Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vlad2 - Thoughts and Theory

I've been taking a bit of a break from Harkevich and, as may be evident from my recent Vlad nattering, I've cycled back around to playing everyone's favorite dark prince. More specifically: I've been working on lists for Vladimir Tzepesci, The Dark Champion (Epic Vlad, aka Vlad2.)

It's been an interesting readjustment. Vlad2 has always been one of my favorite warcasters, though I didn't use him often in Mk. 1 due how beastly he was back then. His approach to army construction and how you need to use your list components is interesting in the context of Khador, and although he's taken some hits due to the meta (not unlike a lot of Khador 'casters) he's still got some fantastic tools if you can build to take advantage of them.

(Note: I've realized that my posts get pretty damn long. In an effort to keep the blog from being just wall after wall of text I'm going to start breaking up my ramblings with page jumps with the majority of thoughts after the break.!)

Vlad2 operates in an interesting spot in Khador. He's one of the very few 'casters in Khador that offers a legitimate speed-based alpha strike. Strakov is the only other 'caster that can try, and I think trying to alpha with him is a mistake (but that's a discussion for another time.) Vlad2's feat allows you to, in most cases, start the piece trade on your terms and favorably for you, which can lead to cascade towards attrition victory (or scenario/assassination victory by way of attrition.)

Vlad2 also provides pretty steady army support between Hand of Fate (hereafter "HoF") and Transference. Both spells have their wonky qualities (more thoughts on both later,) but between those two "mainline" spells and his feat, Vlad2 does a damn fine job of buffing up Khador's infantry. He also has a token warjack support spell with Assail, which isn't bad to have, but it also isn't terribly impressive or useful (though again, more thoughts on that in a minute.)

To get to the meat of what makes Vlad2 interesting, lets look at several different categories: what he does well, what he doesn't do well, and what he likes to bring in his lists. 

What Vlad2 Does Well:

 - Buff the probable attack and damage output of one or two units a turn fairly significantly. HoF provides a very nice buff for a model/unit, and it's pretty easy most of the time to cycle it between two units you want getting work done in a turn. Especially if you can manage to get Sylys Wyshnalyrr in the list. It is a less effective blanket buff than Signs and Portents, but it's potentially cheaper (0-3 Focus depending on upkeep, cycling, and Sylys,) and it lets units range out of Vlad2's control area if need be.

 - Buff the absolute hell out of 4-6 models on his feat turn. +3 to all stats is a very significant buff to any model in the game, and although it isn't as strong as one or two "big" buffs, on the right models the spread of stat buffs can be extremely potent. In my experience, a big part of list building for Vlad2 comes from being able to build for his feat and maximize it's usage (relative to what your goals are with him,) and unlike a fair number of other 'casters I think Vlad2 demands more specific list considerations (since his feat effects such a limited scope of models.)

 - Alpha strike fairly far and fairly hard. The most obvious component of Vlad2's feat is that it gives the affected models +3" of movement, +3 to their attack stats, and +3 damage on their melee attacks. That allows almost any melee model in your army to alpha strike your opponent (relative to similar speed models in your opponent's army) and do so accurately and with quite a bit of punch. Throw HoF on top of that and you have an alpha strike that can put quite a dent in your opponent's army, and is also hard to avoid or mitigate. Also, unlike a lot of other, similar feats, Vlad2's feat is a "pulse" not an "aura", so he doesn't need to stick his neck out in order to set up that hard alpha.

 - Maintain sustained offense. HoF is a very solid accuracy and damage buff, which does a good bit to keep your models hitting and doing damage (and works on all attacks to boot.) Transference is the other piece of the puzzle: the ability to throw out the odd boost to-hit or for damage allows your warrior models to potentially hit targets they'd have a hard time with otherwise, and maintain solid damage output on turns that they don't/can't charge (great for Shield Wall models, for instance.)

 - Deter nickel and dime damage. Might of Kings and Blood Trials are two abilities that rarely come up, but when they do they are very nice to have. Your opponent is not likely to give you boosted stats or extra focus unless they feel like they can make that damage count (i.e. they're either going for a kill this turn or feel like they can convert soon.) You don't want your caster taking hits in general, but these abilities help to give you a little boost if you do end up taking damage, and deter weaker attacks that may add up otherwise. Also makes it a bit of a choice as to whether you go for the War Dog or Sylys (though I mostly prefer Sylys.)

