Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vlad2 - End of Season Review

Similar to Harkevich, I'm not done with Vlad2. I really enjoy using him, and there are many more things I want to try with his lists (more on this in a bit.) However, the winds of Malifaux are blowing, so I'll probably be playing that a bit more here in the future. That's going to cut down on the WM time I get in and as a result Vlad2 may end up taking a break for a bit (I'm hoping to focus a bit more on Retribution, but that's also contingent on painting.)

So, also similar to Harkevich, I wanted to take a look back at my series of Vlad2 games and compile my thoughts. This post should serve as a good summary of my thoughts on Vlad2 up to this point, as well as hopefully giving some jumping off points when I get back to him (and/or give others ideas of things to try when they put him on the table.)

Review begins after the break.

Planning For The Feat Starts Early:
Vlad2's feat creates a fairly interesting extra factor that you need to consider when you're building a list for him. Most other buffing feats are control area based (ex. Irusk1) so the major practical concern is "can I fit everything in my control area on feat turn?"

Vlad2's feat is much more limited in scope; it affects four to six models that start in his CTRL, but they can leave that range (and usually do) during the feat's duration. That combines with the fact that the feat benefits melee attacks more than ranged attacks (melee attacks leverage more of the bonuses more effectively) to make it so you need to plan for your feat targets going all the way back to list selection.

That's not unique to Vlad2; again, most 'casters with a buffing feat are doing the same thing when making list decisions. What makes Vlad2's feat choices more challenging is that the feat can only ever affect four to six models; even if you stack a list with the absolute best feat targets possible, there's a point where it becomes redundant. There is value in having a flexible selection of feat targets, but including too many "best" feat targets will weaken a list in other ways (since many of the best Vlad2 feat targets are solos or small units.)

So the juggling act becomes figuring out how many good feat targets should be in your list, with the answer being somewhere between "none" and "all." I feel like this answer varies a lot based on the player - some players will want redundancy and options in feat targets, while others will be happier with a focused feat plan - and it can become even more complicated based on which feat targets you're considering. For example: Uhlans are a fantastic feat target, but they're also expensive which limits your ability to include other feat targets (or other list components in general.)

And then there's my (least) favorite complication: the random factor of the feat. I've settled on what a lot of players probably do with Vlad2 - bring 'x' number of good feat targets, but only ever plan on getting four on a feat turn - which seems to work decently well. You can only plan on minimums, after all, and it's much better to base your decisions on getting four feat targets, with the possibility of getting one or two more, than try to rely on getting a high number of feat targets and being screwed by the dice (which you almost certainly will when it's really clutch.)

I feel like an ideal Vlad2 list will have a core of solid, scary feat targets, with some level of redundancy present. You can't always plan for what your opponent will have, terrain, scenario requirements, etc, so I feel like it's very dangerous to put all of your eggs into one basket (and it's usually a very obvious basket at that.) Some level of redundancy in a list with regards to feat targets gives you an "out" if your opponent somehow neutralizes your primary choices (either via debuff or straight up model murder,) and lets you more freely adapt to changing table states (ex. maybe the best play in a particular game is to feat on a secondary target to get to something your opponent didn't see you could get to.)

With all of the above in mind, the list I've been running has 6 "good" feat targets as my primary candidates: all five Uhlans and the Drakun. This set up also makes it easy to adhere to the "rule of minimum possibility" when planning for future turns. Since the Uhlans make up the bulk of my probable feat targets, I can use the unit accordingly; when the feat happens, at worst I'll have one guy running along without any bonuses, and at best I'll buff the whole unit (two times out of three, as well.)

My list also has some redundancy built in via the Kayazy Assassins, and some flexibility in feat targets with Widowmakers and TAC (w/Valachev.) I'd really love to have more redundancy/flexibility built in (especially since Uhlans are such high value targets and are contingent on charging) but I never have the room. Which brings me to...

