Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Butcher3 vs. High Reclaimer: Assassination Attempts Will Always Fail

This weekend a friend and I were able to meet up and get in a game of Warmachine. He has a High Reclaimer list he's been working on, and I have more Butcher3 theory to test out, so we put the armies on the table and tried to learn something!

Join me after the break for a recap of the game and the usual breakdown.

My List:
Kommander Zoktavir, The Butcher Unleashed (*4pts)
  * Beast-09 (11pts)
   * Demolisher (9pts)
   * Devastator (9pts)
   * Juggernaut (7pts)
   * War dog (1pts)
Greylord Ternion (Leader and 2 Grunts) (4pts)
Widowmakers (Leader and 3 Grunts) (4pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Kell Bailoch (2pts)
Madelyn Corbeau, Ordic Courtesan (2pts)
Widowmaker Marksman (2pts)
This list is a mash up of some serious heavy metal Butcher3 lists I've seen elsewhere (most directly inspired by Tatu Perhonen's Butcher3 list from the 2014 WTC), the three warjack loadout I tried with him recently, and some other random ideas.

The principle is the same as running any warjack heavy list with Butcher3: use the warjacks to try and work over anything that will threaten Butcher without having to commit him, thus making his endgame stronger. The clamjacks are in there to add in additional durability and Bulldozing for scenario play, as well as give the list some anti-infantry measures.

My Friend's List:
The High Reclaimer (*6pts)
   * Reckoner (8pts)
   * Hierophant (2pts)
Choir of Menoth (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Daughters of the Flame (Leader and 5 Grunts) (5pts)
Daughters of the Flame (Leader and 5 Grunts) (5pts)
Exemplar Bastions (Leader and 4 Grunts) (8pts)
Exemplar Bastions (Leader and 4 Grunts) (8pts)
Exemplar Bastion Seneschal (3pts)
Holy Zealots (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
   * Holy Zealot Monolith Bearer (2pts)
Lady Aiyana & Master Holt (4pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)
The Wrack (3 wracks) (1pts)

This list reminds me of the High Reclaimer lists I'd read about before running him MSU-style started to become popular. It's a very strong setup: Daughters for early jam and a little attrition, then Bastions rolling up behind a cloud wall (with High Reclaimer's feat to extend their durability out that much further.)

Objectives: New to SR2015, players select which type of objective they want to use for their lists. Since neither of us have a lot of experience with that mechanic yet (and we forgot about it until set up), both of us just opted for Bunker objectives (Girded, Impervious Flesh). In hindsight, Fuel Cache would have been a very interesting one for me to pick.

Scenario: SR2015 Incoming

Deployment and Round 1
The High Reclaimer won the roll off, and opted to take second turn.

Proxy note: for this fight, Cinerators = Bastions. Please also note that this is the only context in which that statement can be true.

Timing note: as both of us are still practicing with these lists, we opted to forego a timer for this game.

Round 1:
Lots of running from both sides. Butcher3 adds Energizer to the mix to get his battlegroup a little further up the table, and High Reclaimer starts his rolling cloud wall. The Zealots used Greater Destiny this round in order to weather the sniper fire.

Round 2:
Start of Round 2
Butcher Turn 2:
Butcher allocates one to the Demolisher and keeps the rest.

All but one of the Daughters (one remaining from the center group) is killed through a combination of sniper shots, Rain of Death, and some Juggernaut attacks.

Butcher uses Energizer to shuffle his warjacks around, then the Demolisher runs into High Reclaimer's zone and Beast runs to engage four of the Zealots. The Ternion put clouds on the dogs and Butcher.

High Reclaimer Turn 2:
The High Reclaimer allocates one Focus to the Reckoner, then keeps the rest.

The Zealots advance and throw bombs at the sniper squad, but due to some unfortunate scatters the kill count comes out to one (1) Widowmaker Marksman and one (1) Zealot. Beast kills a few Zealots via free strikes.

Gorman advances and manages to scatter a Blind AoE onto the Juggernaut and the Demolisher. The Bastions run into both zones, while the remaining Daughter runs behind a wall on Butcher's half of the table.

Round 3:
Start of Round 3
Butcher Turn 3:
During the maintenance phase, Butcher advances forward thanks to Madelyn. During the control phase, Butcher keeps all of his Focus.

The Juggernaut and the Devastator advance into the enemy zone, while the Demolisher shuffles closer to the cloud of Bastions.