 - Minimize the impact of enemy clouds. Wind Blast is another situational ability; it was a godsend back in Mk. 1 when cloud walls were much more prevalent/possible. Now, clouds are something that you're likely to see here and there, but typically not as a backbone to an army. Still, it's very nice to have a spell available that lets you clear any pesky clouds out of the way, and it comes with a RAT debuff as a bonus (has been hard for me to make use of that in the past, but I think it may be more useful against colossals.)

What Vlad2 Does Not Do Well:

 - Help his army defensively. Other than his feat, there isn't anything on Vlad2's card that is going to help out models in his army defensively. This makes him a lopsided attrition style 'caster: instead of a more traditional grind, a Vlad2 list is more looking to smash the enemy hard enough initially that they can't catch up with your early lead. HoF and Transference help to exacerbate any early lead you get, and Vlad2 himself is a pretty solid closer (not amazing, but pretty good in general, and he gets better if you get Might of Kings ranks going.) This facet of his design does a lot to inform list choices.

 - Support warjacks. Vlad2 has one warjack spell on his card, and frankly it kind of sucks. Although you may have enough focus most turns to fuel one warjack (especially with Sylys in tow,) fueling two is absolutely out of the question. At the same time, Vlad2's inability to support his army defensively makes a warjack or two very desirable as scenario models. This challenge also does a lot to inform list choices.

 - Buff damage consistently. Aside from the feat turn, Vlad2 does not have any way to outright increase the damage for models in his army. HoF helps tip probability in your favor and Transference lets you keep boosting even after engagement, but Vlad2 does not have a "crunch time" spell like Fury or Battle Lust that will actually boost your potential output (and minimum expected results.) This isn't a huge issue - Khador has access to enough hard hitting troops that they can make up the slack, HoF is still a nice relative damage boost even if it isn't a literal one, and you can get a lot of work done with his feat - but it's absolutely something you need to keep in mind when evaluating list choices.

 - Facetank. Vlad2's stat line isn't terrible, but it isn't too impressive either. He also has plenty of things enticing him to spend focus (multiple upkeeps, with one that's almost begging to be cycled,) and models in his army can spend the focus on him with Transference (so it's possible to surprise yourself and be at lower camp than you expected at the end of a turn.) I wouldn't call Vlad2 squishy (especially if you can get him dinged up a bit then healed so he has some +DEF going from Might of Kings,) but he doesn't really have the luxury of camping a lot most of the time, nor does he have the raw stats to dissuade a lot of attacks. Vlad2 still needs to be played fairly carefully and he wants to play further up the table; some kind of screening/protective element is a must for him.

Noteworthy Model Considerations: (Great, good, and bad, and by no means an exhaustive list)

Feat Targets:
 - Iron Fang Uhlans (IFU). These models combine all of the aspects that Vlad2 loves for feat targets: they're fast (and become even faster,) they hit hard, and they get some nice benefits from the defensive bonuses (since they have good base defensive stats and wounds.) The IFU also appreciate the MAT buff a lot; not so much for charge attacks (though MAT 11 charge attacks is pretty great) but it helps a lot when going for impact attacks.

IFU also benefit significantly from HoF, and they can try for critical knockdown attacks with boosted Transference attacks if it comes down to it. Those spells also help make the IFU less terrible on turns after they charge, which goes a long way towards making them more worth their hefty points investment. IFU have also become a lot more valuable in the post-Colossals world, as their heftier ARM and wound totals make it more likely for them to survive common anti-infantry tools that would otherwise shred Vlad2's feat targets. IFU still don't like getting shot by an enemy colossal directly, but at least they can survive Covering Fire/Creeping Barrage/random blast damage most of the time.

IFU give Vlad2 a very strong tool for removing enemy heavies or even colossals, and they're fast enough to almost always give you the initial strike. They are so-so at removing infantry (even with the feat and HoF, impact attacks aren't the most efficient way to be doing that job,) so if you plan to take IFU it's worth investing in something dedicated to anti-infantry duty as backup.

The biggest downside to IFU is density; you're tying up more than 1/5 of your army in 5 models, and your opponent knows that you're going to want to feat on the IFU so they'll be tossing everything they can at them. The high cost of the unit can also make it hard to really diversify your feat threats, which can in turn make your feat turn relatively predictable. These are things that can be accounted for in list construction, and the payoff is worth it (feated, HoF Uhlans will eat heavies and can one-round a colossal if you get enough on the d3,) but as always when using cavalry you need to be careful in how you use the unit during the game.

