Warmachine: Steelhead Captain Damiano

A tactics article for the one and only Steelhead warcaster was long overdue. And since I just recently finished painting Rocinante, I figured it was finally time to make it happen.

As background goes, there’s more to Damiano than just a warcaster for hire. His history is more varied than one might expect for a captain of a mercenary company notorious for its willingness to work for anyone with full pockets. For this warcaster, coin is secondary to fame. He fights to become a legend in his own time. Apparently his family has been this way for generations. Captain Damiano has a proud line of ancestors he strives to live up to. His notoriety has attracted Steelheads cut from similar cloth. Their hunger for glory drives them to undertake dangerous missions that no other mercenary would accept. This creates a camaraderie that ensures that Damiano and his Steelheads are one of the tightest knit fighting forces you can hire.

When it comes to tactics, Damiano is almost too easy to write for. He has so many great supporting spells and abilities that he goes great with just about anything. But that’s not to say I haven’t narrowed it down to a few key combos and strategies I think can go extra well. But first, lets do stats.

Damiano is like a lot of Mercenary warcasters; all of his stats are fairly above the curve with none being particularly exceptional. With Def 15 and Arm 16 he’ll be a little trickier to kill than most, but he’s hardly invulnerable. It’s a similar story across the board. With Mat 7 and P+S 12 he might be able to finish off a damaged target or dispatch any solos that might be hunting him. But its probably be a good idea to keep him out of melee unless you don’t think you have any other choice. He also packs Judgement; essentially a magical Hand Cannon with the Blaster ability. A handy tool, but it hardly makes him a ranged caster. His focus stat is the most average thing about him at a powerfully mediocre 6. Given the cost of his upkeep spells, this means he’ll have to wait until at least turn 2 before he can get all 3 of them up. And if you do want to have him cast two on the first turn, only one of your warjacks will get to run. This means you should bring some way to help with focus management if you want to run him with more than 2 warjacks.

Damiano has two Paymaster abilities that will only work on Steelheads. In order to use them you must mark one of Damiano’s five coin boxes, so use them wisely. The first, Battle Maneuvers, allows a Steelhead unit to advance up to 3″ after they have completed their actions. While it won’t really help you get the drop on anyone, even minor movement shenanigans like these can drastically reduce your opponent’s options when it comes to retaliating against a unit of halberdiers that has just made their attacks. It could also get a unit of riflemen out of charge range after they finish shooting. But I think its his other ability, Money Shot, that’s the one to get excited about. Talion Charter players will remember this ability from Lord Rockbottom. It’s the one that gives a unit +2 to ranged attack and damage rolls. This means a 2 man Steelhead Rifleman CRA will be hitting at a rather whopping POW 15. Bring along Lady Aiyana and Master Holt, and her Kiss of Lyliss will bring that up to a truly impressive 17. But I think it might be even better to put Money Shot on a unit of Steelhead Cavalry. This will give you a unit with RAT 7 POW 14 shots that can roam around the battlefield with a 16″ threat range – 19″ if they use Assault. And the coolest thing about abilities like these is they stack with Damiano’s great upkeep spells.

Moving on, Damiano’s first spell is also his least interesting. Convection is a simple range 10 POW 12 offensive spell. Its casting cost of 2 focus is offset a little by the fact that, if you kill a living model with it then you may allocate a focus to a warjack in your battlegroup. While offensive spells are always useful against the occasional Pistol Wraith, Damiano already has a magic gun to help out in those situations. There is one thing Convection could be really useful for, but it won’t come up too often. You may find yourself in a situation where Damiano was unable to allocate focus to a warjack during the control phase. Maybe Eyriss 2 was nearby and now you’ve killed her or perhaps you charged the warjack out of Damiano’s control area but now he’s moved and brought it back in again. Convection represents a unique opportunity to get it back up to fighting strength. Its not the most efficient way to allocate focus but your opponent probably won’t see it coming.

Deadeye, his next spell, is the kind you tailor a whole list around. It will give a model or unit an additional die on their first ranged attack roll. It’s the “additional die” part that makes this spell really useful. This means you can roll 4 dice on a Mule’s Steam Lobber attack and make it that much more likely to get the Critical Devastation result that comes in so handy. Or cast it on Croe’s Cutthroat’s so their poisoned crossbows can finally hit a high defense target. Just pick your favorite ranged mercenary unit and watch them get that much better. The big downside is that its not an upkeep spell. You’ll have to pay 2 focus to cast it every turn.