Butcher and his dogs advance, then Butcher pulls the two nearby Bastions in with Impending Doom. The follow up attacks from Butcher and the dogs kill them (opting not to spread the damage around,) then Butcher and his dogs Energizer backwards onto the hill (with Butcher having a toe in the zone.)

Beast uses the Energizer move to move out of combat with the two Zealots in combat with him, taking no damage from the free strikes. Beast then advances and Thresher attacks two Bastions, killing both of them.

The snipers pick off the remaining Zealots, leaving the Monolith Bearer alive. The Ternion cloud Butcher and his dogs while all the remaining solos re-position.

At the end of the turn, Butcher scores 1 CP for Dominating his friendly zone.

CPs: Butcher 1 - High Reclaimer 0

High Reclaimer Turn 3:
The High Reclaimer gives two Focus to the Reckoner.

Aiyana and Holt advance, then Aiyana tries to stick Harm on Butcher's unit (out of range of the one dog she can get LOS to,) and Holt shoots down one of the Arguses. The Reckoner then activates and fires a boosted shot at Butcher, but misses (more on this later.)

The High Reclaimer then activates and feats back the four destroyed Bastions and puts down his cloud wall. The newly reformed Bastions line up three charges on Butcher, but unfortunately all of them miss their attacks.

On the left flank, Gorman hits the Juggernaut with a Rust bomb and the Bastions on that flank lay into it, doing significant damage.

The Monolith Bearer moves into the enemy zone, while the remaining Daughter runs to engage a Ternion.

CPs: Butcher 1 - High Reclaimer 0

Round 4:
Start of Round 4
Butcher Turn 4:
During the Maintenance Phase, Butcher kills one Bastion and the dog puts damage on another using their Vengeance attacks. Butcher gives three Focus to Beast, and keeps the rest.

The Ternion engaged by the Daughter is killed when he attempts to walk out of combat. Unperturbed, the other two put clouds on Butcher and the remaining Argus. Madelyn Seduces one of the Bastions, but it's attack misses.

Butcher pulls in the Bastions and the Daughter with Impending Doom, then kills them all between Flashing Blades and extra Feat Focus. The Widowmakers pick off the Monolith Bearer.

Eiryss is able to advance and Disrupt the Reckoner. Beast then advances, kill the remaining Bastion with it's Open Fist, and lays into the Reckoner with it's remaining attacks (leaving the Reckoner armless but still alive.)

On the left flank, the Juggernaut and both clamjacks continue to stand in front of the Bastions.

End of turn, Butcher scores 1 CP for Dominating his friendly zone.

CPs: Butcher 2 - High Reclaimer 0

High Reclaimer Turn 4:
The High Reclaimer keeps all of his Focus.

The Reckoner toes into Butcher's zone and swings at Beast, but misses. Holt attempts to shoot Madelyn, but the shot is Suckered onto Butcher for no damage and his second shot misses the Argus.

The High Reclaimer and Choir move to body block Beast from getting to the objective. On the left flank, the Bastion Senescal finishes off the Juggernaut, which allows the Bastions to charge the Harm'd, Rust Bomb'd Devastator, doing some damage but not disabling any systems.

CPs: Butcher 2 - High Reclaimer 0

Round 5:
Start of Round 5
Butcher Turn 5:
Butcher allocates three Focus to Beast, who uses those Focus to pop Murderous and Thresher attack the High Reclaimer, three Zealots, and Holt. All attacks hit, the non-High Reclaimer models are killed, and Beast buys more attacks into the High Reclaimer, which leave him still standing.

The Devastator advances and uses Rain of Death, catching all the Bastions (two B2B), Aiyana, Gorman, and the Seneschal. Aiyana and one of the Bastions are killed, but everyone else survives with minor-to-no damage.

The Ternion put clouds on Butcher and his dog, then the Argus charges the Reckoner and finishes it off, then Eiryss and Madelyn run to body block the pass to Butcher's zone.

End of turn, Butcher scores 1 CP for Dominating his friendly zone.

CPs: Butcher 3 - High Reclaimer 0

High Reclaimer Turn 5:
The High Reclaimer keeps all of his Focus, then uses it to kill Eiryss, Madelyn, and smack Beast around a bit.

The Bastions and Senescal finish off the Demolisher, while Gorman runs to contest Butcher's zone.

Round 6:
It is at this point that we have our second math fail (I'll get to the first in a minute.) For whatever reason, we thought that Butcher had scored 4 CPs up to this point, so he only needed one last Dominate to win. One of the Ternion was able to kill Gorman with a spray, so he would have gotten that for sure.