 - Doom Reavers. Another fantastic feat target for Vlad2 in my opinion. Doom Reavers lack the durability and extreme threat range that IFU bring to the table, but they hit approximately as hard or harder (depending on how that Weaponmaster die treats you,) have more model volume for a similar cost (12 Doom Reavers for 12 points vs. 5 IFU for 11,) and can transition seamlessly into chopping up enemy infantry. They're also much less reliant on the charge than IFU are, so you have a little more flexibility in how you apply them (and they're less outright boned by things that prevent charging/being targeted by charges.)

They make absolutely fantastic feat targets: a feated Doom Reaver out-threats cavalry, hits as hard and more accurately than Butcher, and has solid enough defensive stats that it isn't unlikely for one or two of them to survive the counter-attack (which tends to pack enemy models into nice little Berserk clumps.) IFU are peerless single target killers with Vlad2's feat, but feated Doom Reavers will kill mulch through infantry and heavies alike with authority.

Doom Reavers also bring Spell Ward to the table, which is often a hindrance but ends up being mostly positive with Vlad2. The only thing that Spell Ward prevents is HoF buffing - they're still valid as feat targets and can make use of Transference - and the Doom Reavers are beefy enough that it isn't a huge loss. In return you get a unit that can't be targeted by enemy spells, which can circumvent some nasty attacks or infantry denial tools (though always beware of targeting shenanigans; Doom Reavers are still vulnerable to auto-jumps or AoEs!)

The biggest knock against Doom Reavers with Vlad2 is their frailty. Outside of the feat turn Vlad2 does absolutely nothing to help them against shooting attacks, which can make it hard to really project their threat if your opponent has decent guns in their army. Colossals exacerbate this issue by making it even more likely that you'll run into shooting that can lay the Doom Reavers low, and Covering Fire is a tremendous denial tool against Doom Reavers even with feat turn bonuses (and Vlad2 can't spam enough of them to force envelopment.)

I still like Doom Reavers a lot with Vlad2, but in the current meta I think it's a pretty even toss up between them and IFU. I don't think a list has to go with just one or the other, but since they're both competing for feat limelight I usually end up building to maximize one or the other.

 - Man-o-War Drakun. The original ultimate feat target for Vlad2 in Mk. 1, the Drakun is still a fantastic inclusion in a Vlad2 list. Right out of the gate, the Drakun is still one of the best Vlad2 feat targets in Khador: it makes fantastic use of the offensive boosts, it ends up having a great threat range (either charging or running to engage pesky shooting models,) and it's one of the absolute toughest models after feat bonuses. DEF 14/ARM 22 with 10 wounds is no joke, and if you have the Dismount (highly recommended if you're considering it as a feat target) you get to double down on the feat bonuses with a second model that is DEF 14/ARM 20 with 8 wounds. By no means unkillable, but a feated Drakun will almost always take a disproportionate amount of effort to remove, which lets the rest of your army keep up the pressure elsewhere.

Even without feat bonuses, the Drakun brings a very interesting bonus to the table: it's fast enough to engage enemy shooting models quickly (typically by turn 2,) it can engage a large number of them if they clump up (Reach, large base, Tall in the Saddle,) it continues to threaten them even if they successfully disengage (Counter Charge,) and it's much harder to remove than most "interference" models (high ARM, multiple wounds, immune to Knockdown.) In a list that typically has very few defenses against shooting being able to tie up shooting models can be tremendously valuable. This may become more valuable in light of the latest release cycle, which has introduced two fantastic Light Cavalry units to the game (Tempest Blazers and Greylord Outriders) that you don't want running around unfettered.

 - Manhunter. The classics never die. Manhunters are another model that combines all of the things you want in a Vlad2 feat target: you get a SPD 9 model with Pathfinder, two MAT 11, P+S 14 Weaponmaster attacks, Fearless, Stealth, and it's DEF 17, ARM 17 with 5 wounds. That's a damn fine solo profile if I've ever seen it. There isn't a whole lot of subtlety to Manhunters with Vlad2; they're bottle rockets you can fire off into the enemy and enjoy the damage they cause. Two of them paired up will murder or seriously damage most heavies (alternatively they can take a decent bite out of a colossal) and the pair costs you 4 points so you're not losing much in the exchange (if the Manhunters even die after charging, which may not happen with their buffed defensive stats.)

