Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thunderhorse - Vlad3 Thoughts and Theory

There is an affliction I have with Khador. Every three to six months, regardless of what I'm working on or playing, Vlad creeps onto the edges of my thoughts and will not leave.

The best way to exorcise this malady is to get into the dojo and come up with a list or two, then slap it down on the table.  The downside to this is that it throws off anything else I'm working with or on. The upside, however, is that I get to dojo and play Vlad which is always fun.

Vlad3 is the specific incarnation that has been bouncing around my head this time, so join me after the break for thoughts and theory about Khador's resident Horselord.

My Three Vlads
I really like all of Vlad's iterations. My affection for each version roughly follows when they showed up.

Vlad1 is a fantastic army buffer with great personal capabilities, but he is pretty boring to play turn-by-turn. I also have issues building lists for him that don't end up being gunline-y. That isn't necessarily a bad thing - Vlad1 runs a helluva gunline and it is one of the best spots for a Conquest - but I never manage to actually get him on the table because of it.

Part of that is because Vlad2 and Vlad3 are much more exciting. Both of them run similar games - badass melee infantry dialed up with either feat or Dash + Hand of Fate (HoF) and backed up by Vlad's personal capabilities - which is also why I have issues making lists for both of them.

If you ask me randomly, most of the time I'll say I like Vlad2 more than Vlad3. The allure of his explosive feat is irresistible - I always want to live the dream with one of the various ideal targets for it - and the general utility of his spell list always makes him more fun to use on the table than I think he will be.

The tricky part is that it is a pretty even heat between Vlad2 and Vlad3 for me. Vlad3 doesn't have the same high-end damage potential, but Dash is a fantastic spell across Khador's infantry, Wind Wall is a great defensive mechanic (except when it isn't, but then he's still 15/17 base), his warjack buff is (IMO) better, and he still has HoF.

There are two things that keep me coming back to Vlad3. The first - and something I'll be coming back to - is how much more involved he can be in the fight thanks to his abilities and stats. The second reason is much more straightforward and it is...

No Time For Horsing Around
...that Vlad3 came out at a really wonky time for me. And everyone, probably.

Vlad3 was half of the releases in Warmachine: Colossals, and this did a few things to Vlad3's debut:

  1. Stormwall dropped on the meta like an atom bomb and left all melee based infantry armies reeling for a solution. Khador was arguably hit hardest by that transition (already having issues with Cygnar gunlines), and although I've heard decent things about Vlad3 into that fight, he wasn't enough of a silver bullet in order to jump to the head of the line (see Butcher3's reception for what that would have looked like).
  2. Conquest also came along, and it was a very interesting time to revisit all of Khador's 'casters with the big guy. Especially in light of trying to find a "Stormwall solution". Vlad3 unfortunately doesn't play especially well with Conquest (though it is a fun inclusion in the theme list as a big 'ol armor jam), so he fell down the priority list for me there.
  3. Vlad3 is a little wonky. His spell list isn't stand-out enough to really make you jump up and say "hot damn I can't wait to try that!", he has enough overlap with his other two incarnations that makes him get lost in mix, and his feat can easily seduce you into making a wonky army list (that is still compelling enough to put on the table and feed to the wolves).
So, why am I so interested in revisiting Vlad3?

Time To Ride
Vlad3 hasn't changed in the years since his release - he hasn't been on the receiving end of a random errata or zonkers theme list - but a few things have changed around him that make it interesting to cycle back to the Great Prince of Umbrey.

First: there have been a few releases that seem like they'd be fun to use with Vlad3. Malakov makes for a great way to add a second warjack into a list, and Vlad3 can actually protect him between Wind Wall and being a tough target for him to pawn low damage shots onto. In exchange, Vlad3 picks up another possibly decent feat model (Malakov's warjack) that also runs independently of Vlad3 and can actually do some damage.

Ruin has also emerged as not just a top notch melee warjack, but also an extremely fun potential feat model with Vlad3. Any of the Butchers are fantastic places to run Ruin, but Vlad3 is right behind them in terms of efficacy and fun factor.

Valachev also makes for a very interesting choice under Vlad3, giving you a Merc unit that can pick up HoF and Dash. This can be fantastic on Nyss (doubly so as Dash makes it even easier to extricate them from melee) and it can also be remarkably nice on Tactical Arcanist Corps (TAC). A 25% SPD buff makes a big difference in where the TAC can position for their smoke wall (which Vlad3 appreciates as a hiding spot) and HoF is great on them if you can get a charge/some juicy shots off.

Second: the meta hasn't necessarily gotten better for Vlad3 (it has honestly probably gotten worse if I really sat down and thought about it), but the game has diversified enough to where I feel better about Vlad3 in the overall state of the game. Or, probably more accurately, I feel better about dealing with colossals in general (not great, but better) so I feel a lot more comfortable slotting Vlad3 into the match ups he is "supposed" to go into.

Third: Steamroller (SR) has continued to significantly reward aggressive 'casters and armies that are able to quickly clear and claim scenario zones. One of Vlad3's greatest virtues is how fast he can be (especially on feat turn) and how well he can clear out chaff (anything above that, not so much), making him a fantastic scenario 'caster. Even though he doesn't actually do any of the traditional "scenario 'caster" things (deny movement, slow the the enemy down, move the enemy, etc).

Finally: I've gained a greater appreciation for Vlad3's capabilities thanks to Butcher3.

From Mulcher To Weed Whacker
I know, I didn't understand that thought when I had it either. Let me elaborate.

