Friday, September 6, 2013

Self-Inflicted pain - thinking about tiers

Tier lists (or theme forces if you want to use the correct term...) are an interesting thing in Warmachine. The vast majority of tier lists are not exactly game-changing. Most tier lists give you a few small buffs to your force if you take a restricted subset of models for your chosen caster. some of these benefits are pretty worthless, like letting a warbeast cast its animus for free on turn 1. lots of theme forces give +1 to the starting roll, free focus to jacks, extra deployment space or point discounts on specific models.

The price of getting these nice little buffs is that you have to forgo some of the models you may normally have to choose from, and to get to the higher tiers you have to bring specific models or units. Some theme forces are never even considered because of some of these restrictions. For example, what Menoth player would willingly restrict him or herself to not bringing the Choir? Or who wants to bring multiple light artillery models in a single list? On the other hand there are a few theme lists that are quite popular because they let you take all the models you normally would want with a given caster and then add some benefits. the best example of this is eVayl. You almost never see eVayl (even at low point levels) without a tier 4 list. there are a few other popular theme lists like eHaley, pDoomshaper, Borka, eKreoss, eVyros, etc.

Skorne generally doesn't use tier lists very often. the one exception is Rasheth's Chain Gang theme force which seems to be the only way you really see Rasheth played. Of course, Rasheth is the one Skorne warlock I don't like even a little bit (I hate the model, and didn't enjoy the 2 games I proxied or borrowed him), so he's not in the running when I'm thinking about using tiers.

Of course, this isn't the first time I've been looking at theme forces. A while back I wrote an article on using eHexeris where I talked about how much I loved his theme force, Practical Magic. I've had some good success with that list, and enjoy playing it still. I probably still use him in tier about 40-50% of the times I play him, but the releases of the willbreaker and incindiarii have pulled me away from tier a bit.

Even though Skorne doesn't have a whole lot of options in theme force, I still find myself wanting to make some work, especially now that my collection has grown to a point where I can hit some of the tiers a little easier. I've been experimenting with whatever tier lists I could cobble together, even with a few proxies. I tried both of Rasheth's tiers but didn't enjoy them too terribly much. I tried a few variations on Makeda3's tier, one with the animantarax and mammoth, the other with just the mammoth. I realized pretty quickly that an 18 point Mammoth is not at all an even replacement for losing Molik Karn.

So what tiers am I looking at now?

A few weeks ago I got in a game with the good old standby, pMorghoul where I tried out his tier 4 Big Game Hunters list. The big limiting factor for that list has always been needing 2 units of Arcuarii. the recent plastic release of the little harpoon guys has made the tier a little more accessible. I still ended up proxying 2 of the arcuarii in one of the units, but it worked out ok. the tier bonuses are pretty sweet for Morghoul. two extra inches of deployment, cheaper heavies, advanced deploy on the Arcuarii and pathfinder on one turn in case you had to deploy behind some trees or something.

I actually really enjoyed this one. cheaper heavies is a nice bonus, essentially letting you get the 2 min units of Arcuarii for almost the same price as a normal unit of screening infantry for pMorghoul, but with AD and 2" of extra space. they didn't do much offensively, but they were able to jam better than most infantry with their higher armor and 8 boxes. the core of the list can stay pretty standard for Morghoul. The two things I missed were the Krea and the Willbreaker. I've gotten a little too used to having the Willbreaker there to help make up for Morghoul's tiny control radius, and ended up almost losing the game because I had to charge a bronzeback way out of control. luckily I was able to throw something into his caster and didn't need to boost to kill a knocked-down caster. pMorghoul worked just fine before the willbreaker was a thing, so if you can get past that it's actually a workable theme force.

here's a Tier 4 list:

 - Bronzeback Titan
 - Titan Cannoneer
 - Titan Gladiator
 - Cyclops Brute
 - Cyclops Raider
 - Cyclops Shaman
Bloodrunner Master Tormentor
4 Arcuarii
4 Arcuarii
4 paingivers
4 paingivers

The next two theme forces are ones I haven't actually put on the table yet, but am excited about trying out. the first one I have seen variations on in tournament play, and I know it's one that has been gaining some traction in the Skorne community as a viable tier list. The theme list is zaal's theme, the immortal host. Zaal is one of my favorites (probably the top of my list actually), and the theme force gives some neat benefits.

I am only going to be taking the list up to tier 3, since I don't actually want to buy TWO units of immortals (I own 0 immortals right now, I am waiting on one unit to come in the mail right now). the tier 4 bonus is pretty sweet, though, letting the Kovass start the game in play. it's tempting, but I don't think it will happen anytime soon outside of proxy games.

So what does a tier 3 list give you? There's a minor benefit of increasing the Field Allowance for Ancestral Guardians, but I don't see a need to have more than 3 plus Hakaar anyways. a lot of Zaal players don't even bring the third normal AG, but I've found having an extra potential Kovass to be well worth the three points.