Another nice thing about having Manhunters in a Vlad2 list is that it gives you a roaming scenario presence. Manhunters are very well equipped to lurk near a flag or in a scenario zone and stay relatively safe, while also being able to score.

I like running Manhunters with Vlad2 quite a bit. I can't rate them higher due to how "generic" they are (no fancy tricks, no shenanigans,) but they can still be damn effective and they're one of the best overall feat targets Vlad2 has available to him.

Supplemental Unit Choices:

 - Kayazy ______. Either Kayazy unit is an excellent choice with Vlad2. Both units have Stealth and Duelist (Kayazy Assassins need a UA for it, but it's not like that wasn't happening) along with DEF 14 base, so they have some nice defenses going for them. They also have the luxury of not needing to vanguard in Vlad2's list, so their defensive deficiencies (anti-Stealth, anything that catches their ARM 11) aren't as pronounced. Both units are also very capable in melee on their own, and get that much better if you can cycle HoF onto them (but, crucially, they don't need it to do well in most situations.) I don't think Kayazy can be your workhorse unit with Vlad2 (at least in the current meta,) but they make a damn fine secondary unit.

Slight aside: Kayazy Eliminators jump out as one of those "live the dream" feat turn options, but I think that situation is unlikely enough that it isn't worth really building or pushing for. Although the Eliminators have a very respectable threat range under Vlad2's feat (13.5") it is ultimately a pretty predictable threat range, and thus its easier to keep a 'caster out of that range. You can use Side Steps to try and shenanigan some additional threat range, but that in turn dilutes the efficacy of the assassination run. I'm not saying it'll never happen, nor that you shouldn't go for it if your opponent obliges, but I think in most games Vlad2's feat is better put to use as a way to gain a big attrition lead, which may then lead to a situation where non-feated Eliminators can get in there and start causing trouble.

 - Iron Fang Pikemen (IFP). This one is debatable; the IFP certainly could go in the "Great Choices" section depending on a variety of factors (including personal preference.) IFP are a rock solid line unit, and they have two interesting options depending on which UA you bring: either they are another unit option with built-in Pathfinder (which is crucial for a list that is relying on it's infantry to do the work,) or it's a super-tough unit that will hold the line (Iron Zeal and Fearless.) I feel like Shield March makes Relentless Charge on the unit a little less valuable (since you may still want Pathfinder on the advance but not want to Charge,) which may make the Black Dragon UA better overall, but the normal UA is definitely worth considering as it can save you 2 points on Saxon Orrik.

IFP continue their wonderful trend of "very solid melee" with Vlad2. They have good innate threat range, above-average damage in their bracket, and the ability to self-buff their resistance to common anti-infantry sources (low POW attacks/blast damage.) Vlad2 also gives them some very nice buffs: HoF helps to make them more accurate and hit a little harder, Transference makes their Critical Knockdown more likely, and it also allows them to boost damage when advancing under Shield March, so you can get comparable damage output to charging without having to drop ARM. IFP also make for decent feat targets in a pinch, but they're on the low end of what you can get out of a feat target, so they probably shouldn't be your first choice.

The IFP also serve a crucial role: they give Vlad2 something to hide behind as he tries to maintain good board position for his buffs. This has been made that much better with the inclusion of the Iron Fang Kovnik, because now the IFP are immune to Knockdown, and immune to Stationary as well the turn Iron Zeal goes up.

 - The Great Bears. The Great Bears are great. HoF is great. Combine for the Greatest Bears, with Transference to boost the second Backswing damage roll. That's pretty great.

 - Alexia Ciannor and the Risen. Vlad2 loves bringing infantry and Alexia1 lets you double down on that investment by returning those brave souls as shambling zombies. Normally this would be pretty useful, but with Valachev attached, Alexia1 has some additional shenanigans available to her. Zephyr helps to exend the range of Alexia' Handcannon, or it can act as a faux-movement bonus to created Thralls (since it lets you effectively advance the Risen 9" instead of 6" before creating a Thrall.) Also the "in Faction" status allows Alexia to benefit from HoF and Transference. HoF makes any Handcannon shots she makes that much better, and Transference lets her get even more boosts should she charge into melee. Combine that with her natural ability to buy and boost using her Risen, and Alexia1 becomes a very dangerous melee model in Vlad2's list.

