The Modern Major-Mercenary – Ash
“We lived in the shadows as soldiers of the night, but our lives were not dark and martial…” – Jean-Pierre Levy
Picking up from my last rambling cogitation, we’re looking at the effects of Wrath on the stable of older mercenary warcasters. Specifically: how our pre-Wrath ‘casters have changed now that we’re getting the actual Wrath models to play with and theorymachine is beginning to give way to actual tabletop experience, and what new ways of playing have opened up as a result.
Today, we’re looking at Ashlynn D’Elyse, the flower of the Llaelese Resistance. As before, for those unfamiliar with Ashlynn, I point you in the direction of her Battle College entry, with the caution that Battle College’s commentary beyond their summary of model abilities is generally best taken with a rather substantial grain of salt.
At this point, though, the article warrants a disclaimer: I’m not yet as familiar with Ashlynn (who, for brevity, will henceforth be referred to as Ash) as I’d like to be. I certainly have some games with her under my belt, but there’ll still be a bit of theorymachine here that’s not yet fully backed by play experience – which I will try and make note of, when it’s particularly egregious. Fairly warned, be ye, says I!
So with that in mind, let’s start by discussing why I never found myself really wanting to play Ash before the release of Wrath.
Pre-Wrath Ash; a Surfeit of Shortcomings (…Sort of)
In the days and months following the release of MKII and then the Mercenary forces book, I often found myself looking in Ash’s direction, hoping to maybe glean some insight that would convince me to start playing her. Every time, though, I came away with the same thing; a cavalcade of “well, that’s pretty good, but…” impressions. She has always seemed to have a great deal of potential, most of which is just slightly too curtailed by some inherent limitation.
Let’s start with her spell list. Make no mistake; there’s gold in them thar spells. But before the arrival of Wrath, really digging your way down to it was easier said than done;
- Quicken, for example, is an excellent spell with a myriad of uses in almost any game, from defending Ash personally to extending the threat range and longevity of just about any unit in your list… but, as good as it is, it’s also a COST 3 spell that you will frequently want to hot-swap once you’ve delivered your initial unit into melee.
- Admonition is a great defensive spell that will have your opponents tearing their hair out under the right circumstances… but it’s another drain on Ashlynn’s sharply limited focus that keeps her from using her other spells as effectively as she wants to.
- Distract is outright amazing, arguably one of the best debuffs in the game, synergising perfectly with her feat in particular by making it even harder for opponents to hit you in melee, and stripping all offensive ability from ranged units that might have been able to back up outside Ash’s CTRL to shoot… but Ash’s FOC 6 means your accuracy outside of the feat turn is less than reliable and, more importantly, it has a cripplingly short RNG of only 8”, with no access to arc nodes. Her other offensive spells, Gallows and Twister, suffer from similar problems.
In the same vein, Ash’s feat, Roulette, is a huge potential game-changer that both supports your models and actively hampers the opposition… but in order to have it debuff opposing models, they need to be in your (relatively limited) 12” CTRL area, making the prospects of both facing opposing ranged units and protecting your flanks problematic.
So what we see here is a whole slew of abilities that are great, but which are both resource-intensive and require that you to play Ashlynn dangerously close to the action in order to use to maximum effectiveness. And even though her defensive stats are indeed par excellence, at 17 DEF and 15 ARM, with Quick Draw and Riposte to boot, plus of course access to Admonition or Quicken as required, the fact remains that the only absolutely effective defense against assassination is the distance between her, and all the bad mans that want to beat her up.
So in short, pre-Wrath, Ashlynn stood as a caster with amazing potential that she couldn’t quite capitalize on, both because she was just shy of having the resources to do so, and because of the considerable strain placed on her (albeit significant) defenses by playing forward, which she needed to do she wanted to use he abilities as effectively as possible.
…Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
Post-Wrath Ash; if Wishes were Fishes
To avoid beating around the bush any longer; Syllys Wyshnallyr (henceforth, ‘The Seeker’) is a game-changer for Ash. Every problem she has, he handles with aplomb. He can quite reasonably be the first model you include in your list after her – he’s that good.