Tier 2 gives all of those Ancestral Guardians Advance Deployment, which I think is a pretty handy ability. even if you don't put them all the way out on the AD line, a little extra space can help them keep up with the rest of the army without spending souls, and you can make sure Hakaar gets to line up across from something he can sink his teeth (or giant stone meat cleavers) into. You get this benefit at the low low cost of bringing Hakaar. You weren't playing Zaal without Hakaar were you? I didn't think so.

Tier 3 requires 3 Extoller solos. one of these three is going to be Marketh, and then 2 standard Soulwards. along with my immortals unit I'll be picking up my second soulward for this list. the benefit here is really nice, especially considering the lack of souls that a list with immortals has to contend with. Every Soulward begins the game with 3 soul tokens on it. This will include Marketh, so he can use 3 souls for upkeeps without having to take any from your Guardians. these free souls on the soulwards can either be passed to the AGs if some extra souls are needed on one side of the battle, or can be used to boost some eyeball lasers if you're playing a hordes opponent. either way, 9 free souls is a nice benefit.

So let's talk costs. there are some fairly significant drawbacks to using Zaal's Theme Force. the big one is that there are no paingivers. sure last stand and/or feat can make up for the paingivers, or you can just rely on last standard AGs, Immortals or Hakaar to clear the heavy threats. still, paingivers are hard to do without. the second loss is once again, the Willbreaker is not included. this sin't quite as big a deal here as in Morghoul's list above, but still worth mentioning. a Kovass with last stand and feat usually does the job. if you throw in Puppet Master it just tipped the scales from very favorable to almost impossible to fail against the majority of enemy casters in the game. still worth mentioning.

So to run Zaal tier 3, here's what I'm planning:

 - Kovass
 - Archidon
 - Krea
 - Gladiator
 - Marketh
3 Ancestral Guardians
2 Extoller Soulwards
Hakaar the Destroyer
10 Immortals
10 Swordsmen + UA

Very similar to my standard Zaal list, with immortals instead of nihilators, an extra soulward instead of the willbreaker, and an Archidon instead of the Shaman and paingivers. I might try one with a raider instead of the archidon to make those laser eye beams a bit better, but I'm not sure what to do with the last 2 points. maybe a third soulward? Maybe drop all 3 beasts for a bronzeback, shaman and raider? I don't know, this list will need some testing and experimenting.

And finally I have this crazy theme list I want to try once Despoiler comes out. I'm sure I'm not the only one. I really want to try it out with a proxied Despoiler, but we are currently catching up on the Machinations leagues for the year so I probably won't be proxying models for a while (at least until we have an actual release date for Despoiler...). anyways, I really want to try Mordikaar's theme force. I have gotten pretty negative reactions from other players when I said i was going to try it, because honestly the theme force sounds a bit bad.

The biggest issue is that once again, we're missing paingivers. Zaal doesn't really lack in the hitting power department, and can get away with missing his paingivers. Mordikaar traditionally has trouble with armor already, and removing the paingiver buffs really limits his options against an armor list. It's a fairly serious hurdle, but I think it's one that can be dealt with. Mordikaar is really a good anti-infantry attrition caster anyways, one that you probably aren't going to drop against a heavy armor army like trolls or skorne. i think pairing this theme list with an armor cracker like Makeda, Xerxis or Morghoul will help fill in the weak area.

The Theme force is really about one thing: spamming incorporeal models. you get a free void spirit, advanced deployed incorporeal solos and a bigger deployment zone. it might look a bit zany at first glance, but dang it I'm going to try it:

 - Archidon
 - Krea
 - Gladiator
 - Retile Hound
 - Despoiler
2 Feralgeist
10 Nihilators
10 Swordsmen + UA
3 Void Spirits

The one thing I don't like about this list is the Reptile Hound. the solos you can bring are very limited in this theme force. I'll probably play around with the beast layout a bit. maybe I can drop the reptile hound and archidon for a drake and some brand of cyclops. or maybe a Cannoneer. A Ghost Walk Archidon has done well for me in the past, but might not be worth it without enrage. we'll see. if I keep the reptile hound, he's there as a transfer battery and for a potential 16" run and essence blast that doesn't get in the way of order of activation as much as a unit might.

the cool thing about this list is the number of ghosts that could be running around. going second I can have 3 void spirits and 2 feralgeists sitting 18" into the table before the game begins. against some armies this is pretty minor (like circle), but others have a serious lack of magical weaponry and this list could put some serious pressure on them early. it also has despoiler running around hopefully making several more void spirits during the course of the game. Especially with the prevalence of jamming infantry that we've been seeing. even Cryx uses some nice living jammers in their satyxis, who are just asking to be made into void spirits. boosted attack rolls on void spirits rarely comes up with a single spirit. I've been playing with 2 and it's been a really nice little boost. playing with 3-5 of them on the table is going to be much better, IMO. I guess we'll have to see how it plays out. I think it will be fun if nothing else!

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