Death March is the first of 3 great upkeep spells Damiano brings to the table. It gives a friendly unit +2 MAT and Vengeance. Its another spell that falls under the “apply to your favorite unit” category. Although it bears mentioning that Steelheads have pretty miserable melee stats when they get stuck in and aren’t benefiting from Powerful Charge, Cavalry Charge or Flank. This makes Death March especially helpful to them. The extra attack that Vengeance can grant is going to be equally handy. This means it might actually be best to cast Death March on someone who can really make those extra attacks matter. Nyss Hunters, Forge Guard, and Kayazy all spring to mind. Or you could go the opposite route and use it to turn Risen into a tarpit that can also actually fight (well kinda). If you’re a Talion player looking to branch out, you might even try casting it on a unit of Press Gangers to see if you can up their harvest of Sea Dogs. And lets not forget about that extra 3″ of out of activation movement from Vengeance as well. The truth is its hard for a merc player to go wrong with Death March.

Sure Foot is another great upkeep spell. I’ve used it a lot with Madrak1 and it will make your opponent groan. It creates a little 3″ aura of +2 defense and knockdown immunity around its target model. This means you can keep multiple key models under the umbrella of one very good upkeep spell. What I learned very quickly in my early days of playing Madrak is that you need to keep it on a model that is fairly hard to kill. Since it is centered on one model, removing that model will cause the spell to expire. Clearly a single wound Steelhead is not the way to go.

I think my personal favorite Sure Foot target would have to be Gallant. Surefoot will bring this heavy warjack’s defense up to 15. Of course not everyone plays Highborn so Rocinante is another good choice. Any model with a large base will help you catch that many more friendlies in Surefoot‘s aura. The problem here is that both of these guys might be called upon to go charging across the battlefield to deal with another threat, leaving everyone in their care exposed. Since this is a perfectly reasonable concern, you could try using Ragman as your Sure Foot target. With the Sacrificial Pawn ability, he is much harder to kill than his stats would imply. He also already likes to hide inside of large clumps of infantry. Alternatively you could cast it on Stannis Brocker and cluster a unit of Steelhead Cavalry around him. A fast high defense spearhead like this can seriously hamper your opponent’s advance, and prevent them from reaching objectives. And with Surefoot centered on Stannis, you can have Death March cast on the Cavalry.

Last spell on the list, but by no means the least, is Warpath. Damiano casts this spell on himself, and it triggers whenever any friendly faction model in his control area destroys an enemy model with a melee or ranged attack. Any time that happens you can pick a friendly warjack in Damiano’s Battlegroup and control area and move it 3 inches. Even though a warjack can only make a single Warpath move per turn, that extra 3″ of movement is always going to be welcome. Especially when it’s out of activation and can be used to get you into a better angle or position for a charge. And since Mercenaries have plenty of Spd 5 jacks with reach to choose from, Warpath can give them a nice respectable 13″ threat.

So let’s see… so far we’ve seen boosts to just about every stat: Spd, Mat, Rat, Def… looks like we’re still missing two important ones. Don’t worry… that’s where Damiano’s feat comes in. Conquest will grant +3 to both Str and Arm. Who doesn’t love a nice simple feat that makes you harder to kill and let you kills things harder. But wait – there’s more. It will also only let you be moved during your turn. This means your opponent will have to suffer through a whole turn of no pushes, pulls, beat backs, etc. Throws and slams will still knock you down but won’t put you anywhere you don’t want to be. Having played plenty of games against Druids, and Battle Mages, I’m almost more excited about the no moving than that nice solid buff to Str and Arm.

With the diversity of Damiano’s buffs and the vast selection of troops available to merc players, it should come as no surprise that Damiano is a very versatile warcaster. With that in mind I’ve produced two different lists, each suited to different tasks. First we’ve got one that can play a pretty mean assassination game but also brings a good amount of balance. At 50 points:

Captain Damiano +6 points

* Rocinante  9 points
Arcane Tempest Gun Mages 6 points
* Gun Mage Officer 2 points* 1x Mule 8 points
* 1x Buccaneer 3 points
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution 3 points
6 Steelhead Halberdiers 4 points
5 Steelhead Heavy Cavalry 10 points

