Warma-Teach #2: Combat Casters
In The Mix
When players crack open a faction book for the first time, they are greeted first by tales of amazing individuals called warcasters and warlocks hacking, slashing, shooting, or perhaps all of the above through masses of enemies before finally going toe-to-toe with opposing magical juggernauts. Then, they get to see these exceptional individual’s rules and biography painting the picture of how they will interact with Western Immoren and your tabletop in a dynamic and tactile way.
It is no wonder then, that the first warcasters/locks many players pick up to try first are those that have the greatest battlefield presence. These are the beat sticks, capable of taking it straight to the heart of the enemy all by themselves in the style of Achilles, Sergeant Yorke, or William Wallace. They are the Combat Casters, and while they may seem simple enough, many novice players are crushed at the inefficacy of their warlord’s rampage, or the brutal way in which opponent’s punish their brazen attempt at fighting in the mix. This Warma-Teach will focus on how to best to identify if your favorite caster falls into this category, and how to best utilize your combat casters to their maximum potential while simultaneously denying your opponent reprisal.
So You Think You’re a Combat Caster
The first thing we have set down is how to determine if your warcaster/ lock can be classified as a combat caster because misdiagnosing your favorite model can lead to incredible frustration during army building and gameplay.
Let me start by stating that when I say combat, I mean the literal definitions of combat (close and ranged.) Almost all casters utilize their spells to directly or indirectly affect models on the board. Combat casters are any warcaster/warlock that SHOULD engage models with close or ranged combat at some point in a game. This emphasis is obviously on should, because any caster/lock can engage appropriate enemy models with a certain guarantee of victory. This is due to the simple fact that casters and locks hold the largest battery of focus or fury on the board, and this translates directly into their model being worth several times their own size in terms of destructive potential. Furthermore, casters/locks generally have stats that are higher than their other small-based brethren to reflect their greater training, experience, resources, etc.
Combat casters separate themselves from the flock by having truly exemplary combat stats (Butcher’s MAT, eCaine’s RAT), exceptional special rules or self-buff spells (Weapon Master, Side Step, Engine of Destruction), or weapons (Lylyth’s Bow, eMorghul’s Fan of Shadows.) Their effects are varied and combinations often multiplicative, but all of these casters share a common trait: they NEED to be attacking at some point. They are given rules and abilities that unbalance the game in your favor as long as they are utilizing their entire offensive potential.
Special Note: There are casters that have combat abilities, but are definitely NOT combat casters. Good examples are models with a single combat buff (Powerful Attack on Doomshaper and eNemo, critical effect weapons on Kaya and Sorscha) or specialized ranged weapons (Kaelyssa’s Runebolt Cannon, Zaal’s Spirit Eye.) THESE CAN BE TRICKS!! All these do is maybe facilitate removal of a single model. These things can make the difference in a desperate attempt to win, but it should not be part of your army-building stratagem or relied upon come game-time.
Why Choose a Combat Caster
If you break down the game in purely mathematical terms and look at every turn as a ratio between your points lost and theirs, Combat Casters can give you an immediate advantage over more control or buff-themed casters.
The easiest way to explain this advantage is comparing them to support solos, which operate very much like miniature warcasters in points-ratio terms. While army building, when you consider the average support solo or small unit (Rhupert Carvolo, Reinholdt, Swamp Gobbers), you have to understand that in order to win the game, those models will have to directly facilitate one of your offensive models destroying not only enough to get that offensive model’s points back, but also the points for the support models. Therefore, there is always a premium placed upon support solos that can ALSO engage in combat with a reasonable chance of victory (Kovnik Jo, Bane Lord Tartarus, Fell Caller Hero, Gorman Di Wulfe) because they can provide their solid buff/ debuff AND be counted on to make their points back. In mathematical terms, it’s “extra points” that you get to play with AS LONG AS the support model attacks. (This is why these models are seen so often in competitive play and why they need to be focused as early and often as possible when you see them.)
Most warcasters/warlocks bend this math because they cost no points and help facilitate an army. Functionally, they ONLY ADD to the game equation, but they do need other offensive models to begin removing your opponent’s points from the board. Combat Casters/Locks take this benefit a step further, like the combat oriented support solos, in that they don’t need any other models to be effective. They cost no points, but they can directly remove some, or even all, of your opponent’s points if given the opportunity AND they give your army some sort of support benefit. This double advantage is what makes combat casters seem so dominating regardless of what is played with them. It is also what makes them SO devastating in small point games (35 and lower) where just a minimal point swing can be back-breaking. Remember this: If you show up to a competitive tournament of 35 points or lower without a combat caster, you may very well be playing uphill all day long.
Contrary to your potential experience, not all Combat casters/locks are created equal, and your army building and tactics should reflect this. While it’s impossible to break down every caster/lock and their nuances within their factions in this article (though I’ll gladly entertain any specific caster/lock breakdown on request), it is possible to discuss the two broad categories of casters: the ICBW and the Brother-In-Arms.