Ranged Support Choices:

Aside: One of the trickiest aspects of designing a good Vlad2 list (at least in my opinion) is making sure that you don't ignore the necessity of ranged support in your list. It's very easy to load a list up with scary melee options, then realize come game time that you don't have enough guns. Khador is, fundamentally, a mixed arms faction, and Vlad2's lists are no exception. Having some kind of ranged presence is necessary to ensure that you can attrition on your terms. Here are some of the more useful ranged options I've tried.

 - Winter Guard Rifle Corps (WGRC). Either type of Winter Guard works well with Vlad2 thanks to HoF, but I prefer the extreme threat ranges and Suppressing Fire template that the WGRC bring to the table. Their far threat range allows them to threaten many enemy support/ranged models, and HoF gives them an extra bump in accuracy and damage that makes them even more dangerous against enemy infantry models. Plus, with HoF and boosted attack rolls, the WGRC are a threat to a number of 'casters if they aren't camped up, which helps to keep some of them on their toes.

The WGRC offer a ranged alpha strike to compliment your melee alpha strike, and in subsequent turns they can protect parts of your army with Suppressing Fire. Also worth noting that the WGRC all but necessitates Kovnik Grigorovich being in the list, so this option may be harder to swing if you're building a SR/Masters set of lists.

 - Greylord Outriders. HoF is precisely what the Outriders need to make them "hum," and Vlad2 can pretty comfortably afford to cycle it between the Outriders and another target to maximize it's output. This is a newer option for Vlad2 so I haven't tried it that much, but it should be pretty much the same as Vlad3; that is to say, pretty damn good. I do think that Vlad3 has the edge with the Outriders as Dash allows them to do really crazy things, but they're certainly not a bad option with Vlad2.

If you end up with any "extra" feat targets due to circumstances, making one of the Outriders SPD 12, DEF 16, ARM 18 isn't a bad idea. You could probably line up one helluva Frost Bite spray with that, and another Outrider could hit it with Winter's Wind so you can jam that buffed Outrider into enemy lines to potentially freeze stuff up.

 - Cylena Raefyll and Nyss Hunters. The Nyss Hunters are always a strong shooting solution, and that doesn't change with Vlad2, especially if you're willing to spring for Valachev on them. That opens up the possibility of HoF, Transference, and even feating on the non-character Nyss models, and all of those things are very potent (though I think feating on the non-character Nyss isn't going to happen too often due to game tempo.) HoF and Transference in particular are significant buffs: HoF makes the Nyss shooting that much nastier (and also reduces the need for CRA against some targets, letting you output a larger volume of fire,) and Transference allows you to supplement their MAT 6 if they end up fighting higher DEF targets.

The biggest concern with this module is that a lot hinges on Valachev being around, so the target on his head gets pretty big. You can continue to upkeep HoF on the Nyss if Valachev happens to die, but it removes Transference and the ability to cycle HoF off and back on at a later point. Valachev isn't the hardest model to keep alive if you use spacing as much as possible, but armies that have long ranged shooting that want to scalpel him out (Legion and Cygnar jump to mind) can, so it's a risk to keep in mind when considering this list option.

 - Widowmakers. The "budget" option. Widowmakers are a proportionately expensive but relatively cheap unit that gives you four very good, versatile shots. If you're trying to maximize your melee presence, the Widowmakers are a great way to make sure you still have some shooting in your list, and that shooting is likely to be relevant in all but the most skewed of match ups.

For added fun: feated Widowmakers are SPD 9, RAT 10, with RNG 14 guns. There's actually only a relatively narrow band that your opponent can move their 'caster where feated Widowmakers can't get them, and with HoF they're very capable of dropping lower ARM 'casters if they aren't careful. This can lead to some very early, unexpected assassinations, or you can lurk with the Widowmakers and go for it after your opponent commits. Throw a Widowmaker Marksman into the mix as well for another super-accurate feat turn shot that can hurt. This tactic may also become more useful if the new Jrs. become more prominent since the Jrs. are even easier to kill (though likely not worth feat expenditure unless they're controlling a significant point investment of warjacks.)

