Monday, April 21, 2014

Harkevich Debuffs vs. Sturgis Stormwall

A large part of my recent Harkevich theorycrafting was based on the need to be able to deal with a Stormwall (or equally dominating colossal.) Scenario play feels difficult-to-impossible without wrecking it, so I've been trying to come up with a Harkevich list that I feel can actually threaten (or god willing, actually kill) a Stormwall. I tried the list out against my friend running a Reznik2 list with a Judicator, which was a fair test, but I was interested to see how it worked out specifically against Cygnar and Stormwall (since they present very specific challenges.)

The good news is, my friend who has been running Sturgis has also recently painted his Stormwall, so he was all about putting the big guy on the table. That gave me a chance to test out my list (unchanged from last time):

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (10pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* Juggernaut (7pts)
* War dog (1pts)
Cylena Raefyll & Nyss Hunters (Cylena and 9 Grunts) (10pts)
* Koldun Kapitan Valachev (2pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)
Ragman (2pts)

Against this list:

Commander Dalin Sturgis (*6pts)
* Stormwall (19pts)
* Sylys Wyshnalyrr, the Seeker (2pts)
Arcane Tempest Gun Mages (Leader and 5 Grunts) (6pts)
* Arcane Tempest Gun Mage Officer (2pts)
Black 13th Gun Mage Strike Team (4pts)
Horgenhold Forge Guard (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Stormblade Infantry (Leader and 5 Grunts) (5pts)
Captain Arlan Strangewayes (2pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Journeyman Warcaster (3pts)
Ragman (2pts)

(Note: my friend had converted this list over from his previous non-Stormwall Sturgis list, and due to a mix up he ended up playing the game with a Stormblade UA that he didn't have in his list. It didn't make much difference, but I'll be mentioning it in the report so it's worth pointing out now.)

Report and thoughts after the break.

Scenario: Incursion

Terrain: One side had a hill located centrally, the other side had an impassible building off center. Two forests, some walls, and a patch of cover were the remaining terrain pieces, distributed fairly evenly around the table.

Deployment: Sturgis wins the roll for first turn. Harkevich takes the table side with the building (more on this later.) 

Stormwall deploys in the middle, along with its support staff of Arlan, Sylas, the Journeyman Warcaster, and Sturgis. The Stormblades go to the left of Stormwall, with the Black 13th farther out on the left flank. The Forge Guard and the Arcane Tempest Gun Mages (ATGM) are deployed to the right of the Stormwall.

Harkevich, both Demolishers, and the Juggernaut go in the center along with Gorman and Ragman. The Nyss are deployed on the right side, and Black Ivan is deployed on the left side.

Both Eiryss2 are advanced deployed up, roughly across from one another on the right side.

Round 1:
Sturgis Turn 1:
Sturgis gets Snipe on the Stormwall and Arcane Shield on the Stormblades. The Journeyman puts Arcane Shield on the Forge Guard. Everything runs forward to varying degrees.

Harkevich Turn 1:
Harkevich casts Escort, and everything runs forward.

Round 2:
The right flag goes away at the start of the turn.

Sturgis Turn 2:
Sturgis gives 3 Focus to the Stormwall, upkeeps Snipe for free, and pays 1 to upkeep Arcane Shield on the Stormblades. Stormwall makes use of the hill to draw LOS to Harkevich past his warjack wall, and shoots him with both Big Guns, doing 11 damage. Stormwall fires out a pod, and also puts down two Covering Fire templates (one attempting to block in Gorman.)

The Stormblades Assault Black Ivan, connecting with 4 shots and doing some damage. Lynch and Watts also shoot Black Ivan with Brutal Damage shots, chipping in some more damage. Ryan shoots one of the Demolishers with Mage Storm, catching Ragman in the template and killing him.

The ATGM move up and shoot at the Nyss, killing 4. Eiryss2 moves up and shoots at the Nyss as well, but misses. The Forge Guard run forward, with some interposing themselves between Harkevich's battlegroup and the Stormwall.

Harkevich Turn 2:
Harkevich upkeeps Escort, keeps the rest. Eiryss2 advances and shoots one of the Forge Guard, killing it and stripping off Arcane Shield. Gorman advances up as far as he can behind the Mage Storm and Covering Fire templates and tosses an Acid Bomb towards the Stormblades. It drifts onto three of them, killing two and putting Corrosion on the third.