However, upon review that still leaves Butcher 1 CP short. I'm almost certain that Beast could have gotten it with some Focus and a small shuffle to be able to beat up the enemy objective (especially with 6 points of potential Sniper damage still available.) Failing that, Beast and/or Butcher may have been able to kill the High Reclaimer, but you saw how well previous assassination attempts worked out, so I wouldn't bank on it.

Result: Butcher wins....kinda?

Post-Game Thoughts:
We are super pro at this.

The other math error that I mentioned - and this one is actually even worse than the CP error - is that for whatever reason both of us totally flaked on the fact that an aiming, Battle buffed Reckoner is attacking at 9 + 3d6, not 7 + 3d6. I'm still not sure how either of us missed that in the moment (especially on so critical of a shot,) but I guess it's just the swirl of the moment.

If that Reckoner shot hits (and I feel like it should have, as I remember it just barely missing when we thought it needed an 11 to hit Butcher [cloud and hill],) not only does that probably put damage on Butcher right there (he had the Focus to boost the damage,) but it also makes the Bastions that much more likely to hit with their charges. With Butcher only sitting at 1 camp at that point, it is statistically unlikely that he survives if the Reckoner shot hits.

Other than that and the CP gaffe (and some other things about what I did that I'll get to in a minute,) it was a very good, difficult game. Both of our armies were kind of ponderous, so we were stuck in a long CP grind. This Butcher list can kinda-sorta do that, but that's all the way in High Reclaimer's wheel house.

Speaking of this High Reclaimer list, I like it a lot. It has plenty of staying power between the Bastions, Seneschal, clouds to limit what your opponent can get to, and a feat to get back 4-6 of the damn things. I think this list is much stronger with two units of Bastions in it; one unit could get picked off, but getting through both units before High Reclaimer can feat seems very unlikely. I like all of the elements of the list, and I'd be hard pressed to change it much, if at all.

Now, onto personal critique.

Things That Went Well:
The sniper squad sure did shoot a lot of dudes, the Devastator got to blow up some high DEF, low ARM infantry and the Demolisher sure did stand in the enemy zone like a boss.

That's about it.

Things That Did Not Go Well:
I very, very nearly got Butcher killed. And upon math review, he almost certainly should have died.

I was very sad when Holt clutched out his second shot and managed to one shot the Argus in front of Butcher (!!!) but that kind of stuff happens. You need to plan for the absolute worst thing that could happen to you, then adjust based on a) how likely that is to happen, and b) the severity of it happening. In this case, if the High Reclaimer was able to get Bastions to Butcher with one Focus for camp, it should have been very bad (even needing 9's to hit, one should have connected and two isn't unreasonable) and I should have reacted accordingly.

But I think all those thoughts are better discussed in the following section.

Key Mistakes/Things To Do Differently:
So lets have at it:

 - I way, way over committed to the enemy zone. It was going to be important to lock him out of CP scoring, but all I needed to do was stall him until I was able to start scoring and hopefully get ahead enough on the curve that he can't really catch up. Sending two clamjacks over there would have been plenty to lock down that zone for awhile, which would have left me the Juggernaut free to leverage in my zone. Which may have in turn let me keep Butcher safer.

 - Point of fact, why was I even fighting over my zone? Maybe it would have been a better idea to have the exact same fight, but have it over the enemy zone. The two clamjacks can hold down my zone for awhile, and scoring on the enemy zone is way more productive; two Dominations over there means you only need three rounds total to win the game, instead of five (one less for either scenario if you can get to the objective.

 - I shouldn't have attacked High Reclaimer with Beast. My plan at that point was to keep scoring and grind the game out, which made the most important model to kill that turn the Reckoner. The High Reclaimer was camped up to ARM 23 (or thereabouts) making it very unlikely that Beast would kill him even with a full Focus load. I let myself get distracted from killing the Reckoner, and I only got bailed out by supreme luck when the remaining War Argus was able to kill the Reckoner with his effective MAT 3 charge.

 - On the turn I moved Butcher into dominate the friendly zone, I should have either:

a) Only killed the two Bastions that were preventing me from scoring, or,

b) Killed the same four Bastions, but then feat afterwards to significantly improve Butcher's odds of survival.

I'm not sure which is the smarter play. Only killing two Bastions makes it much more difficult for the High Reclaimer to go for any kind of assassination, though at that point he could just feat the Bastions back, try to kill the Arguses (to remove Butcher's screen) and then play the rest of the game with that advantage. So killing those four and feating feels like the smartest move, which brings me to an extremely important point that I need to tattoo to the back of my hands.

