Tuesday, April 19, 2016
All New War - Khador Thoughts
With all of the talk of the new edition announcement and what some of the major changes may mean out of the way, I can finally get to the most important topic: how does all of this relate to meeeeeeeeee?
Seriously though, as much as I'd like to go through each faction and hit the highs, lows, and what might/should change, that would take more time than I may have ever had (and is certainly well above what I could pull off now). So I'm just going to focus on the one faction that is weighing heaviest on my mind: those chilly, nationalistic Khards that everyone loves to explode by the dozen.
What follows will be my thoughts and hopes for how the faction will improve in the next edition of Warmachine. I'll refrain from any armchair design as best I can, but I might go nuts and do an entry-by-entry quick review. We'll see how it goes!
Khador In Warmachine: Mk. 2
I've often thought of Khador as "the B faction". Give or take a few stand outs (most of which were introduced relatively recently, like Butcher3), the faction is very average or above average. Not necessarily in terms of raw stats; more in terms of power and efficacy. This is also excluding the entries that are on the bottom end of the curve (Bombardiers, terrible through literally all of Mk. 2).
That "B" level status can be very good. It gives Khador players a fair amount of flexibility in the lists they build - lots of warcasters, solos, and unit choices are reasonably effective and even competitive, so you can have a lot of fun just throwing together different list ideas.
That "B" level status can also be very bad. Trying to come up with solutions to "A+" caliber problems when you only have "B" level solutions can be very daunting and frustrating - i.e. dealing with Stormwall pre-Butcher3, or dealing with Haley2's Stormwall in general - and unfortunately dramatically limits the number of viable list choices and configurations you have.
What you end up with is a faction with all of the downsides of a really lopsided faction - ex. Haley2 propping up Cygnar by being so amazing - without any of the upsides of raw power (Butcher3 is no Haley2 or Gaspy2). That theoretical flexibility doesn't come up often enough to be a boon, and what you are more likely to notice is that you are butting up against a few other strong options while you have a wide bench of "okay" answers (when "okay" probably doesn't cut it).
This issue is exacerbated by several factors:
1) The way releases have shaken out over the course of Mk. 2 has done little to change the way Khador builds lists: minimal number of warjacks (frequently one, though sometimes one very large one), loads of single wound infantry. There are some breaks from that archetype, but they are usually rare and still somewhat janky (Butcher3 + multiple heavies) or haven't been possible in competitive play due to unreleased models (anything involving Ragers and Victors).
2) The metagame has continued to be fairly harsh against single wound infantry. The volume of anti-infantry tech hasn't necessarily changed after it peaked in early Mk. 2, but it has continuously evolved to be very robust and hard to really plan for/work around (blast damage, highly accurate ranged attacks, auto-hitting attacks, continuous effects on hit, damaging placeable templates). I
3) Warmachine and Hordes are games where the line between competitive play and casual play is very, very thin. There is a lot of cross pollination of competitive list construction and ideals into casual play. This can make it difficult to play Khador in an environment where you aren't running into the same meta and match up issues over and over.
By what we can now look at as close to the end of Mk. 2, Khador lists didn't change a whole lot from where they started. The specific infantry shuffled around, and most lists pared down their warjacks to one character/colossal/token warjack, but by and large the lists were the same.
This isn't a phenomenon unique to Khador (its why a lot of factions should be really excited for the shake up, particularly on the Warmachine side) and it wouldn't even have been that much of an issue had the game not grown to become more and more harsh on single wound infantry, and eventually just plain harsh as players sought solutions to things like box-spam lists and ARM buffed colossals.
Take those two things together, along with the general "B" feeling, and playing Khador typically boils down to running one of a few choice list archetypes, all of which are either less effective than they used to be (any infantry based list) or still have notable gameplay holes that keep you from running rampant (Butcher3, which for the record was the right way to design him).
Khador in Mk. 2 is a roller coaster of highs and lows. It can be very easy to wear yourself out just trying to miracle up ways to keep pace with the metagame flow, and you'll drive yourself absolutely crazy trying to solve certain problems (any of the apex 'casters are a frustrating riddle, but that is probably more the fault of their balance than anything else). It has been the faction I couldn't imagine not playing, and the faction I couldn't imagine continuing to play.
Khador in the Next Edition
So, what will it take to turn Khador around in the next edition? Honestly, not a lot.
I'd sum up the list as:
1) Get Khadoran warjacks on the table.
