Thursday, August 27, 2015

August 2015 Warmachine and Hordes Errata Thoughts

All of the Warmachine/Hordes (WM/H) world is abuzz with discussion about the most recent errata. And with good reason: this is easily the biggest set of actual rule changes Privateer Press (PP) has made in all of Mk. 2, and it touches some prominent models in significant ways.

If you haven't read the latest errata, the document (with latest version changes highlighted in red) can be found here: WM MKII Rules Errata August 2015.pdf

And if you're interested in the cliff's notes version, check out DarkLegacy's excellent summation post here: August 2015 Errata and You

Join me after the break for thoughts about the changes, how they may affect the game as a whole, and how they affect Khador specifically.

Going through the list of changes as Dark Legacy collected them:

The Boring - Clarifications/Streamlining/Etc Changes:
Pack Fury Brings the warbeast packs in line with warbeasts to prevent you from gaining fury from killing warbeast pack models with friendly model.
Flank Fixed Flank on Trench Buster and Sergeant Nicolas Verendrye to prevent them from flanking with themselves. 
Bone Shaker Asphyxious the Hellbringer (Asphyxious3) and Calaban the Grave Walker have been updated so the wording of Bone Shaker is consistent across all models. 
Thyron Sword of Truth Added duration to the feat. 
All of these changes are low-key updates that either make the same abilities/mechanics work uniformly across different implementations, or resolve a wording hiccup that caused a hilarious but otherwise unintended rules interaction.

Of note is that the Flank error occurred no less than three times - one of the League models (Steelsoul Protector), the Trench Buster, and Nicolas Verendrye - so hopefully PP has learned to double check abilities that are similar to make sure models aren't able to trigger them themselves.

Thyron's feat is something that happened before - Madrak1's feat. Sometimes you leave one sentence out, and that sentence makes all the difference. Though I'm sure no one actually played it as such, now it is written in stone that you only get Thyron's feat for one turn, and not the whole game.

The Exciting - Models That Gained Something:
Mountain King Gained Assault. 
Siege Animantarax Rage Tokens can be gained from friendly attacks. Rage Tokens can be used to boost any attack or damage roll. 
Archangel Draconic Aura changed from Righteous Flames to causing Continuous Fire to enemy models within 2” 

Rarely has PP seen it fit to "buff" models via errata. I can only think of two such occurrences in all of Mk. 2 - Armored Shell allowing Slams and Tramples without opening up, and Rhyas gaining Reach - though I may be missing some.

Never before, however, have there been so many at once, and never such outright "quality of life" improvements as these three are.

The changes to the two gargantuans are most welcome. The Mountain King and Archangel are often considered the two worst out of an already pretty bad lot (though in a cruel twist of fate, they are two of the absolute best looking), so anything that improves their rule set is a start in the right direction.

Based on my Legion experience from awhile ago, I'm not sure how useful the Archangel animus change really is. It seems unlikely that it will ever end up engaged en masse without dying in the process (the Archangel is depressingly squishy), so it is unlikely to be an animus you use as a reprisal technique. There are likely to be situations where the Archangel can advance and set a bunch of infantry on fire, and that will be pretty swell (less so if the fires go out). And it is worth emphasizing that the previous implementation of its animus was profoundly useless, so getting something that is even situationally useful is a big step up.

I've actually already had a bit of experience against the Mountain King after the errata, so I'll save my thoughts for when I talk about that game (should be forthcoming). The short version is: similar to the Archangel, going from "nothing worth talking about" to "sometimes useful" is a big improvement.

The biggest outright set of improvements seems to be on the Skorne Battle Engine. Being able to generate your own Rage Tokens for it using Paingivers is a big buff, and then being able to turn around and use those tokens to boost attack and damage rolls is fantastic. It takes the Animantarax from the absolute bottom of the barrel to being a very respectable gun platform. I think it still suffers from being a Battle Engine, so it doesn't slot into the meta particularly well, but its at least significantly more usable now.