There Are Never Enough Points:
Again, not a concern unique to Vlad2, but it's one I've felt more acutely when building lists for him than I have when building lists for most other Khador 'casters. I think that "points pinch" is a good thing in this case, however; he's very good with a lot of different things, so it's hard to narrow that down to 50 points.

For example: Uhlans are one of the best feat targets currently available, and I'd argue that Vlad2 is one of the best warcasters to use the unit with. You could run a minimum unit and diversify your investments, but it is awfully tempting to go "all in" on a full unit (66.666...% chance that you'll be able to feat buff the whole unit, which is a beautiful thing.) And if you're bringing a full unit, it's awfully tempting to bring Markov along; his Elite Cadre makes it much easier to move and eventually charge with them while maintaining B2B, and Fearless is very nice for all non-feat turns. Plus Markov is no slouch himself and you can boost his charge attack with Transference, so why not right?

15 points is potentially why not. That's a helluva lot of points to tie up in 6 models that are absolutely reliant on charge attacks to do solid damage, and that are relatively vulnerable to getting shot off the table on the approach (Markov less so but individual Uhlans sweat when CRA/boostable guns start showing up.)

That's not at all to disparage the efficacy of Uhlans with Vlad2. Point of fact I'd say the opposite: they've done remarkably well in almost all of my games offensively and defensively (admittedly with the feat in play, but still.) They're absolutely worth considering in a Vlad2 list, and I'd even argue that they're almost a "no-brainer" if you aren't building your list to fight against Legion or Cygnar (see boostable guns comment previous.)

But that is a lot of points to tie up in one module. Which leaves you with that much less to cover your other bases - scenario relevancy/insurance, army support (admittedly you don't need a ton, but models like Saxon and Sylys are pretty valuable,) alternate feat/HoF targets - and thus it's very easy to run out of points long before you've gotten through your "want" list of models and started in on your "nice to have" list.

What I've tried to adhere to is that you really need to balance out feat targets vs "normal" list choices (i.e. models you're taking for other purposes ranging from support to scenario.) I know, that seems very "duh," but stick with me. As mentioned, its very easy to load up on things that will be awesome with feat or with Vlad2's buffs, and you can even build a list such that it looks like you've got enough different bases covered.

Vlad2's ideal feat targets share a few traits in common:

  • often relatively expensive (most are 1 point per model or more,)
  • relatively squishy for their cost, and 
  • vulnerable to at least one major attack type, if not more (examples: Doom Reavers hate guns, Uhlans hate boostable guns/CRAs, Eliminators hate blast damage/True Sight/Eyeless Sight.)
If you aren't mindful of these commonalities, it can be very easy to build a list that's an absolute monster offensively (and even fairly solid defensively) that has an Achilles heel, and in Warmachine it's just a matter of time until you run into it. Because of that, I find it's best to try and make choices with contrasting weaknesses to minimize the work any one component will be able to do against me.

As an example: the list I've been running uses Uhlans and Kayazy Assassins. Both units have their weaknesses, but they're two completely different sets of weaknesses; what works well at clearing out Assassins probably won't on Uhlans, and vice versa. In this way, the list is more resilient defensively than if it were more homogeneous (for example, if the Uhlans were Doom Reavers) which makes it less likely that any one opposing element will cause me a lot of trouble. 

Those types of bad match ups still exist even if you diversify - I wouldn't love to fight Stormwall or Galleon with my list, for example - but it's much less pronounced than if you go chips in with a more one dimensional approach. That's also more of my playstyle though - diversity/flexibility whenever possible - so this approach is likely to vary by player.

In looking back at my games and my earlier versions of the list, I came up with a set of...

