Monday, April 7, 2014

Games Round Up - Vlad2, Harkevich, and Sturgis Thoughts

This past week two fun things happened: I was able to play 100% more games of Warmachine than usual (i.e. two,) and both of those were against the new Cygnar warcaster from the Warmachine: Tactics Kickstarter: Dalin Sturgis.

I got the chance to try out two different lists for those games, and I have a few things I wanted to note/share for each game, along with a general overview of Sturgis based on my extremely limited experience playing against him. I'll be foregoing full or even abbreviated battle reports, but I will be sharing the lists used for each game and roughly how each game went. Details after the break.
Game 1:
The first game was Vlad2 vs. Sturgis. The Vlad2 list I used was:

Vladimir Tzepesci, the Dark Champion (*5pts)
  * Drago (8pts)
  * Sylys Wyshnalyrr, the Seeker (2pts)
Iron Fang Uhlans (Leader and 4 Grunts) (11pts)
Kayazy Assassins (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
  * Kayazy Assassin Underboss (2pts)
Tactical Arcanist Corps (4pts)
  * Koldun Kapitan Valachev (2pts)
Widowmakers (Leader and 3 Grunts) (4pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Kovnik Markov (4pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (with dismount) (5pts)
Saxon Orrik (2pts)

My friend was running the following for his Sturgis list:

Commander Dalin Sturgis (*6pts)
  * Stormclad (10pts)
  * Sylys Wyshnalyrr, the Seeker (2pts)
Storm Strider (9pts)
Black 13th Gun Mage Strike Team (4pts)
Horgenhold Forge Guard (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Stormblade Infantry (Leader and 5 Grunts) (5pts)
  * Stormblade Infantry Officer & Standard (3pts)
Tempest Blazers (Leader and 4 Grunts) (10pts)
Journeyman Warcaster (3pts)
Ragman (2pts)

The scenario was Incursion from the SR2014 scenario packet.

The game was a pretty quick and bloody game. I was able to take out the Storm Strider and 4 of the Tempest Blazers early with Vlad2's feat (HoF Widowmakers shot the Tempest Blazers and two Uhlans managed to kill the Storm Strider,) and then Sturgis responded by eating Eiryss2 and almost all of the Kayazy with his feat.

My friend did an excellent job of controlling the flank flag and he was starting to take the lead on CPs, but I was able to get the Drakun over to Sturgis for a crazy high damage hit, which softened him up enough that Vlad2 was able to finish him off with a Arcane Secrets boosted Razor Wind the following turn.

Game 2:
Because practice and familiarity are apparently things I think I can do without, I opted to not play Vlad2 this second time around. As is probably not surprising (even my wife was able to guess what I was playing and she doesn't know anything about Warmachine outside of my ramblings) I went back to the Harkevich well. I wanted to try a non-theme list and see how it sat with me:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
  * Behemoth (13pts)
  * Black Ivan (10pts)
  * Sylys Wyshnalyrr, the Seeker (2pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 5 Grunts) (3pts)
Greygore Boomhowler & Co. (Boomhowler and 9 Grunts) (9pts)
Greylord Outriders (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Widowmakers (Leader and 3 Grunts) (4pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Widowmaker Marksman (2pts)

My friend used the same Sturgis list as last time (damn his ability to resist the desire to compulsively change lists!) and we likewise played Incursion again (three flags are wonderfully easy to set up.)

This fight was, as may be implied by the lists, a knock-down, drag-out slugfest. This game probably went 6 turns, maybe 7; we lost count around turn 4. I managed to take an early lead on CPs, but eventually I was ground down to just a handful of models, and at that point Sturgis was able to start scoring on the far flag to take the win via CPs. The game ended with around a dozen models on the table, which is a helluva winnowing from where we both started.

Thoughts on each list:

First off, I like this list a lot. My friend is of course still playing around with what he wants in a Sturgis list, but this seems like a really good base. Sturgis has great tools to support all of the units in the list, his feat gives all of the melee models a faux-threat extension, and he's no slouch at cleaning out infantry himself so his infantry doesn't necessarily need to do a lot of work (more on this in a minute.)