First and foremost, he grants a free upkeep. We know this. It’s the first thing everyone thinks of when they mention the Seeker. It’s just as relevant to Ash as it is to anyone else – perhaps even more so, since that point of free focus is very frequently going to be the difference between casting one important spell, and casting two. It also opens up the “Distract! Distract! Distract!” feat turn option without sacrificing more than one of her excellent upkeep spells. And yes – doing this is as fun as it sounds.
However, the other things the Seeker brings to Ash are at least equally important. Combined with the extra FOC, his boost to spell accuracy (and damage, although that isn’t as big a deal here) from Arcane Secrets means a lot. I won’t cover every application of the combined use of the two abilities here, but some of the big ones are:
- Putting 3 FOC into a boosted Distract, or 4 FOC into a boosted Gallows, becomes much safer – you no longer need to worry nearly as much about the risk of rolling a little below average and seeing your huge wad of focus wasted.
- It’s possible to upkeep both Quicken and Admonition, cast a reasonably reliable initial Distract without needing to boost, and then cast either a boosted Distract or Quicken on a new target.
- Twister’s POW 5 blast damage can actually hurt something – I know, I’m as surprised as you are!
Also worth noting is that the Seeker’s bonus can be combined with Reinholdt’s Lucky Charm, giving you either a single super-accurate spell, or a pair of highly reliable ones (and, in turn, both of these stack with Roulette… I don’t want to do the math on what kind of DEF you can hit with FOC 6 + 7 dice, discard the 4 lowest, but I’m going to go with ‘pretty high’).
Last – and certainly not least – the Seeker grants all the spells Ash casts a very appreciated +2” RNG. Remember what I said before about distance being the only absolute defense against assassination? Until mercs get unrestricted arc node access, this thing right here is the only thing that lets Ash keep further back from the enemy without also giving up the ability to cast her offensive spells. You just hands down won’t find a better defensive buff than “do the same stuff while being further away”.
So, in short, while I’m lukewarm on the Seeker with a ‘caster like Fiona (who has her own nodes, and plenty of focus to play with without him) – wish Ash, he’s amazing.
I Guess There was Some Other Stuff in Wrath Too
Apart from the Seeker, Ashlynn’s most valuable new hire post-Wrath will almost certainly be Rocinante. As I mentioned in my article on Fiona, Rocinante stands up as an excellent new warjack for mercenaries in general, because he is an extremely able multi-role model that doesn’t cost the usual excessive premium such pieces tend to attract in Warmachine and Hordes. Able to shoot as (or more) ably than a Mariner, and fight as (or more) ably than a Nomad, at a very reasonable 9pts, there is no mercenary ‘caster able to take him that doesn’t get good mileage out of Rocinante.
With Ashlynn, though, he offers some specific synergies. Guard Dog is the first and foremost of these. As much as the Seeker has given Ash a little breathing room by increasing the range at which she can use her offensive spells, she can still most effectively employ all her various abilities by playing forward. Guard Dog renders her as close to invulnerable to melee assassination as one can reasonably get in this game; DEF 19 can challenge even Karn under eMakeda’s feat, or Mulg with wild aggression – not reliably enough to gamble a game on, of course, but being able to even stand a chance against assassination runs of that caliber should demonstrate her chances against other, lesser attempts. When combined with other defensive measures like shield guard, cloud effects or a Mariner’s lash, Ashlynn can be made, if not unkillable, then at least able to bear the risk of playing on or near the front lines for long enough to make her significant presence felt.
Offensively, Rocinante is also his usual versatile self, and runs effectively on whatever FOC Ash can spare. Conventionally, he’ll be doing something like running on turn 1, using his cannon on turn 2, and fighting in melee on turn 3 and beyond, but really he can mix it up based on the circumstances of the game. In a protracted melee, or if you just want to play him aggressively, Admonition is excellent on him – and a particularly amusing middle finger move, since you can trigger it after resolving Defensive Strike.