The Stunning - Significant Model Changes:
These are big enough individually that I'm going to give impressions on them point by point. Starting with the "lowest" impact (very relative, as all of these are pretty significant changes):
Major Prime Victoria Haley (Haley3) Changed the wording of Temporal Flux to clarify that it grants the unit and friendly Faction models within 5" of one or more models in the unit +2 DEF.Changed Time Projection to clarify how Haley Past and Haley Future can allocate focus and use arc nodes. 
Part of this is just clarification errata, while the other (and more important half) actually was up for debate when the errata initially went up. Many players were surprised to see Temporal Flux changed to "friendly Faction", as Haley3 is only a month old (in terms of official release date).

I have not played as or against Haley3 so I can't comment on this change with any insight. I have read a decent bit of kibitzing online from players that had built Mercenary heavy Haley3 armies that are now a fair bit less impressive.

I think, however, that may have been the point; Haley3 always felt like a not-so-subtle way to push Cygnar players back to Faction model choices and that may be why they slapped the Faction tag on the spell now. Or maybe they wanted to circumvent some seriously dirty interactions that came up on models we don't even know about yet.

Whatever the reason, they chose now as the time to close the loop, and I think that the timing is actually ideal. While some players may lament having a 'caster changed so soon after release - assuming that this change was inevitable - better to have it happen now than 6 months from now when you're really used to it.
Pistol Wraith Death Chill was changed to stationary to allow a model with Focus: Shake Effect or Fury: Shake Effect to remove the effect. 
This is a change that obviously makes the Pistol Wraith a less potent control piece, but it does so in a very specific way (which I think is the motivation behind the change): it removes any control facet that the Pistol Wraith had against Huge bases (since they are inherently immune to Stationary).

The secondary fallout is that anything that can shake can now negate the Pistol Wraith's Death Chill via Shake Effect. That is a bit of a bummer as far as control effects go as well, though that is also where a lot of control effects ended up post-Mk. 2.

The slight upside is that being able to Stationary models (even Cold Immune models) can set up some nasty follow ups. However, having that Stationary be contingent on hitting three attack rolls - even against a moderate DEF and with RAT 7, the cumulative failure chance creeps up higher than you'd like - is much less exciting.

Overall, this feels like a "culling" adjustment, especially in light of the next set of changes. I don't think the devs would have been comfortable leaving an unshakable control effect on a solo after changing two of the most abusively potent ones in the game. The damn shame of it all is that it leaves the Pistol Wraith in a pretty miserable spot. Hopefully a future update can round him out in some other way.

The next two changes are, in my opinion, roughly the same in order of magnitude, but I think one has a bigger overall effect on its faction so I'm giving it a slight edge in claiming the dubious ranking of "biggest change" from this errata.
Shake Effects
Blind and Shadow Bind have been added to the effects that you can shake with a focus or fury.
This is the right cross out of nowhere. There was a lot of talk about Blind on various wargaming media awhile ago, and Shadow Bind has risen to prominence as a big problem since Deneghra2's Body & Soul theme list has started eating hopes and dreams.

Some folks may have expected a change to Denny2; more specifically her theme list. Very few people were expecting a change to Blind (and therefore Gorman). No one was expecting them to change like this.

The net effect of these changes is: colossals/gargantuans are a go! Two of the most potent ways to control the big lugs - with Blind being particularly devastating and available to 5 of the Warmachine factions - are now shakable, which means that they won't negate your colossal for a round.

Before anyone gets too excited, remember that shaking is still a resource drain. Especially in Warmachine. It is much, much better to be able to do anything with a Blinded colossal with 2 Focus than it ever would have been previously, but it is still costing you 1/3 of your potential output that turn. Same thing with Shadow Bind - being able to move is much better than not, but it is still going to slow you down a bit (though now metaphorically instead of literally).

That said, this is still a huge change for colossals and gargantuans (no pun intended) which makes them that much more palatable/viable to play.