2) Increase the breadth of effective unit choices, especially the Man-o-War units to diversify the relative toughness of taking infantry in faction.
3) Increase the breadth of effective warcaster choices, most importantly with 'casters that are meant to function as battlegroup oriented or control effect oriented 'casters (adding much needed meta threat diversity).
Even just with the little we know about the next edition, there is already a fair bit of hope that these things will happen:
#1: Warjacks in general have been a lackluster choice due to relative frailty, inefficiency, and lack of flexibility. Khadoran warjacks compound those problems by also being relatively expensive compared to their output, making all but the absolute best of them a very dubious way to spend your points.
PP seems to have finally really grasped how much of a resource drain warjacks are and is taking steps at a core rule level to alleviate the issue. System wide model rebalancing along with a more granular point scale allows for Khadoran warjacks to get the revision they so desperately need (both in terms of cost and efficacy). The increase in warjack points allows for more warjacks on the table right out of the gate; based on that Battlegroup Box configuration, it looks like it will be pretty easy to start every list with at least 2 warjacks, while still having 75 points to work with.
A revision of colossals will also hopefully a) make Khador's colossals more effective and useful, and b) make some of the opposing colossals not as meta bending. Failing 'b', the relative increase in colossal cost should also make it more devastating for you opponent if you take out their colossal, while also giving you lots of resources to dogpile onto it (since you'll start with 2 heavies and can build up from there). General rules revision plus Power-Up can, and hopefully will, make it as enticing to run multiple heavies over Conquest/Victor.
#2: Hopefully (there will be a lot of that word) addressed as part of the model rebalancing. Khador has some really solid workhorse units, but can't really lean on anything else due to the meta issues they run into, so most lists boil down to the same 3-4 unit entries showing up again and again. Making more units effective/competitive/desirable increases list diversity and can help tremendously with meta concerns.
#3: Addressed at two ends (again, hopefully) by the model rebalancing. Some of Khador's most potentially valuable 'casters - Karchev and Harkevich, who allow for warjack centric lists, and Zerkova1 and Old Witch, which bring control elements to the table - are saddled with some unfortunate rules. Polishing up the rules for these 'casters will help out the faction as a whole, and they will also become more viable/effective if the rest of the 'casters/'locks in the game are balanced out.
Core mechanic changes can also help out here. Power Up will be a big help for anyone wanting to run a big battlegroup of warjacks. Power Up along with increased WJP (as well as tweaks to warjack costs) will help out those that need to bring warjacks to have a heavy lifting component (Zerkova1 and Old Witch). Getting two "free" heavies that can run and charge without any allocated Focus goes a long way to making those models less of a burden, and a much more desirable late game anchor.
My gut reaction is that Khador has a lot to gain from the next edition. The ability to put more warjacks into lists and run them with no focus output will add a much needed quantity of durability to Khador lists (even if they're just loitering around being scenario/late game models). Rebalancing of units can finally let Khador players put MoW on the table with confidence, also altering the dynamic of what lists opponents can expect. And any change from the relatively new status quo of Butcher3 + someone (more out of necessity than anything else) will be a huge improvement for competitive Khador play and also trickle down to casual play.
Model Improvements in the New Edition
I started to tackle this topic entry by entry, but it became clear that I was saying the same thing over and over for each relative category. So in lieu of going entry-by-entry, I'm going to hit the broad categories - warcasters, warjacks, units, solos, and the huge bases - and get specific where necessary.
- Power Up is going to be a remarkable improvement for Khador 'casters across the board. Khador warjacks are mostly supplemental models that kick in around mid/late game. They're great to have around before then for scenarios and relative durability, but they're a Focus leech until then (when they're usually just running around to stay relevant). Power Up will supplement that aggressive loitering and their eventual charges.
- More WJP will be another big boon for Khador's 'casters. Again, warjacks are more supplemental in Khador, so having plenty of WJP to throw at your battlegroup makes it that much easier to field a decent size battlegroup. Based off the Battlegroup Box, we're probably looking at a 2 warjack minimum, and I could totally see being able to field 3 cheap warjacks for "free". That is a big shift from the current state of the game where 'casters that need warjacks for heavy lifting still struggle to afford to bring more than one or two.
- Butcher3 is the 'caster I'd most expect to get a power reduction. That said, I don't necessarily think that he will (he is strong but has a lot of counters) and if he does I don't think it will be a massive change (probably dialing down threat ranges, which is something I could see happening across all of the armies).