Beyond Rocinante, there unfortunately isn’t a lot to really say about Wrath for Ashlynn. The Ragman does a reasonable job being a cheap replacement for Aiyanna and Holt, but isn’t really as good because Ashlynn likes the ranged game as much as the melee one, and between Distract and Roulette, Aiyanna’s main offensive weak point (needing to roll to hit with Harm) isn’t much of an issue. Epic Alexia offers some intriguing possibilities, but is such a finesse piece that I don’t feel able to comment intelligently on her with Ashlynn until I have a whole bunch more games with them both under my belt – but if I had to hazard a guess, she might find some benefit in hiding in Twister clouds during the early turns of the game, and then getting straight into melee with some Distracted enemy infantry at the earliest opportunity thereafter. And finally, the Rover and Ogrun Assault Corps are just kind of bad.
Tying it all Together
Unlike Fiona, who can be looking at an almost entirely different playstyle post-Wrath, the new additions to Ashlynn’s stable don’t change her overall list composition significantly. The things that were good with her before are, by and large, still really quite good. By way of example, this is the most recent list I’ve been running with her:
- Ashlynn (+6)
- Syllys, the Seeker
- 10 Steelhead Halberdiers
- 3 Steelhead Heavy Cavalry
- 10 Horgenhold Forge Guard
- 6 Gun Mages
- Rhupert Carvolo
- Gorman di Wulfe
- Dougal MacNaile
- Lanyssa Ryssyl
Much of this is obviously very standard stuff for Ashlynn; some of it is stuff I’m trying out to see if it fits, and may discard as I become a little wiser in her ways. A few things are notable for their absences.
First and foremost, Rocinante and Syllys are in there for the reasons listed above. Reinholdt is good for obvious reasons as well, either to support her spellcasting or double the firepower on that RAT 7 hand cannon.
For the infantry, Forge Guard are in there for all the reasons Ashlynn players should be familiar with; crit slams, weaponmaster attacks and how much they love +2 SPD from quicken. Halberdiers and Heavy Cav are stock solid merc choices that I’m using until I find something I legitimately think is better (which might be the Nyss, as much as I personally dislike the ugly buggers). The Gun Mages are also stock choices for Ash, although I have decided against taking a mule, marshaled or otherwise; I know how good critical devastation is, but I don’t like paying a whopping 8pts for a model that’s only going to be reliable one turn of the game. The Vanguard, conversely, gives me shield guard (helping to keep Ashlynn alive and preventing Eiryss from sniping away admonition if it’s on Rocinante instead), a reliable, mobile gun (which should not under any circumstances be underestimated), and great defensive synergy with Roulette (DEF 15 against charge attacks lets it lead the way safely). I’m considering replacing it with a Mariner (since, despite everything, knockdown is still a serious threat to her), but haven’t got around to really trying that out yet.
Finally, the solos should also be mostly obvious. Special mention goes to Dougal MacNaile, who has facilitated a first turn alpha strike in more than one game against opponents who just didn’t realise how little distance they could safely advance outside of their own deployment zone before coming into range of Double Powder Ration-enhanced guns, black oil grenades, and so on – and to Lanyssa, who is present on a trial basis thanks to her Crit Stationary spell and the fact that, if I need her to, she can augment the threat range of Rocinante or the Forge Guard on turns when I just can’t spare Quicken. Two points to what quantifiably amounts to three or four FOC on a critical turn is not a bad deal at all.
It’s not a perfect list, and I have a long way to go in refining it yet; even with the Forge Guard, it can really feel like it’s missing Aiyanna and Holt, and with SR2012 character restrictions I’m going to need to bite down hard on my liberal sprinkling of mercenary support solos – but so far it’s performed solidly on all its outings in all its various incarnations, and in particular is shaping up against a legitimate anti-Cryx option, which is something I’ve previously felt mercenaries to be seriously lacking. This is mostly thanks to the power of Distraction (which is incredible against Cryx infantry, and notable for how thoroughly it shuts down gods damned excarnated bile thralls), but also for its ability to launch both a convincing alpha strike, and respond rapidly to changing circumstances.
Up next – I’m not sure, actually. I have some thoughts on eMagnus, but they’re backed up by maybe three actual games, and I won’t have time to play him much in the immediate future. Post in the comments section below if there’s anything you’d particularly like to read about, on the subject of mercenary warcasters or otherwise.