The biggest thing he seems to be debating is swapping out the Stormclad and the Storm Strider for a Stormwall. I feel like there are some interesting pros and cons for that swap. 

On the "pro" side: Stormwall is a big, powerful model that synergizes with Sturgis well. Snipe makes him a terror at range, Arcane Shield makes him crazy durable (and it's not tied to Jr. so you can still AS something else,) and the Covering Fire templates give Sturgis even more feat shenanigans. Plus it gives Sturgis a fantastic model to hide behind. 

And of course: it's a Stormwall, so it brings all the awesome things to the table it does with everyone else. Sturgis doesn't necessarily dial it up to 11, but it's at least a solid 10.5, and even if he did zero for it the Stormwall is a 10 all on its own.

On the "con" side: I feel like the Stormwall will be a positioning and resource hog. It will be very tempting to swap upkeeps on and off of Stormwall and allocate it focus, which cuts deeply into how much Sturgis can really do in a turn. My friend got fantastic use out of using Sturgis as an aggressive, hit-and-run 'caster, and I don't think he can realistically play that way with a Stormwall in the list; Stormwall is going to want some focus which eats into Sturgis' pool, and it also further incentivizes trying to gank Sturgis to circumvent having to deal with the Stormwall.

There's also the benefit of having those 19 points split up between different models. In both of the games we've played, the Stormclad and the Storm Strider have been able to split up and cover different areas of the board for scenario. Stormwall can kinda-sorta do that with Storm Pods, but it's not the same level of efficacy and that doesn't work in all scenarios. That's a general concern of using colossals vs. several other models, but it's worth bearing in mind when building any list.

Overall, Sturgis feels like a very interesting mesh between Caine1 and Stryker1. He brings a healthy amount of support to the table, but he's also capable of getting into the mix and doing work himself, and without necessarily getting himself killed. If circumstances allow, he can absolutely blender a unit by himself with his feat (happened the first game and would have happened the second if not for super-tough,) and his Electro-Leap melee weapon and Snap Strike let him chew through infantry sans feat.

Sturgis feels like a very flexible, interesting warcaster. The biggest hole in his game seems to be hitting power, which is something that will need to be accounted for in list building. Cygnar has access to plenty of Mercs, so I don't see that as being a huge issue, though it might limit how much Sturgis you see in competitive play (since the conventional wisdom has most Mercs pre-allocated.) I think there's tons of room for Sturgis in competitive discussion though; I think he can run a more aggressive list than Cygnar usually does, and his tools let him deliver strong melee infantry more effectively than most other Cygnar warcasters.

Also, for what it's worth, Sturgis is very challenging to fight against, but not obnoxious. You need to be prepared for what his feat is going to do, and for how personally capable he can be, but he's the kind of 'caster that is very effective without being ball-busting. Considering how PP has leaned too far one way or the other a fair bit recently, that's a great mark for Sturgis.

Since it's the first time I fought against them, I also want to give a call out to the Tempest Blazers. They're a rock solid light cavalry unit; I think I agree with most of the rumblings that I've heard that they're the best light cav unit in the game. They have very respectable flexibility and mobility, but I also feel like they're well tempered by not ignoring Concealment/Cover/Stealth and by having RNG 10 guns.

I say that because Concealment/Cover/Stealth were some of the things that saved my life against them, and Sturgis giving them Snipe made them a big, big pain in the ass to deal with (whereas I feel like at RNG 10 I'd have had a few more opportunities to counter-attack.) Thankfully, Khador doesn't usually rely on a lot of support models so the Tempest Blazers are merely "very painful" instead of "debilitating"; if I played a faction that relied a lot more on support models I'd be trying my damnedest to tech against these guys.

They're a particularly fantastic pairing with Sturgis: he gives them Snipe which dials them up even further in the annoyance/flanking department, and they suit his more fluid battle plan very well (probably better than something like ATGM + UA would.)