Where the rubber is really going to hit the road is going to be with warcasters/warlocks and warbeasts, especially in regards to Deneghra2. Being able to shake Shadow Bind now means that Denenghra2's feat doesn't automatically negate your opponents battlegroup's ability to retaliate, which can range from bad (they claw their way back into scenario, forcing a fight) or really bad (they straight up kill her, since she is at max 14" away from some of them).

My gut reaction - having played precisely zero games using Cryx or Denny2, for what that is worth - is that this change is going to force Denny2 to play more conservatively in general than she's been able to. She'll still be able to go full ham against many Warmachine builds - which either rely on infantry that can still be stuck for a round, or small battlegroups that don't benefit a lot from this change - but she won't be able to feat with the same degree of safety she's been able to so far against a number of Hordes armies, and warcaster/warlocks that can personally threaten her (since they can shake then retaliate, knowing full well she's only 14" away).

I'm not sure what that is going to do to the potency or prevalence of Body & Soul (I don't think it is going anywhere, but it will likely alter what players want to pair it with), but it will be interesting to see.

There are also, unfortunately, some models that get caught in the crossfire of this change in ways range from "finally" to "unfortunate". Both the Coven and the Warwitch Siren make use of Shadow Bind, which kind of sucks for the Coven (who enjoyed some of the random control they could get out of Stygian Abyss) but I'm perfectly happy seeing the Warwitch Siren take a bat to the face (if I had my way, she'd have to take a few more hits before I was done with her, but that is a different conversation entirely).

And, no tale of sadness and woe would be complete without Morghoul2 making an appearance. He can still benefit offensively from Blind (-4 DEF is a big deal), but he now needs to kill/escape afterwards against a beefy target because he's no longer safe against anything that can shake Blind. I don't know how much it affects his game overall, but now he has that going against him. Sorry bud.
Major Victoria Haley (Haley2)Changed Major Haley’s feat so that the Haley player no longer chooses the order of activations for models/units. 
This is the atom bomb of the update. Not just for the kind of change it is - changing a warcaster/warlock's feat is one of the most profound things you can do to them - but because of who that 'caster is. Haley2 is equal parts savior and pain demon incarnate; which form she takes depends entirely on which side of the table she is relative to you.

Rarely has just one sentence meant so much. Removing the second half of Haley2's feat is going to be a radical change, but I think actually mostly for the Haley2 players: the ability to dictate the order of model activation (as well as forcing models affected by the feat to activate before models unaffected by it) coupled with the "must forfeit movement or action" requirement made it very difficult, if not entirely impossible, to mount a reasonable offense under Haley2's feat turn.

Thus, similar to Denny2, it became easier and easier over time to really leverage the gains from her feat turn to absolutely break the back of the opponent's army, all while they just kinda flailed around uselessly. If you haven't heard of the terrible, terrible things Jay Larsen used to do with Haley2, you should really dig up some of the Chain Attack episodes where he goes over his Cygnar tournament games (and tremble a bit as those kinds of turns are still somewhat possible).

Removing the "control activation order" clause of Haley2's feat now allows the opposing player to respond to the best of their abilities, with the caveat that they need to likely forfeit movement or action with their entire army (which is still a big problem for plenty of lists to deal with). At the lowest levels, this allows Haley2's to feel like they still have a chance in the game; in the most extreme cases, Haley2's opponent will be able to retaliate on her feat turn with extreme prejudice (mostly via guns, though Deceleration narrows how many gunlines are truly threatening to her).

There is also a time complication (semi-ironically). Haley2's feat used to be one of the most profound instances of player control switching in the game which could get complicated in a Deathclock environment, and I can imagine it was a pain under timed turns as well.

It goes without saying that this is a power reduction for Haley2. Others more familiar with playing her competitively have already discussed (at length in some cases) about how it changes her match ups, and may have a pretty significant effect on what she is able to now comfortably handle (compared to pre-errata).

This change - coupled with the change to Gorman via Blind's new shakability (that's a word now) - may also force Haley2 players into more specific builds. One of Haley2's greatest strengths used to be the insane amount of control she afforded you, which in turn opened up the types of list you could run with her dramatically.

