The Modern Major-Mercenary – Fiona the Black
I am the very model of a modern major-mercen’ry,
forgoing so-called ‘factions’, running sellswords as my primary.
And though it’s said that mercen’ries aren’t totally competitive,
all other factions feel like moving models under sedative.
-ok I’ll stop.
As the Wrath releases begin to finally filter into stores and frenzied theory-machine gives way to tabletop experience, I thought it a good time to look back and see how one of my own primary factions, the humble mercenaries, have changed and evolved as a result of the latest Warmachine expansion. These rambling dissertations will focus in particular on some of our older ‘casters, and look at what new ways of playing them have opened up as a result of Wrath, and maybe give readers a few new ideas in the process. I don’t plan to cover everyone, both because not everyone has changed (Shae, I’m looking at you) and there will reach a point where I just begin repeating myself when talking about how great Rocinante is.
With that in mind, let’s start with one of our leading ladies, Fiona the Black. For those unfamiliar with Fiona, Battle College has an entry on her that you can read to familiarize herself with her spells and abilities. Just try not to read too much of the commentary; that way lies madness…
An Ode to the Eliminator
Fiona has undergone something of a renaissance with the arrival of Wrath, chiefly as a result of the release of the Kayazy Eliminators. These new models (to be released early 2012) are Khadoran Ally units that can be included in the Four Star Syndicate mercenary contract. Two-woman Kayazy kill teams, they have stats similar to their regular assassin colleagues, but with a few definitive differences; they are more survivable thanks to higher DEF and multiple wounds, more mobile thanks to higher SPD and acrobatics as a permanent rather than once per game ability, and have a more versatile offensive punch with their multiple attacks with the option to combo strike.
Fiona, not to put too fine a point on it, loves these girls. Their incredibly mobility makes them ideal targets for Telgesh Mark (Fiona’s spell that turns a model into an arc node); SPD 7 acrobatic arc nodes with side-step are both horrifyingly mobile, impossible to tie down by engaging them and, importantly, able to function as an arc node without sacrificing their primary purpose (i.e. stabbing things).
This represents a significant change for Fiona, since one of the problems she had previously with selecting her arc node model was that many of the models she wanted to use as a node could perform well in either that role, or their normal one, but not both. For example, many people espouse using Eiryss as an arc node, but to do so requires that you place her much closer to danger that you would otherwise like to, or run with her rather than shooting. Conversely, using Wrong Eye or Snapjaw as an arc node gives you a survivable spellslinging platform, but not a relatively mobile one.
With Eliminators, this isn’t an issue. You can happily launch your node-Eliminator into combat against any target you would normally, safe in the knowledge that there is almost no combat situation you can throw an Eliminator into that the combination of side-step and acrobatics can’t get them out of, even if it means vaulting over an enemy model and into their back arc (especially then, for those sweet, sweet back strike bonuses – this is a particularly good trick to pull on enemy warcasters you’re trying to assassinate).
Additionally – and maybe more importantly – Eliminators are caster-killers par excellence. Most of my games with Fiona since the release of Wrath have been won by application of Eliminators to enemy ‘caster (supplemented, of course, by Fiona’s own spellcasting, and ranged fire from warjacks or infantry under the effect of Nonkorion Brand). Special mention must go to their synergy with Fiona’s feat; their virtual (and in many cases, actual) invulnerability while protected by Dark Omen allows them to get very, very deep into the enemy lines, setting up the ‘caster kill for the following turn; most enemy infantry, even ones making 4- or 5-man CMAs, will frequently have a zero percent chance to kill them, and warjacks with an effective MAT of less than 10 or 11 don’t have amazing odds even if they boost. And an Eliminator launched that far up the table but still alive at the top of turn three, is an Eliminator that is very in a good position to win you the game.
And what else?
Although the Eliminators were the biggest new toy Fiona got in Wrath, she also reaps some worthwhile benefits from Rocinante, Ragman, and Syllys the Seeker.
Rocinante provides two very useful benefits for Fiona. The first is Guard Dog. As any Khador player will tell you, this is a powerful ability, and it both allows Fiona to play more safely further upfield without risking melee assassination, and hoof it back to safety after an aggressive feat turn, without risking free strikes.
Secondly, Rocinante is just plain good. He’s a multi-role model that is not overcosted (a rare gem, speaking as someone who also dabbles in Cygnar), and brings to the table both firepower and melee capability for a price far lower than it would cost to bring both those options to a list separately. Fiona won’t be the only warcaster you hear me espouse Rocinante with for this reason. For Fiona specifically, the gun is the primary draw, since that extra point of RAT over the Mariner gives you that edge against your primary target (enemy warcasters – which you really should be trying to shoot every turn), while the sword gives you a useful secondary option well worth the extra points.