I liked this list quite a bit. Nothing earth shattering in it's configuration, but there were a few things I wanted to make note of.

The TAC + Valachev ended up being a really nice combo. Being able to shuffle the cloud wall up another 3" first turn was a big help, as was being able to retreat the TAC behind the cloud wall after performing their actions. The general flexibility of Zephyr was also nice: the TAC are painfully slow but can pull some interesting shenanigans in melee so being able to snake them another 3" further into a unit lets you get Flame Burst or Battle Wizard shots into interesting spots. I understand why this combo isn't super common (Valachev is in hot demand,) but this pairing was very cool and something I'd use again.

The Widowmakers did one thing that game, but it was a tremendous help. As I learned in the second game, if you don't have a long range solution for something like Tempest Blazers (or Raptors, the "classic" light cav ranged terror unit) they can dance around your army with impunity, so being able to feat and try to pick several off early in the game was a huge help. The Widowmakers are also a big help against something like Forgeguard with Arcane Shield; ARM 21 makes them all but invincible to everything but Sniper shots. I really need to include Widowmakers in more lists.

I made a last second swap in the list - changed out a Demolisher for Drago to give me enough to upgrade the Drakun to have a Dismount - and I'm not sure how I feel about it. On one hand: the Drakun with Dismount is a fantastic model to have with Vlad2. If you can get that sucker jammed in on feat turn, he's pretty damn tough to try and dislodge. And Drago is much more offensive than a clamjack, which is more fun.

But on the other hand, Drago is squishy as all hell, so I always feel like I need to handle him with kid gloves. That usually results in him holding an objective zone (which is what Vlad2's one warjack is probably going to be doing most games,) but it gets very dicey if your opponent has any particularly scary guns or ample melee threats. Being able to just toss a clamjack into a zone and pretty much forget about it would be a huge help.

When I play this list again (I liked it quite a bit the last time, so I'll probably rotate back around to it soon,) I think I'm going to try it plus clamjack, sans Dismount and see how that goes. I feel like the trade off there is worth it, but we'll see how it works in practice. I'm also debating between the different clamjack types, though I'm leaning Demolisher so I have those guns and Girded (especially if I keep the Kayazy around.)

Even though I was frustrated at points during this game, I don't dislike the list (my opponent said the same afterwards.) My frustrations mainly came from some of the limitations that Harkevich has, godforsaken RAT 4 on Behemoth, some consecutively failed command checks, and some general decisions I could have made more intelligently. Hindsight is 20/20, but game rage is 20/100.

I have tried Outriders with Harkevich a number of times, and while they are by no means bad (especially if you can get Fortune on them,) I think something more projected/direct would fare better. One of the issues that I've run into playing Harkevich is that I feel like my opponent's casualties aren't mounting up fast enough, so once my army starts whittling down (from a small size to begin with) I end up without enough models to finish out the game.

Outriders exemplify this problem by being a) dense (5 model unit) and b) not projecting their threat out especially far. Outriders are a fantastic anti-melee infantry unit, but they're a bad anti-shooting unit (their walking threat range of 17" leaves them short against almost all dedicated shooting infantry,) and I feel like Harkevich needs a shooting unit that can do a bit of both. You need to be able to pick off your enemy's shooting models to keep your battlegroup or support safe, and ideally you want to be able to transition to shooting melee threats once those approach. 

Outriders also run into the issue of "only" having 5 attacks. They're sprays, which can be fantastic if you can line up multiple shots, but in situations where that isn't happening they don't have a natural volume of attacks (most common example is when the Outriders end up only barely being able to spray into a unit.) Again, I don't think the Outriders are at all bad; more that I'm thinking they're not ideal with Harkevich.

