Warma-Teach Special Ed. #1- Xerxis
A reader sent me a message asking for a review of Xerxis in light of me mentioning him in the last Warma-Teach. Since he told me that he had already read a lot about him (and I had an inordinate amount of time on my hands) I decided to go into a great deal of depth with it. By the time I was done, it felt like a Warma-Teach all on its own. I decided to christen it “Warma-Teach Special Ed.” (as in Edition, oh the puns) and post it up on Facebook, and as usual, on Muse. I don’t think I’ll expect to be able to do this for every question, but I thought this topic was two appropriate given my last article and the articles I have planned for the near future. Enjoy!
Xerxis is a caster that I loved from the moment I saw him, and I love when people drop him on the board in front of me. I dabbled in Skorne for a while, and was able to try him out for myself for a time, so I feel like this review of him is pretty spot-on. Bear in mind that I’m going to be focusing on his playability in competitive arenas, and anyone, of course, is playable for fun.
That being said, Xerxis is a perfect example of the Brother-in-Arms caster I described in Warma-Teach #2. He’s tough-as-nails and has fantastic ways to support his army around him while sacrificing none of his own spectacular prowess. His feat is nearly two feats from similar casters, and his spell list stacks both effects to make them off-the-charts effective. His personal speed can be deceptive and his power undeniable, so why, oh why, does he lose sooooooooooo consistently in the average competitive meta? ; (
The truth is Xerxis suffers from two MASSIVE problems that MUST be addressed in order to take him seriously. The first is his scripted decision when army building, and the second is the pervasive weakness of the brick in the current meta. Curiously enough, these are both huge problems with many casters, which is why both topics ARE going to be featured articles in upcoming Warma-Teaches. For now, I’m going to do my best to give you the nutshell version and then talk about how it applies directly to Xerxis.
Xerxis is a caster that appears to have choices, but really has very few. He HAS to have Cetrati (perhaps 2 units in larger games) because they are obviously the best unit for his abilities. 12 def on a 8 box unit with ARM 20 shield wall simply doesn’t exist in other factions, and defender’s ward makes them to amazing for words. Furthermore, Weapon master+charge+feat+fury= anything in the game is dead. There are others that could benefit similarly, but they can’t protect Xerxis’ medium base while he’s in the thick of it. He HAS to have a Bronzeback (again perhaps two in bigger games) to make use of Fury, countercharge, and beatback on feat turn. He HAS to have a Krea Animus to make sure his brick can shrug off enemy ranged attacks and it can paralyze something so that Xerxis or his Bronzeback doesn’t have to boost against high DEF targets. He HAS to have Aptimus Marketh because having the fury and spell efficiency is too important on a fury 5 combat caster that loves to hot-swap upkeeps. He HAS to have Beast Handlers, because if your Skorne army does not have beast handlers, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
These combos are so amazing that they CAN’T be ignored, but they also serve to narrow down his army design to an EXTREMELY low model count, albeit VERY hard-hitting, foot-slogging brick army. The bare essentials I described above are already 30 points, with only 13 models, and of those models, only 7 of them can be counted on to reliably remove other models. Of those 7, only 2 of them have multiple attacks, and of those 2, only Xerxis himself has reach. This is an army with VERY few attacks, and a canny opponent will make sure that you get to waste your turns obliterating 1 fodder model at a time while they keep their heavy hitters in position to counter attack. And with his slow army style, you won’t be able to reach beyond those screening models to get to the key model you need to break your opponent’s back. Your chances to attack important models becomes greater against a similar army (Borka, Madrak, Gorten, eIrusk Brick), but if you allow them to attack first, they might win anyway. This is because your screen is also your primary offensive weapon, ALL of your models are key models, and Warmahordes is lousy with armies that can punch through 7 models, regardless of how tough they are. In short, you’ll lose taking it on the chin if your chin is also the deadliest part of your body. This is compounded in larger point games, because your core stays approximately the same size (due to the high cost of the favorite models), while your opponent is able to stockpile more guns/bows/axes/sword/spears/big metal fists to use to wipe out your hitters.
These problems become even more compounded against control-themed casters. I’ll be going into excruciating detail about control casters in a later Warma-Teach, but suffice it to say now, bricks have by far the worst match-ups against control lists. Control casters/locks have ways (and sometimes multiple ways) to deny an opponent the charge, run, or full speed of a portion of the opponent army. Having a low model count, melee-only models, or close formation all aid in a Controller’s ability to pin down an army for the duration of the game. Xerxis’ list, sadly, has all of these features. Xerxis losing against a control caster (Rahn, Old Witch, eHaley, eKreuger, Grim, Saeryn) with any degree of player competency is usually less of a expectation, and more a mathematical certainty. And the current meta is lousy with them (partly because of this hard-as-nails counter, but more on that in a later Warma-teach.)
So, that’s all great, but how do I play him anyways?
To be frank, I don’t really know, because I was never really able to try, and I’ve never seen anyone else get around these problems. The best I’ve seen are some people creating redundancies using support models (Cyclops Shamans and Soul Wards) or slight additions to supplement the basic archetype (Gladiators, Ancetral Guardians, Hakaar).
The issue, if there is one, with these builds is that they make Xerxis’ list better at what it already does, and what it already does has two problems that are as yet too big to overcome on a consistent basis. Perhaps breaking convention in a larger way could give his list a flexibility it has not enjoyed yet. Adding in longer, more reliable ranged attacks like a Cannoneer or Arcuraii, could remove key models and force opponents to engage with your brick rather than dismantling it slowly. The Cannoneer and Xerxis could also be using the animus right on the front lines to help keep those key models alive. You could also use a screen of Defender’s Warded Nihiliators to make sure your formation has time to set up its attack. It would create more models for your army, and more than double the number of attacks you could put out in a turn to eliminate enemy screens. If any were left alive when the dust settled they could wreak incredible havoc on any size enemy formation during Fury/feat.
Again, I’m not sure how exactly to play these options and how they would work best (going maximum model counts or a blend of the two techniques, sprinting the Nihilators across the board rather than waiting for the charge, etc.) However, I am positive that diversifying Xerxis’ capabilities are the way to improve his game, rather than maxing his already prodigious strengths. And I hope this review of his abilities/ army comp doesn’t throw you from the Xerxis train. He’s not a low tier caster in the same way other casters might be. He just has two glaring issues that present themselves in army building and competitive play that need to be addressed if you want to play him with an expectation of victory the majority of the time. I hope this enriches your understanding of Xerxis, and look forward to more Warma-Teaches circling around some of the points I brought up today.