 - Gun Carriage. An option that I liked a fair bit when it first came out, but it fell by the wayside once colossals came a-stomping through, and then the Outriders rode in and stole it's thunder. However, I've begun to warm back up to the Gun Carriage. Two RNG 12, POW 14, AoE 4 guns with Crater are still very legit threats, and the Gun Carriage is a very mobile shooting piece. It also has the virtue of being all but immune to conventional anti-infantry tools (Outriders are resistant but will still die to POW 10s and 12s,) so it ends up being a very solid anti-shooting shooting tool. Plus there's always the added fun of dropping Crater shots onto models that don't have access to Pathfinder (a number of heavies.)

Some downsides are that it's yet another model that is hungry for HoF to maximize it's output, so you need to be mindful of how likely you are to be able to cycle HoF back it's way (and what you'll do if you can't pull that off.) Also, while the Gun Carriage is resistant to a lot of unboostable shooting (even CRAs are a big resource drain,) colossals have ushered back in quite a bit of boostable shooting that may make it harder to keep alive. Even then though, I don't think it's so bad: as an example on average it'll take a Stormwall 4 boosted damage Big Gun shots to kill a Gun Carriage, which is two activations. If the Gun Carriage can splatter some Gun Mages/Rangers/Nyss/etc. during those two activations, then it works out. Plus, those are 4 Big Gun shots that weren't going into other parts of your army (like your precious Uhlans.)

Solo/Support Choices:

 - Kovnik Markov. If you are bringing IFU, Markov is a great inclusion. His Elite Cadre makes it much easier to maintain Defensive Line while also being able to Charge and move where you want, and his ability to make the IFU Fearless is almost mandatory if you're investing in the full unit.

Markov himself is also a very solid solo. He's surprisingly durable with ARM 18 and 10 wounds, and he's almost never a priority target so he'll usually live long enough to cause some trouble. Unlike most single attack solos, Markov is pretty good at attacking single targets or infantry models: he has a hard hitting Precision Strike melee attack, and the Warhead special rule stands a good chance at blowing up any clumped up infantry he runs into. And at MAT 8 (10 with the charge attack,) Markov is accurate enough to go after most targets pretty reliably, as well as make decent use out of impact attacks.

Vlad2 also offers Markov the chance to go for mass-Knockdown with Warhead, as Transference lets him boost the attack roll. I don't know that I'd go out of my way to engineer the situation, but it's something worth bearing in mind during the game.

Overall, I've always been a big fan of what Markov brings to the IFU, so I always bring him along if I'm taking the unit. Even though Vlad2 can't effect Markov with his feat, I still think Markov is a very solid choice in his list if you're bringing IFU.

- Iron Fang Kovnik (IFK). Sort of obvious - Vlad2 plays well with most Iron Fang models, so even having the IFK around for No Sleeping On The Job is a very nice buff. If you have IFP around, Shield March is a very nice buff. If you have CMD 9 or lower stuff around, CMD 10 on a Commander is a great buff. And failing all of that, IFK are very solid melee solos in their own right, so they're excellent feat targets if it comes down to that. I don't know that I'd go out of my way to include an IFK in the list if I didn't have cause to otherwise, but if you're already building up an Iron Fang brigade (IFU, IFP, Great Bears,) Vlad2 certainly won't mind an IFK or two coming along.

 - Yuri the Axe. Yuri is a pretty good solo on his own (if slightly overcosted in my opinion) but the main reason I like him with Vlad2 is to give Treewalker to Manhunters in the list. Yuri and 2 Manhunters will run you 7 points (not cheap, but not prohibitively expensive) and for that 7 points you get three Weaponmaster solos, two fantastic feat targets, a good anti-infantry Thresher, and the ability to run shenanigans in/through forests.

Treewalker is one of those special rules that doesn't impress on paper, but when it works out on the tabletop it's usually fantastic. The most obvious application is Legion/MHSF shenanigans: hide behind a forest, leap out and chop up anything that wanders near it. However, the +2 DEF bonus against melee attacks is a big bonus if you can engineer an engagement in a forest; DEF 16 is a helluva value to hit, and a possible DEF 19 on the feat turn is wonderful.

Yuri brings a very solid combat profile to the table as well. MAT 8, Reach, Thresher, and P+S 13 make him very capable of killing just about any other warrior model he gets a hold of. Reach also gives him an edge if you need him to run in and tie up some enemy models, though that's usually a job I reserve for something like the Drakun. Yuri's combination of personal abilities and the effect of his Elite Cadre on Manhunters makes him a pretty good pick for Vlad2, though its mostly based on if you're bringing Manhunters along. Which, as previously stated, is pretty legit.