I feel like there are two solid alternatives: Nyss and WGRC. WGRC lack the ability to transition quite as effectively to anti-infantry duty, but they have the benefit of Joe's buffs to back them up (Tough on the approach, +3 STR on the extreme off chance you want to charge them into combat, self-contained accuracy buff) and they're autonomous. Nyss on their own are okay, but I think they get much more interesting with Valachev: they have a fantastic threat range with Zephyr (22"), CRA to scale as necessary, they can pick up Fortune from Harkevich to up their accuracy, and they have the generally excellent suite of Nyss stats and abilities. The downside is that they're 12 points with Valachev vs. the 10 for WGRC and Joe, but you do get a lot for those two points, and it wouldn't be that hard to fit them in the list.

Harkevich is sort of nice that way because so little he does cares about Faction affiliation. Once you get Fortune on the Nyss, you're golden even if Valachev dies (so long as they can't knock it off of them) and even without Fortune they'll probably be fine. WGRC have even fewer concerns; they get pretty much everything they need from Joe, and if you throw Fortune on top of that they'll be crazy accurate. I think in the game I played making either substitution would have allowed me to start causing damage on my left flank sooner, which may have resulted in the last few turns not looking so bleak.

I must give tremendous credit to Boomhowler's for being an absolute rock this game. Sturgis dove into the middle of the unit, popped his feat, and started swinging away. A few other attacks also came their way that turn, but when the dust settled I still had 5 of the bastards left. They absorbed an absolutely stunning amount of punishment that game, and they are the reason I was able to hold onto the right flag so long. I can absolutely also see how the unit could be a huge disappointment - if you get a string of '3's you're going to be awfully sad - but I now understand why they're such a popular unit choice. They're a very no nonsense tarpit that is also just barely dangerous enough to deal some damage in return (they picked off probably 3 or 4 of the Horgenhold, which contributed to the unit eventually being wiped out.) This was my first game putting them on the table since purchasing them, and they did not disappoint.

Overall, it was a very fun game with an interesting list. However, unlike the Vlad2 list, I don't know that I'll come back around to playing this list (with or without updates.) The reasoning for that is a little complex.

For as much as I love playing him, Harkevich feels like he's at his best when he's skewing somehow. Trying to run a more "average" or balanced list doesn't really work out because he doesn't have the tools to make a list like that work. Harkevich seems to be all about jamming his battlegroup in there and getting them to do the work. The most successful lists I've ever run with him have leaned in that direction, and it's been well documented on a few occasions that (some rough match ups aside) I really like running Harkevich's theme list skewed towards multiple clamjacks. 

I feel like that approach with Harkevich gives him something unique, something interesting only he can provide. Going back to the list I played in my most recent game, with or without the changes I was musing over, that list would be run as well if not remarkably better under Vlad1. He brings a fantastic blanket army buff that helps everything out turn by turn, his feat gives you an extremely respectable threat range with your warjacks, and he can pretty comfortably fuel that kind of shooting battlegroup. I'm not saying that Vlad1 is better or that Harkevich is worse; only that if you're going to run that kind of general list, it's hard to not want to run it with someone that is more of a generalist.

So while this side venture was fun and enlightening, I think I'm going to go back to tinkering with a multiple Demolisher list with Harkevich. The next thing I want to test out is messing with Harkevich's battlegroup to free up points which will allow me to replace the Field Guns with Mortars (one of the things I've missed the most in my games with it.) I should be able to get a game in this week, so if my opponent is okay with playing the list (and if I don't end up playing my pre-scheduled Issyria vs. Butcher3 match up my buddy called for,) I'll probably try out this variant, or something close to it:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
  * Black Ivan (9pts)
  * Demolisher (8pts)
  * Demolisher (8pts)
  * Demolisher (8pts)
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
  * Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard (2pts)
  * 2 Winter Guard Infantry Rocketeers (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich (2pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (without dismount) (4pts)

I don't love losing out on that fourth Demolisher (the overwhelming press of armor is one of the best things about this skew,) but I really like picking up the Mortars, the Rocketeers, and getting the Drakun as a roaming melee solo.


I really need to finish painting Butcher3 so I can break my Harkevich addiction. Once again, thanks for reading! 

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