The Intercontinental Ballistic Warcaster/Warlock is a singular model with game-ending potential. These are casters that line up their attack run and either streak towards the target with full focus (Garryth, Kromac, Terminus, eMorghul), ping pongs across an opponent’s army (eMadrak, triple epic Makeda, eButcher), or plants their feat and unloads both barrels (eCaine, Durgen.) While they usually have a buff or two that can be planned on while army building (Garryth’s Mirage on Sentinels creating surprising threat ranges, Kromac’s Wild Aggression Stalker murder machine) the main point of their army is to act very much like the pieces of a true ICBM, making sure the caster/lock is where they need to be to single-handedly win the game. Whether it is a protective case provided by screening (Boomhowlers), shieldwalling (Centrati), or shield guarding (Ogrun Bokurs) or boosting the missile with extra charge distance (Hunter’s Mark), out-of-turn shenanigans (Madelyn Corbeau), or accuracy (Rangers) the whole army functions as a delivery vehicle for the warhead.
Though the method of delivery is different for every caster, there is an important ingredient that MUST be included in army building with an ICBW: focus/ fury efficiency. Focus and fury is the necessary resource that allows these casters/locks to multiply their abilities enough times to make their attack runs so successful. Most factions have ways to improve the focus efficiency of casters through the application of the appropriate solos and attachments (Squire, Sylys, Reinholdt, Runebearer, Skarlock, Marketh.) If you don’t have one of these (and often two or three of them), you’re not playing an ICBW, and potentially diluting the caster’s ability to affect the game.
Playing an ICBW is much like wielding a nuclear warhead, and fraught with the same potentials and perils. If you make the correct strike, the overwhelming power of your attack will demolish your opponent utterly. Just a slight misstep, disorganization, or bad dice roll may cause your attack to fizzle and leave yourself wide open for devastating retaliation, due to the fact that your poor, exhausted warcaster/lock will most likely be right in the middle of your opponent’s army. Make sure you have determined how to make sure the odds are in your favor with buffs, extra focus, etc. before you start your run. Never rely upon 1:1 trades on important model removal. If there is a game-changing model blocking your attack run, have three models that can take it out for your ICBW.
Above all, remember, you have time. You are not playing the same game of Warmahordes that your opponent is. They are struggling to kill things every turn to eek out a win. You have a kill-stroke. As long as your key supports are alive, everything in your army is disposable to buy time for the right move to win the game. It can be excruciating to keep your dog on the leash, but when you find that sweet LOS and range, your caster will reward you, and nothing is more exciting or satisfying than seeing the ICBW well executed for the win.
The other side of the combat caster coin, and my personal favorite, is the Brother-(or perhaps Sister)-in-Arms. Instead of using their army like a vehicle, the B-i-A uses his army like an extension of themselves, constantly enriching each other and facilitating the combative nature of the caster.
You will often find these casters/locks wrapped up in there armies like a blanket (Ryas, Grayle, eStryker, triple epic Vlad) or maybe a fortress (Xerxis, Borka, Brisbane, eKreoss.) When army building you need to decide which style of list you want to see in front of you. The blankets often feature higher defense models with higher mobility to deal with threats as needed while maintaining survivability. Bricks form up ranks Phalanx-style and bully your opponent into an eventual confrontation while shrugging off their meager blows. In many ways, army building with these casters is similar, if not identical, to building a more support style caster. This is due to the fact these casters have support spells and effects that are just too army-multiplying to ignore completely, and usually pay for that with a slightly less impressive one-man-army profile.
The only exception to standard army building, again, is focus efficiency pieces. These models should be getting into combat, and they’ll need all the focus they can get. Though they are not walking the razor’s edge like the ICBW’s, they can always use the ubiquitous focus/ fury point to improve their already extraordinary combat effectiveness.
Playing these casters can be extremely varied and rewarding experiences. Because your caster is facilitating the rest of your army, as well as contributing to kills themselves, the rate of attrition you’re imposing on your opponent can be staggering, if not immediate. It also places less pressure on the player to line up that perfect LOS to win the game every turn, instead relying upon your warcaster to take out key models, or perhaps whole swaths of the enemy, so that your army can mop up the rest handily. Also, you have a great safety net if things go sour. If your opponent hard-counters or ensures mutual destruction, your caster has a reasonable chance to go Super Saiyan and take down the opponent’s caster if it comes to that. The ability to win a cat game is a great card to have in your back pocket come Turn 4.
There is one difficulty with playing a B-i-A; your proximity to the opponent’s army. You SHOULD be close to them, so you need to be very aware of your opponent’s capabilities at all times. If you’re relying upon your DEF (Caine, Ryas, Grayle), make sure you’re looking for two-handed jacks and beasts, slam lanes, and knockdown/ stationary effects. If you love your ARM or buffs (Xerxis, eStryker, eKreoss), watch out for Disruption, Blessed, and Arcane Assassins. Prioritize these models for elimination so that your warcaster/lock is free to bash, slash, or shoot his way to victory.
Warcasters and warlocks are the key focal point of Warmachine and Hordes, and their personalities and capabilities drive many players, including myself, into a deeper appreciation for the game. I hope you’ve gained some further insight into some of the most active casters/locks you can see on the board, and I hope you use it to bring honor and victory to your Tribe/Cult/Empire/Motherland/Kingdom. Teach you next week!