- Harkevich, Karchev, Strakov, and Zerkova1 have a golden opportunity for redemption. Harkevich and Karchev actually may end up relatively fine with everything changing around them (Power Up is a big upgrade and warjacks getting revised will make their game plan better). Strakov and Zerkova could use some rule revisions, and this is the time for them.
- Vlad2 is an old favorite of mine and he was in a weird state throughout pretty much all of Mk. 2. He might end up in a good spot after revisions to Khador's units and solos (plus Power Up and more WJP will help give him more late game), but failing that a revision to his feat is probably in order (the rest of his kit is pretty great).
- One of the biggest things I hope changes is that Khador's warjacks end up costed more appropriately. Almost every Khador warjack feels a point overcosted in Mk. 2 (I've heard this sentiment from other factions, so it may just be a general warjack problem) so a relative cost rebalancing in the new edition would be a big help. The informed speculation that a Juggernaut will be 12 points in the new system indicates that may be the case (making it roughly 6 points in the current system).
- Power Up alone will be a huge improvement for the Khadoran battlegroup (this will probably translate across all factions, but I can only speak for what I play). Khador warjacks typically drain around 1 Focus a turn until the mid/late game, either running around to stay in position, or making one attack (ranged or special). Part of the problem with bringing any number of warjacks in Mk. 2 is that it really sucks to try and fuel even that minor Focus drain while also doing what you really need to be doing with a 'caster.
Power Up does a lot to alleviate that issue (making it trivial to run a decently large battlegroup into the mid game) and it also will help a lot when it comes time to charge in; a Focus 6 warcaster with Power Up will be able to send in 3 fully loaded heavies under the new system, compared to 2 currently.
- Both clamjacks (Demolisher, Devastator) will probably be very useful in the new edition. They only want 1 Focus for the majority of the game and are often very valuable scenario models thanks to their high ARM, Bulldoze, and revised ability to Slam/Trample without opening up. Power Up will remove the normal drain they'd have on 'caster resources (or desire to bring Power Booster for them) and a relative point change along with more WJP will hopefully make them easier to fit into lists.
- The Kodiak and Marauder are the two warjacks I'm probably most excited for a revision on. The Marauder might end up saved by a lower cost and Power Up, though I'd love to see it get at least a little bit of a power boost. The Kodiak, however, has been without much of a purpose for most of Mk. 2 and could use some solid boosts to make it more desirable. It is a crying shame that such a (new) awesome model has such tepid rules.
- Assault Kommandos (AKs) are one of the units that were consistently discussed in Mk. 2 (mostly "how do we make them good/work/whatever?") and for good reason. AKs started off Mk. 2 with two rare traits (especially at the time): they had innate immunity to two different damage types, and they had two initial melee attacks (along with a ranged attack). My theory is that this combination of abilities threw off something in the evaluation process, because the AKs ended up being depressingly ineffective.
They really need something to bump them up to being a decently reliable unit. Since they seem to be more of an anti-infantry unit, I'd expect that bump to come in the form of an accuracy increase. Whatever it is, they definitely need something, and this is the time. It would be nice to be able to bring along flamethrowers without feeling like I have to pay 5-8 points of escort.
- Winter Guard as a whole may see some changes. I actually think the Winter Guard Infantry (WGI) are fine, but I would expect the total package to end up proportionately more expensive in the new edition. The Rifle Corps always suffered from being sort of redundant with WGI/Nyss as an option so I'd love to see them get something that would really set them apart.
And I'll be completely stunned if Grigorovich doesn't change somehow. My guess would be to a change to For the Motherland; that buff is currently bananas when you think about it. Winter Guard of any variety would still be great if it was changed to be effectively something like Deadeye, and it'd be much more in line with what a buffing solo should be doing. Or they could just make him way more expensive, but that doesn't necessarily solve the problem of the buff being too powerful.
- Iron Fang Pikemen are solid as is, so I don't expect any changes to them except a possible slight point shift either way (hard to say where anyone will end up in the new edition). The Black Dragon UA is probably not going to change much, although we'll see what happens with Fearless in the new edition (along with Standards in general). Their normal UA though is absolutely due for a revision. It doesn't compare that favorably to the Black Dragon UA, and wasn't that great of a UA before there was an alternative. We'll see what, if anything, changes with it.