 - Tactical Arcanist Corps (TAC). As mentioned elsewhere, Vlad2 wants to move up the table, and he really appreciates having something to hide behind while he does so. Hiding behind warjacks or a unit are an option, though those come with their own concerns (vulnerable to Knockdown/Slams, need to commit them eventually, etc.) The TAC give Vlad2 a very straightforward defensive measure - "hey buddy here's some smoke eh" - that lets him continue to advance and project his support forward. The TAC are also Fire Immune, which gives you a nice screening option if you're facing down Legion or Menoth and the smoke clouds fail you.

Although he's usually busy elsewhere, the TAC also present an interesting choice for Valachev's attention. Zephyr lets you really get that smoke wall up the table, or pop smoke clouds and retreat the TAC to keep them safer, longer. With the "in Faction" status, the TAC also become an interesting target for HoF. If you end up in a situation where you need some additional anti-infantry action, the TAC firing off their AoEs and Valachev casting his spray (all with HoF dice bonuses) should clean some models off the table.

 - Kovnik Andrei Malakov. If you want to get a second warjack into a Vlad2 list, this is going to be the best way to do it. Vlad2 may or may not have enough Focus to spare to fuel the one warjack in his battlegroup (depends on upkeep cycling, Transference, and need to camp,) but he damn sure is not going to be able to afford to fuel more than one warjack consistently. Malakov gives you that full second allotment of Focus and brings along a nice warjack damage buff to boot.

There is also the extremely unlikely but still amusing possibility of Malakov making use of Transference to unload a bunch of boosted attacks. Because Malakov is a Khador Solo and not a warcaster, he can spend his own Focus to buy attacks, and then use Vlad2's Focus via Transference to boost attack and damage rolls. If you were willing to, Malakov could make 5 attacks, fully boosted (assuming a Charge for an auto-boosted initial damage roll.) Malakov's combat stats aren't that impressive so he won't be taking out a colossal on his own anytime soon, but he can be a pocket, weaker Alexia1 in a pinch. Not at all "Plan A", but it may come up late game after Malakov's warjack is a smoldering wreck.

Warjack Choices:

 - Drago. As always, Vlad2's character warjack is an excellent choice for the one (and likely only) warjack you'll be bringing in his battlegroup. Drago's only real issue is threat range, and Vlad2 has a fixer for that, so Drago can run along and play decently well. His Affinity keeps his accuracy and damage high, and between Aggressive and Assail you won't need to give him Focus for anything you want him to do (Charge, Slam, Trample, Run,) so he's extremely self-sufficient while also being able to accomplish quite a bit if you can dump 3 Focus into him. Plus, Drago's ability to Run Riot and/or possibly explode gives you a smidge of extra anti-infantry, which can be nice to have depending on what else you're bringing.

 - Demolisher/Devastator: If you're not bringing Drago, I think one of the clamjacks is the other "obvious" warjack choice in light of the recent errata allowing clamjacks (Demolisher and Devastator) to Slam or Trample without dropping their ARM value. A clamjack with Assail can merrily Trample and Slam its way around the table for "free" (Vlad2 is still upkeeping the spell, but at least he doesn't have to allocate so the clamjack can run wild,) messing with enemy model placements and staying closed the whole time. This is also a great way to get a scenario anchor into Vlad2's list; most of his army will be acting aggressively so it's nice to have a very durable model you can plunk in a scenario zone. Either clamjack seems like it will work fine, though I'm leaning more and more towards the Demolisher for the slight utility of Girded and it's ability to project threat further outward (nice quality on a scenario caddy.)

 - Conquest. If you're going to only bring one warjack, why not bring a gigantic one? Although the up front cost is much higher than a single warjack, Conquest brings its usual suite of benefits: innate Reach, innate Pathfinder, high P+S, relative durability, immunities, decent set of guns. Vlad2 doesn't do a ton to help Conquest out, but Assail is enough to give him the alpha strike on a lot of heavies/colossals, and Conquest will primarily be an "anchor" model if it's in a Vlad2 list.

There is a certain logic to investing in Conquest with Vlad2. His ability to buff Khador infantry is relatively limited: his feat only affects 4-6 non-character models, and he can cycle HoF between two targets at most. Even Transference is often limited by model placement and general focus expenditure considerations. Following that train of thought, there becomes a point where tossing more infantry into a Vlad2 list is just adding redundancy; why not swap out some of that infantry for a bigger warjack that brings some additional firepower and endgame melee to the table?