Harkevich casts Fortune on the Nyss, moves behind the building to hide from the Stormwall, and casts Broadsides. Black Ivan and both Demolishers shoot, and the templates kill a couple more Stormblades, Ryan from the Black 13th, and one or two more Forge Guard. The Demolishers and the Juggernaut re-position near the center flag but also get into position closer to the left flag. 

The Nyss forfeit their movement to aim, Zephyr up, and shoot into the ATGM, killing 5. Black Ivan moves over to contest the left flag, and he shoots a Stormblade killing it. The War Dog runs up to hang out near the central flag.

Round 3:
Sturgis Turn 3:
Sturgis upkeeps Snipe on Stormwall for free, allocates 3 to the Stormwall, and lets Arcane Shield on the Stormblades lapse.

Stormwall starts off by shooting the Juggernaut with both Big Guns, doing a significant amount of damage. The Lightning Pod zappy line catches the War Dog, doing enough damage to kill it but it passes a Tough check. The Covering Fire templates are placed in front of Gorman and Eiryss2.

Sturgis moves up, pops his feat to kill a Nyss (feat explosion bubble,) Gorman, and Eiryss2 (dragged into the Covering Fire templates,) then he Teleports back behind the Stormwall. The Journeyman puts Arcane Shield back up on the Forge Guard.

The Forge Guard charge into Harkevich's warjacks and the Nyss. One Nyss is killed, the Demolishers are mostly unscathed, and the Juggernaut gets his Ice Axe knocked off, but no crits. The two ATGM shoot at Nyss, killing one, and Eiryss2 kills another (removing Fortune in the process.)

The Black 13th and the remaining Stormblades continue to plink damage onto Black Ivan (and it's adding up.)

Harkevich Turn 3:
Harkevich allocates 2 to the Juggernaut, upkeeps Fortune, keeps the rest. Harkevich starts off by continuing to move around the house, over towards the left flag. He casts Broadsides, but the resulting shots only kill one Stormblade. Harkevich also pops his feat.

One of the Demolishers (hereafter "leftmost") slams one of the Stormblades into the other, killing both. The Juggernaut walks into combat with two of the Forge Guard, but fails to kill either of them. The Demolisher near the center flag stays put. Black Ivan continues to shoot at Stormblades, killing another one.

The Nyss (now reduced to Cylena and one other model) charge into combat with the Forge Guard, killing one of them. The War Dog stands up and walks into combat with a Forge Guard.

Round 4: (truncated descriptions, because my memory gets a touch hazy here)
Sturgis Turn 4:
Sturgis upkeeps Snipe on the Stormwall for free, and the Forge Guard do what damage they can with Harkevich's feat in play. One Demolisher gets a little more beat up, and the Juggernaut ends up slammed out of combat, then Eiryss2 moves over and shoots it, Disrupting it and finishing off it's Movement system.

The ATGM and Forge Guard finish off the remaining Nyss and Valachev. The Black 13th and Stormblades continue to lay into Black Ivan as much as they can, with the Stormwall contributing some damage with a shot as well. Black Ivan ends the turn alive but with a busted claw.

Harkevich Turn 4:
Harkevich allocates to the leftmost Demolisher and upkeeps Escort. Between Black Ivan and the Demolisher, the left flag ends up clear, so Harkevich runs into base with it to Dominate on his turn. Unfortunately, he has to run through a Covering Fire template to do so and ends up taking 5 more damage, leaving him with 2 health.

The center Demolisher and the Juggernaut continue to hang out near the center flag.

End of Turn: Harkevich Dominates the outer flag to score 2 CP.

Round 5:
Sturgis Turn 5:
Sturgis keeps all of his focus. Ragman gets Death Shroud on the center most Demolisher using Stormwall's melee range, then Sturgis charges in and manages to sneak 2 damage onto Harkevich via Backlash.

Final Result: Sturgis wins via assassination!