Now that her profound control has been reduced, it remains to be seen how much that constrains what Haley2 wants and needs in her lists. I've already heard talk of Stormwall returning to her lists (a sentiment I agree with, as an outside observer) which I am overjoyed to hear as a Khador player (please note: this could not be further from the truth). It will be interesting to see what Haley2 lists look like in the next 6 months or so.

There is also a lot to be said about what changing Haley2 does to Cygnar as a competitive force in the meta and the game as a whole. I'll let others who are more familiar with playing that faction speak about it at length, but I will say this: that faction has absolutely been propped up by Haley2 for...a long time.

Taking her down any notches at all hurts the faction overall, but it is necessary for a) the overall health of the game (I am elated to see so many hard control elements toned down, and Haley2 embodied that sort of control) and b) the overall health of the faction. It must be impossible to design things with the albatross of Haley2 hanging around the neck of the faction. Hopefully changes to her can lead to more interesting Cygnar models moving forward. And, maybe just maybe, future errata changes can help bolster up the competitive viability and appeal of some of the Cygnaran middle ground.

The Errata and Khador:
I've prattled on for awhile already so I'll try to keep this brief. This errata is nothing but roses and sunshine for Khador, for a few reasons.

First, and most obvious: no changes to Khador models. No buffs, but also no nerfs. Gorman being changed sort of sucks for any faction that can use him, but Khador didn't really lean on the strong denial he brought to the table the same way Cygnar and Mercs did. Otherwise, it is leveling the playing field a bit, which is only good news for everyone not affected.

Second: Haley2 and Denny2 took some power hits, which may indirectly relieve some of Khador's meta issues. These changes make fighting against those two 'casters easier for everyone, but I don't know that Khador benefits significantly. However, it may still reap the benefits.

Khador has some 'casters that can play into Denny2, and the ability to shake Shadow Bind is interesting in a few places (Butcher3, colossals). However, Khador still runs the kinds of armies that Denny2 can lock down with extreme prejudice (infantry heavy) and can't afford to shake en-masse if you run battlegroup heavy.

Haley2 is still Haley2, who is not a peach to fight against under any stretch of the imagination (old feat or new). The possible return of Stormwall to her list is a big problem in some ways - Khador doesn't like having to deal with that thing in general, let alone with Haley2's ability to dial it up and keep you locked down - and something of a boon in others - Butcher3 doesn't love the control, but does love having one big model to focus on. So I think the change is a boon overall, but I don't know to what degree.

Where I think Khador will benefit the most is how the meta in general may now be able to better handle Denny2 and Haley2, and thus possibly-maybe-hopefully pull them down a notch or two in prominence (or force them to change lists/tactics). Competitively, that would be nothing but good for Khador. The million dollar question is, of course, how much that will actually happen (if at all; maybe all the Denny2 and Haley2 players will just soldier on and continue to make the rest of us terribly sad).

Also, in general, this errata is a significant buff to colossals (since so much generally available control was seriously toned down) and Khador is a faction that can make good use of its (soon to be) two colossals in some lists. Removing some of the most egregious (and easy) ways to negate colossals only makes those lists generally stronger (as you now "just" need to worry about protecting the colossal, and not doing that while also mitigating Black Oil/Shadow Bind/Pistol Wraiths).

Especially since we're all likely to see an increase in the number of colossals/gargantuans that show up in lists, and (to borrow Nigel's observation): Khador colossals are at their best when there is an opposing colossal to punch. The new Warmachine colossals are likely to spark players to try out their new toys, or pair them up with their old colossals (for twice the Huge based fun), and many Hordes players will probably want to get in on the Huge based critter action if the rest of the gargantuans end up at least as good as the Glacier King (which is a far sight better than the Mountain King, even with the errata).

