Hello all! Welcome to another exciting rant brought to you by the Grubb’s Grenade. Today I want to talk about one of the big reasons I was first attracted to Warmachine: assassinations. Coming from the bad old days of 40K, I was incredibly interested in the ‘kill this one guy, win the game’ mechanic because it provided a way to win the game even when an opponent was able to kill your dude-mans better then you killed his. A player must keep their caster honest or they lose the game, adding another layer of strategy that was more than just maxing out how well you can destroy your opponent. The power of casters more than made up for the risk, in my mind, and the thrill that you got from killing a caster at some impossible angle was enough to keep me coming back for more. As a result, in my first games of Warmachine I focused heavily on caster assassination. I played Strahkov as an alternate caster in a Journeyman league because I could get a Spriggan on a player from deceptively far away. My play time with the angry elves (Retribution of Scyrah) also saw a lot of emphasis on assassination. There is nothing sweeter than killing a full camp caster on the top of two after feating with Rahn and dragging them through your entire army.
So it is with a heavy heart that I must declare assassination dead in Warmachine.
However, like an 80’s action movie super-villain, news of assassination’s death is greatly exaggerated. Unless D.C. loses his mind (or is abducted by aliens – Ed.) and we see a major change in MKIII, the rules are the same. You can still totally kill a caster and win the game. It happens a lot actually. So what am I talking about when I say that assassination is dead? Assassination is no longer a viable list building methodology. What do I mean by that? There are three ways to build a list: either you win on scenario, attrition, or assassination. Scenario is fairly obvious, you literally win one of the scenarios presented in the Steamroller packet. Attrition used to be a bit trickier to define since you cannot technically ‘win’ by killing a bunch of stuff; you just kill enough to win on scenario or assassination because they have nothing left to contest or defend their caster.
That said, you can still build a list that is designed to grind down the opponent so that they are forced into giving you one of the other two win conditions. The last build is assassination, which contrasts with attrition by focusing on just killing the caster without having to chew through their army first. A great example of an assassination list would be your standard Lylyth 2 with Ravagores. She focuses on the caster and kills them dead. Or at least she used to, but these days a straight assassination-focused list is not a viable option for competitive play. Three things have contributed to the downfall of the assassin.
Too Much Beef
Warmachine & Hordes casters in general are getting harder to kill. The reason for this is split between rules and meta. Privateer Press is consistently making casters that are harder to kill. Take a look at the recent round of releases. Bradigus is damn near impossible to shoot off the table and still pretty meaty against melee attacks. Butcher 3 is built like an armored car that slowly barrels towards you and also sucks you in and hits you with an axe and…ok I lost the metaphor but you get the idea. Going a little further back, most of the CoC casters are extremely hard to assassinate; Lucant is the best example of this. Between high base arm stats, the ability to camp focus, and feats that provide much greater survivability, casters are just not as squishy as they used to be. In fact, of all the Vengeance casters, only Issyria could be called squishy based on her stats. Even then, PP loaded her down with anti-assassination tech (arcane vortex, admonition, velocity, and an argument could be made for blinding light).
The second part of this is the meta. People generally do not take casters that can easily die to assassination. This is always up to the flow of the game, but you do not see much of old man Severius on the table. The final part of this beef puzzle (you’re welcome Wendy’s) is the amount of high ARM troops that people are taking in their lists too. We no longer have weak infantry we can blast through to allow our jack to charge their caster. Instead, we get piles of meat that block line of sight or block charge lanes, making it difficult to get to even the weakest of casters. Seriously, Issyria sitting behind a Hyperion is a nightmare, much less someone like Father Lucant behind a Prime Axiom and shield wall troops. All this combines to make it extremely difficult to kill casters with the available assassination options.
I Heard About This on the Internet
So, back in the day when I was first starting to play Warmachine, I killed people with Strakhov’s feat. I killed a lot of people. It took my gaming crew awhile before they figured out the threat range, all the angles, and how to keep their caster safe from a Spriggan in their face (we were all just starting to learn after all). Once that happened, I couldn’t win a game with Strakhov to save my life. The jig was up: now that everyone knew what to look for, they could easily avoid it. This is what happens with every great assassination list. With the increase in coverage on Warmachine & Hordes, we are seeing not just what lists people are playing, but actual recorded games in which an assassination was accomplished. This allows a wide range of players to learn about various assassination lists before they ever face them on the table, allowing the player to better defend against whatever plan the assassin is trying.
A great example of this is a game I saw of Kaelyssa versus Krueger. Kaelyssa moved up and remained exposed on the top of turn one, getting into position for a good turn two feat. Krueger double ported and shot her to death. I was surprised because I had never seen that happen before. At the time, we did not have an active Circle player in our meta (it’s a small meta) so this was one of the only ways to learn about what Circle could do. Once I’d seen that game and exactly how that threat range worked, I knew that, against Krueger, I do not want to put a squishy caster up front. Armed with this new knowledge, I was able to avoid this assassination in future games. Luckily for most Krueger players, they have other game plans in mind other than just killing the caster, but if you are taking a straight assassination list you might not have another plan. Now, I’m not saying that all assassination lists are ‘gotcha’ lists, but any opponent with good knowledge of your list’s means of attack can sufficiently put up a defense, even if its keeping the caster out of reach. Which leads me to the last reason assassination is dead.
I’ll Just Stay Back Here
As I’ve ranted about before, SR 2014 changed the scenario game in Warmachine & Hordes by making it much harder to win on scenario quickly. Gone are the Haley 2/ Denny 2 feat and win scenarios of old. Instead, we have grueling campaigns that take several turns toachieve victory. One of the side effects of this change is that it is now more viable to keep an army further back without having to worry about straight losing on scenario. The assassin will move up to threat the enemy caster. Before SR 2014, if the caster chose to stay back or keep elements of their army back in order to cover the caster, the assassin would then begin scoring early, possibly dominating for quick CP’s to win the game. With more difficult scenarios in SR 2014, a caster can stay back, refuse the assassination, and still hold on to scenario momentum.
Even kill box is no longer a huge problem for casters seeking a little back table shade. Giving up two scenario points is an easy price to pay if it means you live to continue fighting. A good example of this is your standard Snipe-Feat-Go Ravyn list. Ravyn can still threat a caster from a long distance. Now, however, said threatened caster can stay back. Even if Ravyn moves up to collect some control points, the new rules make it much harder to win in two turns. Meanwhile, the opponent’s army is picking apart Ravyn assassination elements, leaving a shell of an army until there is nothing left to hold the scenario. Not only can the assassin not kill the caster, but they also do not force a scenario win because the opponent refused to engage them, thus making the assassin’s gambit completely void.
With these three elements in place, assassination as a viable list build is dead. With what I have seen of the SR 2015 beta, it’s probably not coming back anytime soon either. Does that mean that assassination itself is dead? Of course not! It just means that you probably should not be building lists that focus only on assassinating a caster as its first and foremost priority. Between all the beef, the spread of information, and the easing of scenario pressure, it is a much better idea to focus on winning the attrition or scenario game and than having an assassination potential as a back-up. That way, you have the ability to win the game even if your opponent knows what your list is all about. Or you might get lucky and, if they’re like me, they’ll forget to move their Aspis next to Vyros and thus let a bunch of Ravagores gun him down.
I hope you enjoyed this rant. Until next time, stay angry!