6 Steelhead Riflemen 5 points

Stannis Brocker 4 points
Master Gunner Dougal MacNaille 2 points

The lynch pin here is really the Gun Mage Officer and the Mule he’s marshalling. This allows it to boost to hit without wasting any of Damiano’s precious focus. And with Dead Eye it will be rolling four dice, vastly increasing their chances of Critical Devastation. On top of that, the Officer’s Rune Shot ability will give it a 17″ threat, or a 16″ threat standing still. All the knockdown this will hopefully cause is going to wreak havoc on your opponent’s plans. But the idea here is to knockdown any models that might be standing between your Steelhead Cavalry and your opponent’s caster. Then you can have the Buccaneer shoot their warcaster, boosting to hit and using Rune Shot to increase the range of its net (yes its net). If you’re fighting a warcaster, the next step is to send Eiryss up to strip any camped focus off of them. If your intended assassination victim has some kind of defensive upkeep up on them you might want to do this step first. Next, put Money Shot on those Steelhead Cavalry and have them pepper your opponent’s caster with 5 Pow 14 shots. Rinse and repeat with the riflemen if necessary/possible. Then if they’re still standing, finish them off with a boosted shot from Rocinante. And with Stannis Brocker all Steelheads (Damiano included) can ignore one another for line of sight. So you don’t have to worry as much about friendlies blocking your shot.

Obviously there’s a lot of risk of losing the Gun Mage officer here, but you can play him far enough backfield that he should be safe until at least after he’s caused all sorts of trouble. You also are staking a lot on the Buccaneer hitting a caster. So if it misses just change tack and play a more standard turn. As long as the Gun Mage Officer is still alive you can try again next turn.

If all you want to focus on is the assassination vector, you might consider replacing the Steelhead Halberdiers with Aiyanna and Holt. That will give you a couple more shots to pump into a knocked down caster; and put them all at +2 to damage if Aiyana can get Kiss of Lyliss off against them. But I try to bring a more balanced list, even when I have a specific plan in mind, hence the inclusion of said Halberdiers and Carvolo. They add a bit more depth and give you more options if your assassination run isn’t working out so well.

Since control points are so important in SR 2012, you might find yourself wanting a list that is better suited to taking and holding objectives than to assassination. Damiano has the tools to do that as well as just about anyone. Again, at 50:

Captain Damiano +6 points

* Sylys Wyshnalyrr, The Seeker 2 points
* Gallant 9 points
* Mule 8 points
* Rocinante 9 points

Eiryss, Angel of Retribution  3 points
10 Greygore Boomhowler and Company 9 points
Harlan Versh, Illuminated One 2 points
Lady Aiyana & Master Holt 4 points
Reinholdt, Gobber Speculator 1 point
10 Steelhead Riflemen 9 points

Nothing jams up a battlefield quite like Boomhowler and Company. So how do Boomhowler’s under Sure Foot sound? As long as you can keep them within 3″ of the spell’s target they’ll have to rely on Call to Action a lot less. With immunity to knockdown they can just go Call of Defiance all the time for that 4+ Tough roll. If you keep Sure Foot up on Gallant then the trollkin can have Vengeance up and become amazing fighters too. Then on Damiano’s feat turn they’ll hit like a freight train. Eyriss is along to make sure annoying enemy debuff upkeeps can’t keep this expensive unit out of the fight. The Riflemen can help pick off stragglers hitting even def 17 on average with Deadeye and Money Shot. Harlan Versh’s Quad Iron will assist them in this task. He’s also there to give Gallant a focus, which with Sylyss means Damiano gets effectively two free focus each turn. Reinholdt nicely fills a one point slot, and I also like the idea of him giving Damiano an extra shot with Judgement. And of course Aiyana and Holt will be doing their usual thing.

This list does have a lot of warjack in it. If you don’t think Gallant makes the great Surefoot target I do, you could drop it, Harlan Versh, and Reinholdt. This would let you add Ragman and a min unit of Steelhead Halberdiers and Steelhead Cavalry. Ragman would be your new Surefoot target and the Steelheads would just go on being awesome. And at that point it might be worth putting Stannis in place of Aiyana and Holt, so all those Steelheads don’t go getting in each other’s way.

~ So those are just two ideas. But like I said at the start, Damiano goes great with everything. Hopefully those lists will inspire as much as they instruct. I’m sure there are plenty of other great lists out there given how long Damiano’s been around now. Have any of you come up with any great tricks you want to share?

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