I've tried Conquest with Vlad2 all of one time, so I can't say for sure how I feel about it. I do think the idea has merit, though it definitely changes how you build Vlad2's list. Freeing up the 11 points between a Conquest and Drago is tricky, for starters. On top of that, I think there's merit in building at least a chunk of your remaining list towards being able to destroy or at least mangle the things in your opponent's army that can reliably deal with Conquest - enemy heavies, Weaponmaster infantry, etc. I'm not sure how a Conquest-Vlad2 list would ultimately differ from a "regular" Vlad2 list, but I do think it calls for a different build mentality and ultimately finding success with Conquest in a Vlad2 list will require more than just freeing up the extra points to fit it in.

 - Marauder. One of the original Vlad2 warjack choices, the Marauder is still an okay choice. It's entire schtick is to slam enemy models around with it's Combo Smite, and Assail is pretty much tailor made for that job. The downside to the Marauder is that if you run into a situation where that Combo Smite isn't going to work (models can't be moved, reduced slam distance,) it doesn't offer much else. Drago does a remarkable amount of damage (given it's mediocre P+S) if it can charge in, and a clamjack can anchor a zone extremely well. I don't think a Marauder is a terrible choice - it's probably the best "cheap" warjack option for Vlad2 - but the other warjack choices feel like more flexible investments in the current meta of the game.


Good gawd, that was a ton of words about Vlad2! Hopefully that gives you some ideas of where to start with Vlad2, and what you should be trying to do with his lists. He's one of my favorite warcasters to play due to how aggressive and high tempo his lists tend to be, and even though the landscape has definitely changed I think he's still a strong warcaster in general. I'll be posting up any noteworthy games I have with him, along with any updated impressions or thoughts I have.

If anyone has any thoughts about everyone's favorite Dark Champion I'd love to hear them in the comments!


  1. I don't really have deep insights on Vlad2, however... things got very interesting last weekend, and I got to play him. I wrote about it in my review over here:

  2. These are great tips, thank you! I'm just a casual player but I was just looking for some Vlad2 advice since I'm planning on building a list with him soonish. A question though; how well does his tier list work? You can hit Tier 4 at I think a minimum of 17 points, so it's certainly easy to achieve (though the models are all really expensive :) ).

    1. Glad to hear the post was helpful!

      Vlad2 is one of the lucky few Khador 'casters that ended up with a decent theme list following the immediate Mk. II transition. It gives you some really compelling pieces - IFP, Uhlans, Great Bears - with relatively light requirements and some nice bonuses.

      I personally don't have a lot of experience with the theme list, but I understand that it's pretty well regarded and I've heard of people using this theme list with some good results. It's not hard to see why or how that could work out that way either. I think you can make some killer lists with this theme at 35 (very hard "alpha strike" skew) and it grows up to 50 fairly well.

      However, there are a couple of cautions about Vlad2's theme list:

      1) As you mentioned, it is not a cheap list. It's all IFP and Uhlans, which are not cheap models, nor are they easy to store/transport. One of the biggest reasons to run this theme list is the possibility of running two units of Uhlans, which is both expensive and not something you'll be able to use elsewhere often since they're FA: 1. Vlad3 lets you make use of the second unit as well (and in arguably a better theme list) but that's still a lot of money to spend on something with a limited set of possible applications.

      2) It's ultimately a limited list. I really like Vlad2's lists to have a little more ranged firepower (especially at 50,) and his theme doesn't allow for more than a unit of Widowmakers, which is admittedly a great choice with him. Vlad2's theme list is a pretty hard melee skew which is great when it works but painful when it doesn't. I prefer to build him with a little more flexibility, especially since Khador naturally leans that way anyways.

      Related: as more releases come along, the limits of this theme cut out more and more things that are quite excellent with Vlad2. Outriders, Sylys Wyshnalyrr, Tactical Arcanist Corps, Nyss + Valachev, Malakov; all those recent releases are things that can be very nice to have with Vlad2, but don't make the cut (obviously because some are Mercs.)

      So I guess the best way to put it is: Vlad2 has a good theme list that you can use to build some very solid lists, but I always end up branching out into non-theme options. I think it's a very fun way to start out at 35, and at that point level you also avoid having to double down on units if you don't want to. Its still a pretty good list at 50, but then its harder to recommend due to the need to purchase some things you may not use elsewhere.