As I just mentioned, SR currently greatly rewards those 'casters (or players, at least) that are able to be bold and get into the mix. Domination plays set up 2-turn wins, comfortable 3-turn wins, or clutch out games when you've been able to otherwise eke out 3 CPs. So being able to quickly get a 'caster into a zone and Dominate it is a big boon.

Butcher3 actually plays a very strong scenario game for this reason. He is a terrifying assassin if he can get a hold of the enemy 'caster, but even with all of his movement shenanigans you can't ever rely on being able to get that chance. Instead, Butcher3 can turn all of that hatemurder towards a scenario zone, clearing it out with extreme prejudice and probably being still a huge pain to remove after doing so.

The most consistent downside I've experienced with that approach using Butcher3 is that he is sort of pokey; SPD 5 base means that he is extremely reliant on Energizer and Vengeance (with a Madelyn assist if she is around) to get anywhere quickly while still being able to make attacks. Impending Doom helps a lot, but it is also very easy to get yourself into your ideal position, only to realize that you have a whopping 1 focus left for Flashing Blade attacks (pre-feat).

Vlad3 trades out Butcher3's hitting power for significantly higher mobility. Vlad3 is as fast as Energizer'ing Butcher3 at base, and can be 1 SPD higher overall with Dash. Vlad3 becomes significantly more mobile on his feat turn, picking up 2-3 Side Steps (depending on if he charges) and Sprint (which can go a long way towards keeping him safe after threshing some enemies).

Blood Quenched can also gives you "camping Butcher" durability moments (bonus: the Blood Quenched bonus cannot be stripped or ignored) with the significant downside that you're only going to get it against living infantry (making it rather situational).

Lastly, Vlad3 has some extra fun thanks to being a cavalry model. Ride-by attacks allow him to buff and shuffle into safe positions very easily (making HoF cycling a great idea) and gives him some slippery tactics even on non-feat turns. Being cavalry also gives him impact attacks, an extra initial attack sometimes, and Tall In The Saddle, which makes for some really fun Flashing Blade moments.

For all those reasons, I'm much more interested in playing Vlad3 now than I have ever been.

List Time!
So, having said all of that, I haven't dojoed up a ton of lists with Vlad3. I've only had him on the brain for a couple of weeks, and he's been fighting for RAM with my newly painted Zerkova2 model.

The first list is sort of a "baseline" list, intended to get Vlad3 on the table with models I think will be good-to-great with him, and then let me refine the list from there (my usual approach):

Vlad3, Starter:
Vladimir Tzepesci, Great Prince of Umbrey - WJ: +5
- Ruin - PC: 10

Iron Fang Kovnik - PC: 2
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution - PC: 3
Ragman - PC: 2

Greylord Outriders - Leader & 4 Grunts: 9
Iron Fang Pikemen - Leader & 9 Grunts: 8
- Iron Fang Officer & Standard - Iron Fang Officer & Standard 2
Kayazy Assassins - Leader & 9 Grunts: 8
- Kayazy Assassin Underboss - Underboss 2
Widowmakers - Leader & 3 Grunts: 4
Great Bears of Gallowswood - Volkov, Kolsk, Yarovich: 5

Nothing remarkable about the list, other than I am 100% certain that Ruin will freak out Ragman and/or the Assassins at a key juncture and make me very sad. The Assassins could easily become another unit of Black Dragon Iron Fang Pikemen, but I still do not want to buy and store a second unit of them (even with the sexy, sexy new plastics) so I'm sticking with the only other 10 model melee unit I own. 

It would also be easy to shenanigan points around and turn them into Nyss + Valachev, so the list already has at least one other strong option on deck.

The other list is one that I'm not really settled on, but all variations boil down to some combination of "Vlad3 w/cool melee warjack + Malakov w/cool melee warjack". The most recent one I have in WarRoom is:

Vlad3 + Malakov:
Vladimir Tzepesci, Great Prince of Umbrey - WJ: +5
- War Dog
- Beast 09 - PC: 11

Kovnik Andrei Malakov - PC: 3
- Ruin - PC: 10
Iron Fang Kovnik - PC: 2

Greylord Outriders - Leader & 4 Grunts: 9
Iron Fang Pikemen - Leader & 9 Grunts: 8
- Iron Fang Officer & Standard - Iron Fang Officer & Standard 2
Widowmakers - Leader & 3 Grunts: 4

Great Bears of Gallowswood - Volkov, Kolsk, Yarovich: 5

This list is actually kind of clunky as hell - I realized when I brought it up that I made it before Ruin was even a thing - but the core idea is there. I like the archetype of this list because it feels like a Vlad3 list that actually has quite a bit of hitting power (something I'm not always confident in). I'm sure there are many changes I'd want to make to this list, but I want to put it on the table before tinkering with it too much.

Riding To the Future
One of the biggest issues I have with both of those lists is that they suck up all kinds of characters I'd probably want elsewhere. Which characters depends on who I'd pair him up with - Butcher3 and Sorscha2 actually seem like fine choices, and there are several others I'd be interested in kicking around - but I also feel like I can come up with versions of either style of list that would make Vlad3 decent in an SR pairing.

That said, I sure would love to have some of the "TBD" models for Vlad3 - the Grolar and Rager seem like stand out choices - but he is not alone in that regard. Its actually probably easier to list the 'casters that aren't waiting at the Korsk factories with IOUs at this point. But I digress.

I'm very excited to play more Vlad3. I have no delusions about him being a meta-rocking powerhouse, but I do think he'll be a lot of fun to play and decently effective besides. I've had him languishing in the case for far too long so its high time he got a chance to ride around and carve some foos up.

If anyone out there has some Vlad3 insights or experiences, I'd love to hear about it! And as always, thanks very much for reading!

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