- Greylord Ternion are due for some kind of change. Either give them wounds (a popular suggestion), or make them nice and cheap so they can be a supplemental unit. The suite of spells they bring to the table is extremely useful in Khador (especially if you want to sneak in more warjacks) but they currently sit at a funky intersection where they're really good, but still too expensive and squishy to take with confidence. And since I'm wishing, I'd love for Blizzard to be a bit more reliable source of cloud generation; just have it stick around for the rest of the round after the model it is on dies.
- Iron Fang Uhlans are, like warjacks, one of those potential sources of anti-heavy tech that didn't really work out well in Mk. 2. Cavalry in general were pretty heavily dialed back in Mk. 2, mostly due to how overwhelming they were in Mk. 1. I'd like to think that PP learned a lot across this edition when it comes to cavalry; the Bane Riders turned out quite well (solid, useful models that didn't overtake every list). Uhlans would probably be fine with even a relative point decrease, but I damn sure won't complain if they get a shot in the arm.
- Man-O-War of all stripes are going to be the first set of units that every Khador player looks at in the new edition, and there is no way PP isn't aware of that if they have been watching player discussion (as they claim to). If every other Khador unit turns out to be hot garbage in the new edition, I'd still expect the MoW to turn out well, just because they have so many expectations riding on them.
A new edition was the only thing that was ever going to save them. All MoW units have price issues in Mk. 2, but they each also have functional issues that can't really be solved without tinkering with each unit individually. I'd expect MoW to remain relatively the same cost in the new edition, but be brought up to snuff. I feel like PP learned a valuable lesson with the original incarnation of Warders - cheap multi-wound infantry can run amok if you don't otherwise significantly limit them. I'd rather have expensive, awesome MoW than cheap, relatively boring MoW. But in any case I'll just be happy if I want to put them on the table more often in the new edition.
- Mechaniks will probably be more valuable than ever, if we're bringing a minimum of 2 heavies to every game. Plus now they apparently don't need to make a Skill Check in order to Repair, so Khador warjacks may end up with a weird form of durability (assuming Mechaniks don't change at the unit level). I'd also love for their UA to not feel so...vestigial? Janky? Just better.
- I have no idea what to do with Kossites. I feel like the game shifted away from Ambush models being truly effective (more dense and more centrally oriented), but some stat buffs damn sure wouldn't hurt.
- Doom Reavers are another fairly iconic Khador unit, and one of the few actual sources of mass Weaponmaster, so I always found it to be a shame that they end up being such a niche unit (outside of Mad Dogs of War). I'm not sure what they could do about that, but I'm interested to see what they'll look like in the new edition in general. And damn would I love to want to take their UA.
- The Koldun Lord will probably be surprisingly different in the new edition, even if they don't work on him specifically. I'd expect that Power Booster gets some sort of adjustment in light of Power Up (new ability entirely, stacks with existing Focus, etc,) and word on the street is that 'Jack Marshals will be updated as well. So even if the design or rules structure of the Koldun Lord doesn't change, he may be notably different in the next edition as everything changes around him. Plus, FA: 2 please.
- Yuri and the Manhunter pair was one of my favorite modules, but it didn't last very long into Mk. 2. I'm not sure what, if anything, can be done for pure combat solos, but at the very least Yuri could use a relative point decrease.
- Markov is a very weird solo. I've used him a fair number of times, and while I've never been excited to use him, I've also never really been disappointed in him. I think this is a model that will benefit significantly from having a more granular point scale, and I'd love if Warhead didn't have a somewhat frustrating interaction with Vlad3's feat (one place where Markov should shine).
- Fenris and the Drakun are in a similar boat. Not bad, but they still feel a touch off for their cost. Having a wider range of costs to work with will probably see these solos ending up in a great intersection of cost and rules.
- Like the MoW units, the MoW Kovnik is a model that everyone is going to skip straight to in order to gauge how effective the model revision has been. What is interesting about the Kovnik is that there is another MoW solo coming (based on the teaser/spoiler art from awhile ago), so it will be interesting to see what the roles of each solo are. I'd imagine that the Kovnik will maintain his role as a 'Jack Marshal/combat solo - while hopefully getting a lot better at it - and the new Kovnik can be more support oriented. Or maybe they'll split support between the two. It will be very interesting to see how it shakes out.
- I have the same experiences with the Widowmaker Marksman as I do with Markov: I'm never excited to take it, but I usually don't regret bringing it in a list. I do think the Marksman is a strong example of early Mk. 2 design: nothing special about it other than the combination of existing rules grafted together on it. I'd love to see it have just a touch more personality.