Closing Thoughts:
As much as it sucks to have your stuff nerfed, sometimes you just need to take the hit for the health of the game as a whole. I think that is the case with every one of the "negative" changes in this errata, and while the transition is probably going to be painful for players that make heavy use of those models (especially Cygnar players, who were unfortunately really reliant on Haley2 competitively) I think the long term benefits outweigh the short term negatives.

The hope is that these changes will open up future release possibilities. Blind and Shadow Bind can now be distributed a little more freely as they aren't nearly as devastating as single-model control elements (though there still need to be some limits as those effects are very powerful debuffs, and still devastating to those models that can't shake them). Haley2 being brought down a notch may allow PP to release some design limiters for future Cygnar models, which may in turn alleviate the meta need she fulfilled before.

That is the hope, anyways. PP has a long view of the game that we can't, so even if things are coming down the pipeline it is impossible to say when they'll get here.

Or PP may have just wanted to change these things to make the game overall more pleasant to play. Especially with those $130+ models that turned into essentially really elaborate scenery after being hit by one effect from a few different 2-3 point models. That might of had something to do with it too.

I would sort of love if PP did these kinds of updates every errata cycle (since they release them around twice a year). Not even the nerfs; I'm sure I could come up with a list that would last them awhile, but it sucks to have your stuff toned down so that should be done sparsely. No, what I'd love to see every errata cycle are a few "oh, that's nice" changes to models that are commonly acknowledged to be underwhelming/underperforming/generally bad.

Every faction has a basement made up of these models, and it wouldn't be difficult to elevate some of them with fairly minor tweaks. Even if they aren't actual improvements - the buffs to the Archangel and Mountain King are of debatable overall competitive utility - it is at least an exciting moment to have the model improved, and it is good motivation to get it on the table. So long as it improves the model's fun factor (and doesn't randomly break the game in the process), polishing up some of the bottom-tier models can only be a good thing.

Having said that, I don't think it is likely we'll be seeing changes of this magnitude (including the model buffs) regularly. PP is a company that takes an extremely careful approach to changing existing rules (something that I find frustrating at times, but I understand why that is their stance) and I don't think this wave of model updates is going to herald a change to that policy. I'd sure love to be wrong though.

There have also been whispers that this set of errata changes, taken along with the release of free pdfs of the core rules and discounts on the "Forces of" books, may herald a new edition change or a Mk. 2 Remix.

I think that is certainly feasible. PP is making damn sure to get out it's new Warmachine and Hordes books in the same year this time around, which wouldn't be as remarkable if Reckoning and Domination weren't being released only 4ish months apart. That could be due to any number of unremarkable reasons, but having both major book releases happen in 2015 does leave 2016 awfully open at the outset.

I also think its about time for a Remix. Even if PP does nothing to change the model rules - and there is no reason to believe that a Remix would change a lot, as the Mk. 1 Remix only came with a handful of changes - I think there have been more than enough errata and supplemental rules released since Mk. 2 came out (Battle Engine rules, Colossal/Gargantuan rules, Warcaster/Warlock Unit rules) that it is high time to roll all of those back into the core rulebook with a new sub-edition (one of the main reasons for the Mk. 1 Remix back in the day).

I also wouldn't mind seeing a few irritating core rules issues cleaned up (I seriously don't like how exploitable the command rules are), but more than anything else it'd be great if the core rulebook was finally the "one stop" for all of the main rules you need to know to play the game.

I do think that a Remix/Mk. 3 is inevitable. The rule system of any game is like a bush: if you let it grow without any maintenance, it eventually becomes a complete mess, but if you tend to it too often and too vigorously you'll kill it (or, in this case, the player base). The tricky part is finding that balance. We'll see if PP thinks it is time to break out the clippers or not.

Of all the errata'd things, amusingly the first thing I managed to play against is the Mountain King. I have a short batrep about that (mainly because I forgot to take pictures) that also share some Vlad3 insights that will hopefully be going up soon. I look forward to seeing how the other errata changes pan out over the coming months and how that shapes the competitive meta of WM/H.

Thanks very much for reading!

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