kind of fun because it's full of discovery, but it can also be really frustrating if most of your ideas for the 'caster/'lock don't pan out. It can be maddening if the end result is that the 'caster isn't as good as you initially hoped or thought, and absolutely crushing if the 'caster/'lock ends up being way worse in practice.

The initial reaction to Butcher3 was akin to "oh god, he's going to kill everything." That's very exciting, especially since Khador doesn't have another 'caster that fills that same role (i.e. hardcore board bully.) After six months or so of tournament testing, players are reporting that Butcher3 works as expected, which is tremendously exciting. He's got his fair share of bad match ups and ugly tech that he doesn't want to run into, but those are expected with any well balanced model. The most important parts are what Butcher3 brings to Khador players: aggression, durability, direct assassination threat, and relative durability; all in one model. He's a hugely valuable and interesting addition to Khador's warcaster line up, and I can't wait to get mine on the table.


That covers Khador's releases this book cycle. Vengeance has been a fantastic book for Khador players: every entry is useful and interesting and all of them enable or encourage new approaches to list building. I've been around for many a book release, and at least in terms of Khador there have been few other release cycles that were so damn good across the board (most release cycles have high "highs" and some pretty low "lows", so they average out to good-great.)

The only other faction that I feel had as remarkable a release cycle is Retribution, but they're getting their own article, so I'll gush about those entries over there.

For everyone playing Khador, it's a good year to be red.


  1. Hm, I'd rate things like you when looking at it objectively, but subjectively, I'd go a different route. Stuff would be duking it out on 3rd place, and then the Kovnik would come out #2, and Outriders #1. But that would be based off what my wallet allows (and Butch3r is insanely expensive over here), and what I got so far, and my personal disdain for Kovnik Uber-Douche. That, and me being a Lady Z / Greylord Fanboi. ;)

  2. Very understandable. :)

    Butcher3 is pretty expensive in general (I purchased him at 30% off retail and even at that rate it's steep for a single 'caster) and I never considered the cost for those outside the U.S. :-\ My excitement for Butcher3 is also colored by my playgroup - one of my best friends plays Circle, which I've found is hell to fight with Khador normally. I look forward to being able to throw Butcher3 at Hordes in general with reckless glee.

    In my gamer heart, I agree with you about the Outriders. Objectively I think Butcher3 and Malakov may have a bigger impact, but the Outriders are a home run for me: they're fluffy, cool models that are fun to use and also open up new list build options. I'm very happy with how well that unit has worked out.

    In general I think the Vengeance releases for Khador are remarkable for a reason you kind of hit on: no matter what 'casters or build you like to play, 2-3 of the releases will probably be good for you, and at least one of the releases should be fantastic. It ended up being a well rounded set of releases, with everything being pretty damn good. Remarkable, and very welcome. :)

  3. Goreshade is currently in that fascinating yo-yo mode right now. He's got his huge detractors and his huge proponents, and its definitely frustrating. I do think, however, that no one exemplifies a model going from the highest high to the lowest low like Scaverous. He was heralded as the second coming of Asphyxious II because of Telekenesis, and now he's relegated to sidelines because he's giant. I blame it a bit on Colossals bringing guns on every platform and making him extremely vulnerable to the current setup.
    I also remember the Great Keening that went up about the Magic Ability 6 back when the Greylord Outriders were released, but now I see them in every list! Infantry clearing thats not tied to Joe is pretty awesome for Khador overall.

  4. I remember the great "Scaverouspocalypse." I think him and Goreshade3 suffer from a similar problem: Cryx is absolutely drowning in versatile, strong warcasters. It feels like it will be hard design-wise to come up with something new for them that finds its way into a competitive rotation without trying to up the ante in terms of power. The last four 'casters PP has introduced have met with a very chilly reception, so I'm not really sure what they can or will do at this point.

    For the record, I think the only one out of that crop that is kind of "bad" is Venethrax, and I think it's more that he's a Forces book 'caster - very bare bones and boring, just like pretty much all of 'em. Gaspy3 is very interesting, Scaverous has a very good feat and spell list so maybe the Inflictor will give him new life, and Goreshade3 has some very scary plays (counter balanced by being seemingly a little dull to use turn-by-turn.)

    It's funny you mention colossals. Looking back at Wrath, it strikes me just how ill equipped a lot of those 'casters are to deal with colossals (either offensively or defensively.) Harkevich, Thyra, and Scaverous are 'casters that feel like they would have flourished in a non-colossal environment, with Ossyan and Damiano seemingly the best equipped to deal with this brave new age. That's surprising to me considering that Wrath was *right* before Colossals came out, and PP had to know these monsters were in the pipeline.

    The whole Outrider "Magic Ability 6" kerfluffle is one of the things that drove me away from the PP forums awhile back. People just couldn't get over that Magic Ability 6 and see the virtues of the unit, so all the threads about Outriders tended to devolve into pity parties, despite what a lot of others were saying to the contrary. Now that people have played them and (of course) done well with them at a convention level people can't stop gushing about them. Which is all well and good but I really wish we could skip that step in the middle where a chunk of the population flagellates themselves as a way to fellate themselves. :P