- Few of the initial set of Battle Engines were that good to begin with, and none of them survived the smoking crater that colossals left on the metagame when they showed up. And the Gun Carriage wasn't looking too hot before that, so it has a long way to go to find redemption in the new edition. I seriously hope PP put emphasis on retooling all of the original BEs. They're still awesome models and it was a really neat idea at the time, though I have no idea what they'll do to bring the Gun Carriage back from the brink. Lower costs would help, or a general offensive re-tooling.
- I expect good things out of Conquest in the new edition. It is one of the more maligned colossals in the current edition of the game (even with how much I've used it, it still disappoints me more than not), but more so than that it is also the colossal that PP staffers have been naming explicitly so far when talking about the new edition. Conquest ended up at a crossroads of conservative rules and a relatively high cost, so I have a lot of faith that it will end up in a better place in the new edition. It can't get a whole lot worse (POW 5 Creeping Barrage rofl).
- The Victor now belongs to that elite club of models that were never released during their original edition. Unlike a lot of those models however, Victor ran into some crazy production problems (along with all the other colossals); I'm sure they would have loved to have sold us Victors a year or so ago. Considering that Victor was made during the time when PP was probably well into development of the new edition, I actually don't expect it to change a bunch. I'm sure it'll see some changes (all the colossals probably will in an effort to beef them up to their new point totals) but Victor would should still be mostly the same.
Also, bonus points to PP for proving that the Victor model is real and presumably forthcoming by sneaking a fully painted one into the new edition announcement trailer:
Small Splashes Make Big Waves
I am always impressed when minor changes ripple out to significant effect. Even with the little of what we know so far about the next edition - and with what we know still being fairly amorphous - it is already possible to start to see the possibility for really significant changes in how Khador approaches the game.
An increase in WJP/WBP will be a boon for everyone, but specifically for Khador it will make it that much easier to bring along 2-3 heavies that normally get left behind (since they usually serve late game/supplementary roles). That is a dramatic change from the current list building paradigm (at least for competition oriented lists).
Power Up will likewise be a big change for everyone, Khador included. For as much as Khador players like to complain about being Focus-strapped, the truth is that most factions and 'casters are in the same boat: they all have things they'd rather/need to be using that Focus for than essentially babysitting warjacks (i.e. having them run, boost random attacks, use special abilities that require Focus). Everyone can force themselves to knuckle down and find the 3 Focus to fully fuel a warjack that is about to go into combat because, at least in theory, that is a good return on investment (I find it frustratingly often isn't, but that's a different issue). It is the slow bleed of Focus for little things - running chief among them - that usually forces players to keep paring down their battlegroups to the absolute bare minimum (or supplement them with more support, which is a compromise in a different direction).
Power Up means that, bare minimum, my warjacks can always run, charge, Power Attack, or boost a ranged attack every turn. That is a huge boost to most warjacks, and to Khador warjacks specifically as most of them spend a majority of the game running around to stay in relevant positions (or bully the table), or take pot shots with their ranged weapons (this is much more rare due to the very high costs and low RAT on Khador battlegroup guns). Power Up makes it much more likely for me to bring a larger number of warjacks (2-3 for Khador, though I can see lists with more having potential with some 'casters) because they will be much less of a turn-by-turn resource drain.
Power Up also helps out a lot when considering consolidated battlegroup offensive turns. In the current system, a FOC 6 warcaster can barely fully fuel two warjacks for melee combat, and is dropping absolutely everything else they're doing with their Focus in order to do so. With Power Up, that same FOC 6 warcaster can now fully fuel three warjacks on a big push turn (at the cost of all it's Focus), or it can fully fuel those same two warjacks from before and still have 2 Focus left to upkeep spells, cast a buff spell, or just camp with their fingers crossed. That is a remarkable increase in battlegroup output, and hopefully another thing that will make larger warjack battlegroups more effective.
Although we need to see the full scope and form of the new edition changes to really appreciate it all, I am already tremendously excited for what Khador could do in the new edition. I was already sold when they mentioned the full model rebalancing; the other changes have just been icing on the cake. I greatly look forward to whatever other tidbits we get between now and June 12th, and I'll be refreshing War Room and various forums like a mad man on that day to see all the new info.
The future is looking bright. And cold. Until next time, thanks for reading!