Post-Game Thoughts:
This is one of those games that I felt terrible during (starting at around Round 2, for fairly obvious reasons) but looking back on it, the game didn't go so badly. Once again, both armies were ground down very heavily - Sturgis' army was down to support staff, Stormwall, 5 or so Forge Guard, and 2 ATGM. Harkevich had all of his battlegroup up and running, in various states of disrepair. And I was able to get a nice little scenario run in there at the end, though more thoughts on that in a second.

This game started off with two huge mistakes:
  1. Giving Stormwall that wonderful hill to play on, and,
  2. Getting Ragman killed for nothing.
My friend won the roll to choose first turn or deployment, so if he really, really wanted that hill he could have taken it. Neither of us remembered just how potent a Huge base on a hill is (take it from me: it's fucking bananas if the Huge base has good guns) since it doesn't come up all too often, so he let me pick table sides. And I still gaffed it up by picking the side without the hill! So, huge ProTip for anyone out there reading this: never, under any circumstances, let your opponent get a hill near their DZ if they have a Stormwall. That goes double true if they're running it with a Snipe 'caster, and it probably holds true for the other "strong" colossals as well (Galleon, Earthbreaker, Prime Axiom.) 

That's one of those lessons you need to learn the hard way, but if sharing that nugget of info can help someone not live in terror of Stormwall bullets all game, I hope it helps. And in total fairness to my friend: he absolutely forgot about that interaction when we were setting up, and when he realized that Harkevich was in prime condition to eat two slugs in the face he offered me a reset, which was very kind of him. I figured he'd just blow Harkevich off the table, so I opted to just play it out, and ended up getting a very good game out of it (despite early, sharp frustration from my own mistakes.)

Stormwall on the hill ended up costing me heavily in two ways: 1) the early game damage on Harkevich (combined with a particularly lively Covering Fire template) made it easy for Sturgis to finish him off with Backlash later, and 2) it nullified my ability to escort the Juggernaut up without it taking heavy damage. Both of those played a big factor in what I could reasonably do as the game wore on, and one specifically lead to the outcome of the game (though I was ground down and out of position enough that I think Stormwall could have saved a scenario loss by running Turn 5.) Still, it was good experience to play against that, if nothing else just so I know how much a hill can change how you approach the game.

The Ragman error was a total brainfart on my part; I've been so concerned with protecting him from leaps, blast damage, and direct shots that I totally forgot about something like the Mage Storm template. I don't think I would have been able to use Ragman as part of a run on the Stormwall (Sturgis' feat + Covering Fire templates = dead debuffers if he really wants them dead,) but I really could have used him to help thin the herd of Forge Guard a little faster before he died (either via Death Field making Demolisher guns more dangerous, or getting 2-for-1's with Bone Shaker.)

One of the biggest issues with this Harkevich list is that you don't have a lot of discreet elements that can do work, so once things start to get taken out, you better have already gotten the work out of them you needed. Losing Ragman early hurt for that reason (doing literally anything with him first probably would have yielded some payoff,) and I feel like I may have committed Gorman and Eiryss2 a little too early/for too little gain. Gorman straight up got lucky with his scatter to get that many Stormblades - he just as easily could have hit nothing - and I kind of feel like it would have been better to have Eiryss2 strip Arcane Shield off of the Forge Guard the following turn, though I can't remember how many I killed the turn I sent her in.

Sturgis was going to kill both of them eventually with Snipe'd Covering Fire and his feat (for anyone curious: that combo is crazy legit and scary,) but I feel like I could have potentially saved them for a turn and gotten a little more action out of them, especially since the Nyss had done such a good job of cleaning up the primary threat to them (the ATGM.) The main issue I was going to have in the center was the Forge Guard, which I was able to mentally focus on starting Turn 3 or so, but by then I was running out of great solutions to that problem. The Stormwall is, of course the other big problem, but if I can force him to choose a zone to protect because other models are running low, then I may be able to start juking for scenario points. Some things to bear in mind for future games.

Overall, despite the game going pear shaped quickly and Harkevich leaving the battlefield on a stretcher, I feel like the list worked well. The Nyss did a fantastic job at doing the one thing I needed them to do: cripple the main non-warjack shooting unit on the table, and that's no mean feat when it's the ATGM (and they had a wall to hide behind.) Pretty much anything else I would have sent over that way would have been mulched with little reprisal. They had the potential to convert over and start chopping up the Forge Guard, but by the time they ended up in melee there weren't enough of them left to make a dent.