 - If Butcher3 is in any danger whatsoever, make sure to end that turn on the largest camp value possible. I really, really should know this by now. If you leave your opponent any opening, they're going to take it, especially if it's potentially a game winning one. Its easy to overlook things in the moment - this game wasn't timed, but if it was that would be a fantastic reason to end your turn without having been able to perfectly assess all the threats your opponent has - and your opponent may also surprise you with things you just flat out never would have expected.

I am still way too greedy with Butcher3's feat. I really, really want to use it in the most crippling way possible: stall it out at long as possible, and only use it to either win the game, or absolutely break the opponent's back. The truth is that those situations are going to be rare, and I need to be way more willing to use it in situations like this one, where that camp will help me survive until the mid game (or, possibly dissuade an assassination attempt entirely.)

 - I am bad at playing Butcher3. The fact that my record is as good as it is with him I think speaks more to the model's inherent power (and dice being fickle) than it does to my ability to use him particularly well. I'm only now starting to really appreciate the flexibility his spell list gives him in terms of how he moves when he activates, and that's ignoring all of the other goofy moves that can take place. Two examples, both of which would have been to my benefit to execute more effectively:

1) On the turn 3, I could have had a 5" retreat with Butcher instead of a 3" retreat. Instead of: advance, Impending Doom, Flashing Blade, Energizer, I could have done: Energizer (I only ended up advancing around 2"), Impending Doom, Flashing Blade, then advance 5" (6" with the dogs.) That would have put me 2" further away from everything that came at Butcher and his dogs (assuming I don't mess up the Energizer moves, which at this point I'd say I would have.) At the very least that probably makes it so the Reckoner can't aim (pushing it back up to needing an 11 to hit, which it missed in our timeline,) and it also may have put Holt out of range to shoot the Argus. Also no nail-biter Harm measurement.

2) I completely flubbed the turn had Butcher killed the returned Bastions. What I should have done was use the Vengeance moves to give me melee range on as many Bastions as possible (probably only 3 of the 4,) then Flashing Blade them all dead before advancing. Then I can either advance or charge to hit the remaining Bastion, all of which saves me from spending two Focus on Impending Doom. Recognizing things like that is very important, especially since that's one of the biggest benefits to having Madelyn in the list, and it would have been crucial to doing that turn correctly if I had instead opted to feat defensively the turn prior (though who knows if the board state would have been the same.)

 - Running the Demolisher out wide was very, very stupid. It seemed extremely clever at the time (I figured at worst he'd absorb Gorman bombs and keep him busy, and at best it'd pull the Bastions way out of position to attack it,) but it ended up just putting the model way out of position to do anything useful later for no benefit. I've done this a lot in my recent Butcher3 games - run things into really weird places - and I'm not sure why I seem to be doing it even more with him. But its a habit I really need to break.

 - Note for the future: if you're running a list with four heavies in it, maybe, just maybe consider the objective type that gives your warjacks free running and charging.

Noteworthy Model Thoughts:
Kell Bailoch is a model I really should consider using more often. I actually forgot I even owned the model and/or the card for it; that's how infrequently I use him. It's a little bit of a toss up between him and the Marksman, but it's really hard to top Kell's two Sniper shots a turn (RAT 10 and Magical, no less,) so I need to keep him in mind more often when I'm shopping around for the last 2-4 points in a list.

Beast-09 is just so damn good. Part of why I think I've enjoyed using him more with Butcher3 than I have in the past is because in other lists (most often the Sorschas) I'm hoping to keep Beast safe until the late game. I usually have issues doing that and keeping him relevant, so I err on either keeping him just out of the game, or getting him killed.

However, in Butcher3's list, Butcher is the anchor, so I can throw Beast at whatever looks fun. It's a very liberating way to be able to use the model, and it has the side benefit of frequently drawing out elements in the opposing list I want to try to neutralize to protect Butcher later in the game.

I'm very happy I remembered to fit Madelyn back into the list. I didn't pull of anything crazy great with her bonus movement, but it was definitely handy, and it opened up some shenanigans that probably wouldn't have been possible otherwise (or would have been much more limiting to pull off.)

List Changes/Tweaks:
Part of the reason I wanted to run this list was something I heard elsewhere, but for the life of me I can't remember where: running Butcher3 with a lot of warjacks is like running Harkevich, but an actual endgame model backing it up. So I wanted to put the idea in practice with a list similar to what I've run with Harkevich (but different enough to try and take advantage of the few special things Butcher3 brings.)