More Models Worth Trying:
A short list of things I'd like to try and work into a Vlad2 list in the future:

 - Doom Reavers: These guys are proven workers. The biggest problem I have with them is their vulnerability; they absolutely melt against any half-competent shooting. Bringing two units helps (and gives you one hell of a rushing line,) but even that only helps so much. Similar to Uhlans, its a fairly sizable investment of points (12 points for 12 models) so it requires some care to get the best use out of. Right now I'm more comfortable using Uhlans, but I definitely want to come up with a Doom Reaver based list. They're some of the most fun feat targets ever.

 - Eliminators: They're one of the most obvious inclusions to a Vlad2 list but I can't seem to get them to make the cut. My problem tends to be two fold: 1) I don't feel comfortable relying on the Eliminators in lieu of a 10+ model unit, and 2) by the time I get done putting my Vlad2 lists together I always seem to only have points left for either the Eliminators or a 10+ model unit, and I can't bring myself to go with 4 models instead of 10-12. In my current list I went with a unit of Assassins instead of a pair of Eliminators for that same reason, and though the Elminators would be nastier feat targets I feel like they would have run out of steam in the same situation where I still had Assassins around to stab things. So (similar to Doom Reavers) it's going to take a reconfigure before I can fit a set or two of those ladies into a Vlad2 list.

 - Gun Carriage: This one is less of a "good/strong choice" and more of a fun one, though it does have it's virtues. A Gun Carriage is a pretty solid HoF target, it brings some nice anti-infantry AoE templates (most relevant to harassing/killing shooting infantry, my biggest concern,) it's pretty tough on it's own (only really going down to charges or boostable shooting,) and it's decently mobile. So it's a pretty fun, decently useful shooting option. The biggest issue (double pun?) is that any colossal can probably blow it off the table easily with it's guns. But after running the math a bit, it's not a trivial investment for them to do so, and that could keep valuable targets safe from those boosted guns (such as Uhlans.) And if you can somehow miracle up the 2 points for Mechaniks to follow it around, a Gun Carriage should be able to survive a remarkable amount of ranged punishment. Not a high priority model for me to work into a list, but definitely something I want to mess with more.

Of course, it's going to be hard to find room after experiencing...

Models That Were Surprisingly Great:
This is not another spot to gush about feated Uhlans/Drakun or HoF Widowmakers (it's wonderful how much more work they get done with just a little buff.) No, this spot is to gush about things I put in the list on a whim that have turned out to be remarkably effective over my past set of games.

First up are the Kayazy Assassins. I've written a lot about Kayazy recently, and that was largely prompted by how well they've worked out in my Vlad2 list. I'll admit, a large portion of my surprise comes from low expectations; after many games of Kayazy getting blown off the table by blast damage, leaps, or ATGM I started to devalue them a good bit.

For the record, they're still very good at getting blown off the table when faced with the proper countermeasures. But over the course of several games everything evened out, and for every time they got blown up there was another time where they frustrated opponents with their DEF 16 in melee or Stealth at range. Other times they were able to gang up and take out much bigger targets with a combination of HoF, P+S 12, and Transference where necessary.

Kayazy Assassins are still a fiddly unit, and they can have some very bad match ups. But they're still a very potent force in melee, and they benefit a lot from the buffs that Vlad2 brings to the table (plus they make a great back-up/secondary feat target.) I'm very happy I put them into rotation, and it's going to be difficult to part with them the next time I sit down to rework the list.

Next are the Tactical Arcanist Corps and Valachev. I need to mention them in tandem because Valachev brings a lot for them in this list; having the option to drop HoF on them or use Transference on them makes them surprisingly effective as a mid to late game unit, and Zephyr allows the unit to do so much more than it would be able to otherwise. But even without Valachev the TAC are a pretty remarkable unit. I originally included them just for their smoke wall - that's been a huge help in allowing me to put Vlad2 exactly where I want him without worrying about something picking him off - and I've also had the chance to experience some of their offensive potential.

Their offensive isn't anything off the charts, but it's also a lot more than I expected from what I included as primarily a support unit. They switch gears very easily and effectively (Valachev helps a lot with that,) and so it makes it that much easier to include them in a list (vs. traditional support models that often can't contribute when it's "chips in" time.)