Ragman and Syllys are simpler, useful, but non-essential options. Ragman provides an additional ranged option and an anti-armour solution for a much cheaper price than Aiyanna and Holt, our previous go-to models for solving this problem. Syllys is a simple force additive; with an extra focus to play with and more kick on her spellcasting, he lets Fiona do a little more of what she could do already, at the cost of having fewer points to spend on the other stuff you’d normally use to shoot/stab/etc the opposition. He doesn’t turn Fiona into a spell-assassin, but he does add more power to the spellcasting she’d normally add to a combined ranged warjack / eliminator kill. While valuable, he shouldn’t be considered an auto-include, and he doesn’t open up any new options the way he does with some of our other warcasters (more on that in future articles). As a personal preference, I take him in 50 point games, and leave him home for 35 and below.
So what does this all mean?
So, to bring this all back to the point of the article, how does a post-Wrath Fiona play? Her old style tended to focus heavily on ranged assassination supplemented by spellcasting, using Nonkorion Brand on units like Nyss Hunters or Long Gunners (…okay, probably just Nyss Hunters) and warjacks like the Mariner to pummel the enemy ‘caster with ranged fire, and throwing soulfires into the mix to boot. Post-Wrath, this style is essentially the same, albeit with a few extra options to make it run a little more efficiently, with Syllys giving you more spellcasting power and Rocinante giving you a more accurate gun platform with added melee versatility to boot. Nothing revolutionary – but still solid.
The Eliminators, however, have opened up the option to effectively play much more aggressively with Fiona. As arc nodes, they let you apply damage much more reliably into the enemy backfield, hitting the enemy ‘caster, but also sniping out support pieces with soulfire or arcing influence into the back arcs of models in position to do serious damage. More importantly though, in combination with Fiona’s feat, they can be launched into the enemy on turn two with almost complete certainty that they will be alive and threatening the enemy backfield (i.e. where all the enemy squishy bits, including their warcaster, probably are) the next turn. This aggressive assault can be supplemented with other high-threat range models like Steelhead halberdiers and cavalry, high-DEF models like Nyss, and the usual stable of powerful mercenary support and utility solos.
A 35pt list using this approach might look something like this:
- Fiona (+6)
- Rocinante (9)
- Kayazy Eliminators (3)
- Kayazy Eliminators (3)
- 10 Steelhead Halberdiers (6)
- 3 Steelhead Heavy Cavalry (6)
- Alexia and Risen (5)
- Eiryss (either epic or prime; eEiryss is more versatile and two turns of disruption bombing under cover of the feat is hilarious, but against Warmachine lists, pEiryss with Nonkorion Brand is kind of like cheating) (3)
- Rhupert Carvolo (2)
- Season with another pair of 2pt solos to taste (my personal preference being for Dougal MacNaile and then either Gorman di Wulfe or Ragman, but there are a lot of good options)
This list advances aggressively and uses the high melee threat of the Eliminators and Steelheads to engage the enemy on turn two, while under the protection of Dark Omen. It has only enough ranged firepower to keep the opposition honest and threaten the enemy ‘caster, but it has a powerful melee game and the feat gives it extremely strong momentum. With this in mind, Fiona needs to be played extremely aggressively for the first two turns, usually charging forward for the extra distance on one or both turns, relying on the feat and Rocinante to keep her safe on turn two, then backing up to a safer location afterward.
The primary victory condition, as you have probably deduced my now, is ‘caster kill by combined application of Eliminator, Rocinante’s cannon, and soulfire. It also has something of an attrition play for grinding out scenarios thanks to the high model count, the versatility of Roth’s Mercy, and Alexia, who provides an attrition option only get more powerful as the game progresses.
If you wanted to make a quick modification to the list, you could drop the Steelhead halberdiers and cavalry for a full unit of Nyss, or Kayazy assassins with an Underboss, and add another solo to pick up the remaining 2pts. This emphasizes the strengths of the list (high-DEF models under Fiona’s feat, and aggressive assassination attempts, at range with Nyss and in melee with the Kayazy) but also its weaknesses (with little way to mitigate blast damage, that drop from ARM 13 Halberdiers to ARM 11 Nyss or Kayazy begins to tell, and can lead to some pretty bad matchups).
All in all, it’s very different way to play Fiona, and capitalizes on her feat in a much more powerful way than her previous, ranged-focused list. It still has some rough matchups, with ‘casters with their own powerful momentum feats (e.g. the Harbinger, or the Old Witch) being the most difficult to overcome, but in general it is strong in scenario and assassination play and, most importantly, is a hell of a lot of fun.
Up next, the flower of the resistance, Ashlynn d’Elyse. No, I don’t have a thing for female characters.