I've received some positive feedback about the list from some of my other gaming friends (including the friend I used it against,) which is encouraging. But during the game I felt a similar pang that I did with Harkevich: Khador heavies just can't do enough work to carry the game on their own. You can get around that with some of the characters - Beast is a worker, and even a second stringer like Torch can generate a lot of attacks - and the Grolar will be a solid worker when it comes out, but there's no getting around the fact that you're going to need a healthy contingent of support infantry (either literal support or models to bring attack volume to the table.)

I also keep going back and forth on clamjacks. They're very useful models in scenario and against light infantry but they have the significant issue of absolutely melting if they make most attacks. The errata buff to them was significant, and truth be told I probably should have leveraged it more (having ARM 25 models that can still Slam and Trample when you have Energizer around is pretty great.) The clamjacks can do a good bit just by standing around, but they also leech some Focus from your 'caster if they're going to be Slam'ing or Trample'ing, and its hard to always come up with that.

Thinking about this game, I definitely need to keep Slams in mind. I'm pretty mindful about Slams after playing Harkevich and they're a great way to manage tough models that would otherwise be a pain to kill (plus it can help you maintain a zone blockade.) That's another reason I wish the Juggernaut was over on the right flank with Beast-09; instead of killing the Bastions I could have just slammed them out of the zone, which would have made for a very interesting following turn.

All that said, I'm still not sure how I feel about this list. It has a hefty durability factor and it presents a very different problem than Khador lists usually do, which is very interesting from a meta perspective. But I'm also really concerned about the density of attacks. Beast has Thresher, the clamjacks have lots of blast damage, and Butcher3 can clear a decent chunk of the table, but it's still concentrated in just a few models (two of which don't want to be using their strongest abilities until they're almost guaranteed to die next turn.) And I'm really nervous about the prospect of something like Eiryss; all I have to block her shots are dogs and clouds, and killing her wouldn't be particularly easy if she's being careful.

There's also the x-factor of how well Grolars would work in this context (my guess is: pretty well,) Ruin, and even the new Mad Dog warjack may be interesting when used in this kind of list. And of course there are possible other cool Reckoning releases that come out of nowhere, but you can't very well bank on that right?

Closing Thoughts:
As I mentioned in my breakdown after the last event I attended, I feel like in a lot of ways I'm trying to learn to run before I learn to walk with Butcher3. A lot of the list theory I'm trying out with him is stuff that people have come up with to try and keep Butcher3 relevant in the changing, adapting meta, but I think a lot of being able to run these kinds of lists well is having a solid understanding of what Butcher3 is capable of.

I've played a lot of Warmachine over the years, but Butcher3 feels very different from any 'caster I've played before in Khador. Even fancier, deeper 'casters in Khador still operate fairly autonomously of their army, and they often have a fair bit of leeway in their positioning and activation. Butcher3 gets much more dangerous and effective the more consistently you can thread the needle of having him close enough to be threatening, but not so close that he gets killed, all while not tripping him up on any of your models or your opponent's models. It's a lot to take in, and I still haven't played even 10 games with him.

I feel like, as predictable as it is, I should go back to something similar to the original kinds of lists I ran with him (with some tweaks made to get a better heavy in there.) My fundamentals with Butcher3 feel so clumsy and unrefined that I feel like more practice with a "basic" Butcher3 list may be better. I may even swap out my Irusk2 for that list, just to get more Butcher3 time in. It leaves me weaker to something like Bradigus, but at the same time I think worrying about Bradigus is a step ahead of where I'm at right now.

So, another Butcher3 game in, another game won (?) by the skin of my teeth and a lack of math understanding. Next time I won't be so lucky, so I definitely need to level up my Butcher3 game. Thanks very much for reading!


  1. Real quick Tactical Tip: Terrain that blockes models from standing on it (Linear Obstacles and obstructions) can't be closer than 5" to zones or other pieces of terrain. I don't know that it would have made a difference, but that giant rock pile in the middle looks like it could be a pain!

    1. The way I'm reading the rule, you can place restricted terrain near zones, but not within 5" of Objectives. And not within 5" of another restricted terrain piece.

      Based on that we may have just barely gotten it right by complete accident (we read the SR2015 terrain rules, but apparently not that carefully) though looking at the pictures I think the big obstruction probably couldn't have gone in the center due to the Objectives.

      In any case, it's clear we did a lot of things wrong this game. I definitely owe my opponent a rematch. :)