Finally, I always have to give a shout out to Markov. He's a very odd solo - he doesn't often do anything amazing, but he also very rarely disappoints. He's got a really flexible set of tools (strong single attack for hard targets, AOE for infantry, MAT 8 Impact Attacks at POW 12,) and he's surprisingly durable. Markov's Elite Cadre eliminates a ton of positioning and movement headaches with the Uhlans and Fearless is huge for such and expensive unit; I rarely bring the full Uhlan unit without him. Even considered independent of what he does for Uhlans, Markov is a very solid solo for his cost. I don't take him often (truth be told, never without Uhlans) but I never regret having him along.

General Vlad2 Thoughts After This Series:
A lot of what I wrote about Vlad2 awhile back still holds up, which is nice to realize upon reflection.

The biggest issue I have with Vlad2 is that I feel compelled to build him in conflicting ways, and as a result I always feel like there are possibilities with him I'm leaving off the table. His infantry support tools lean you towards a strong melee force, but it's also very possible to build a more "combined arms" style list with him based on cycling HoF across Khador's solid shooting options, then leverage the feat to crush in melee. While that kind of flexibility is nice, it's also easy to end up building in two different directions, and as a result the list ends up with watered down components of both.

Another issue I've been having is that it feels like there are a lot of really good different feat targets, but a lot of them are match up dependent. Uhlans are fantastic against armies that are going to bring more warnouns, and less so against infantry heavy armies (particularly punchy ones like Cryx) or armies with lots of boostable guns. Doom Reavers will mulch infantry and heavies alike, but they fall over to a stiff breeze so any army that is likely to bring guns is a bad start. And so on, and so on.

I wrote awhile back about trying to build "take all comers" lists and I think Vlad2 sits at an interesting place on that bell curve. His abilities are just strong enough to get him into the realm of being able to build a really flexible list, but a lot of it also comes down to list choices. Uhlans, for example, are a very powerful feat target (and very relevant to the current ARM heavy meta) but they also instantly open you up to getting screwed by anything that can seriously debuff a single unit or anything that prevents charges. You can get around that by going with something like IFP in that slot, but then you give up on the unique things the Uhlans bring to the table.

A lot building and refining Vlad2's list, at least for me, has been trying to find that tipping point between "flexible yet focused" and "safe but watered down." I don't know that my current list is the answer, but I do feel like after playing him a little more frequently that my next few lists will at least start out in a better place (it took me more than a few revisions to arrive at my current list.)

I also feel like Vlad2 is a 'caster that gets much better in a multiple list format. I think it's impossible for him to build to cover all of his bad match ups; as mentioned before, fixing one usually just opens up another. I think being able to have a second (or third) list helps to alleviate the concern of drawing a really ugly match up, and I think it allows you to narrow your build focus and put together a really mean list.

In that regard, I'd be most likely to build Vlad2 with an emphasis on blowing up "dense" armies - Convergence, Menoth, lots of Hordes - and craft your second list to give you game against the Vlad2 match ups that would be the ugliest (probably infantry heavy/shooting heavy armies like Ret, Cygnar, and Cryx.) I've been fond of the "ill fated lovers" pair of Vlad2 and Sorscha2 for that reason; they compliment each other very well in terms of the lists they can effectively run, and you get the fluff cherry on top.

Wrapping It Up:
I've greatly enjoyed coming back to Vlad2. Even in a faction with so many different 'caster choices (and with a few that operate similarly) he provides a very unique play experience that's also extremely fun. He has his good matches and his bad matches, but I think a lot of that comes down to list construction and he definitely has more of the former than the latter. When I get the chance to play WM during our group's upcoming Malifaux stint, I'm very like to put Vlad2 back out on the table, and I'll share any games and impressions I have with him.

Until then, thanks again for reading, and may you always get the full 6 feat targets!

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