The battlegroup also held up really well. Black Ivan did a very good job all on his own on the flank; I actually really liked him being over there instead of a clamjack, because he was able to actually make attacks and whittle down the things threatening him. Against a more concerted threat I think you'd need to toss a clamjack in the fray and hope for the best, but against a smaller flanking force Ivan can do a good job holding his own thanks to his stat line, Dodge, and possible Broadsides shots. He's likely to survive long enough for another warjack to come and bail him out, which is all you really need.

Paired Demolishers worked well, and I continue to be impressed with how effective they are in general. This game I was finally able to leverage a Broadsides shot or two with them, and while I had one very sad miss (Gunfighter shot against a Forge Guard in combat) the other was able to kill Ryan with blast damage, which was excellent. Having ARM 25 warjacks with Bulldoze is great for scenario play, they're much more useful when they can Slam and Trample without opening up, and they're just that much more useful if you can Broadsides to get bonus shots out of them.

I also like the Juggernaut floating around as a freelance beater. The "precious cargo" formation would have worked out very well this game if not for the hill negating LOS blockage. Most of the damage the Juggernaut ended up taking was from the Stormwall's guns, so if I was able to shield him longer I might have had a shot at getting him into combat, doing some damage, and giving the Stormwall something to punch for a turn. Hell, if I had gotten really lucky I might have even been able to scrap it (assuming fair dice and being able to get enough warjacks in there,) but that was heavily contingent on my opponent not swapping Arcane Shield over onto the Stormwall at some point (since by then Eiryss2, Gorman, and Ragman were dead,) and I don't think he'd have let me get away with that. Still, it was good to see the formation actually work out.

I think the only "major" change I'd seriously consider making to the list at this point is swapping out Ragman and Gorman for Aiyanna & Holt (A&H). I really like Ragman's potential in the list - he can quasi-buff Demolisher shots, which can lead to nice infantry clearing - and Gorman is always a force to be reckoned with, but I feel like A&H are an easier, more consistent way to get what you're really looking for (a +2 damage buff.) The combo of Gorman and Ragman gives you some redundancy and/or stacking ability which is great, but both of those models are also short ranged. Ragman is also kind of tricky to protect in the context of what I want to use him against - Cygnar w/Stormwall is the most prominent reason for this list build, and Cygnar also has the best set of tools to scalpel him out.

A&H give you a +2 damage buff that has a very good range (16" walking,) with high accuracy (making it almost a guaranteed hit against all Huge bases,) they can keep themselves safe relatively well in the early game with Stealth and flexibility of positioning, and you get Holt's rockin' Handcannon shots to give you a little more anti-infantry. I think that Gorman and Ragman have greater flexibility and potential, but A&H would probably be easier to use in most cases. It's not a swap I'd "for sure" make, but it's the one change I've been considering that I still like after mulling it over for a bit.

Overall, I still like this list quite a bit. The battlegroup still feels imposing and able to work scenarios even if it isn't 4 Demolishers, and having two warjacks out there that can actually make attacks without worrying about dropping ARM makes a big difference in how much you can whittle down your opponent's army. The Nyss with Valachev are so, so good; the only thing that they'll have trouble shooting are Stealth infantry, and they can try and hack those up in melee when it comes time. I think the WGI are a better all purpose, ask no questions, infantry removal option, but the crazy high threat ranges of Nyss + Zephyr are a huge boon to a Harkevich list. It lets you start taking bites out of their army early which in turn lets you have a stronger late game with your battlegroup. The support solos are famous, and they do what they need to in this list with some nice payout. The very tight set of activations you're working with also leads to interesting uses of some models; I've thrown more Acid Grenades with Gorman with this list than I probably have in the whole time of me using him, and they've been very useful (Gorman is crazy, stupid good for his points.) It's a small list that has some very fun moments, and it's a list I look forward to playing again in the future.

I have some more thoughts about this list and some of the others I've iterated on recently, but I want to bundle those together into a sort of "end of season" Harkevich post that will hopefully be going up soon.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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