Warmachine: Pick and Stick

Bell of Lost Souls Warmachine Pick and Stick

The Mark III honeymoon is over. Pick a caster and stick with them for 10 games.

Chalkboard here from Chalkboard War, and I wanted to suggest a brief challenge for the Warmachine and Hordes players out there. It’s pretty simple: It’s time to stop faction shopping, faction swapping, and theory-crafting. Instead, pick a warcaster or warlock that seems to appeal to you, and just simply play them. Even (especially) if they’re flawed and not the current “consensus” choice for the faction. Some recent games I got in with Xerxis, the Fury of Halaak (Xerxis2), reminded me of the core element of Warmachine and Hordes that I seemed to have forgotten since the start of Mark III: you can be successful with any caster once you learn them if you stick with them.

Xerxis, the Fury of Halaak, is currently pretty maligned by Skorne players. To be fair, a lot of the critiques are spot-on. The mantra of “Mobility is a Trap” is definitely correct, and he’s way softer a target than a huge base should be. Given his size, and what seems to be a need to be contributing himself (Sprint helps, but not enough), he’s rarely if ever actually safe on the board. On the card (or War Room), there’s little to recommend him.

I was in a Journeyman league recently, and for the caster/warlock swap that happens in Week 4, I went with Xerxis2. Why? Because I wanted to finish up the model, frankly. And it was good motivation. What proceeded to happen was a number of games with the same caster, which is ALWAYS the best way to learn them. Yeah, I struggled. And yeah, I lost a bunch of consecutive games until I sorted him out. But I did sort him out with practice. And he can be an effective warlock, especially if I can get the opponent to play the game I try to dictate to them.

Bell of Lost SOuls Warmachine-Pick-and-Stick Xerxis2

I had to learn on the table when to play keep-away and when to commit Xerxis2 to removing models from the enemy force himself, and that he needs an independent module somewhere far away on the board to encourage the foe to split their attention (I went with some Minions led by Rorsh and Brine). 

Time to Leave the Dojo

I’m not saying that I can now take Xerxis2 to a tournament and dominate. But I do have a solid sense for him, and despite the warts that seem to appear when looking at him in War Room. And that’s something that only time on the table taught me. I could see how fragile he is toward certain things, and where the breakpoint P+S seemed to be where he went from “shrug it off” to “whoa, now I’m dead”. I could see which abilities I used a lot, and which suffered. I could see when Mobility was indeed a trap (almost always) and when a key creative animus was preferable (I’ll keep that one to myself). And ultimately, I had fun doing it. He’s hardly the best caster, but spending time with him on the table showed me that I can win with him, and I learned what that pathway could be.

Bell of Lost SOuls Warmachine-Pick-and-Stick Jake

A far better way to phrase “practice makes perfect” as far as I am concerned.

One would be a rare breed today, if spending time thinking about the model were sufficient to see how it ran. You can do a lot of the heavy lifting in the Dojo, but you cannot do it all. That critical “just how much can they spend” and “how close (far) do they tend to end up” questions alone are better seen on the table than in theory-crafting. Our modern lives make this problem all the more acute: we can spend plenty of moments in transit or during breaks from work or school flipping through War Room or reading social media/forum posts about a given caster–while real game time remains scarce. That leads to trying to sort out the “very best” model: the warcaster or warlock that will “guarantee” a win, or have the most favorable match-ups in the game. Which is a good pursuit.

But I suggest that time could be better spent simply learning to play ANY caster by taking them to the table. In many ways, it’s not about picking the right one. It’s simply about picking one.

Just Pick One

Seriously, just choose a caster that appeals to you. Maybe they have a strange feat, and you want to see what you can do with it. Maybe they have a look you like. Maybe you want to break the norm, and see how well you can do with a model that others are choosing to ignore. What matters most at this point is to simply pick one and stick with it for a number of games. And if you can, there’s a good reason to consider a choice that others are not making.

Bell of Lost Souls Warmachine-Pick-and-Stick Road Less Traveled

Obligatory Robert Frost roads diverging and less-traveled path reference. 

The extra advantage to choosing the less-frequent road is that fewer opponents will be ready for them. For instance, Wurmwood seems pretty strong in Mark III. To the point where everyone, and I mean everyone, is developing a plan to stop that Warlock. If you nab a caster that is slightly off the beaten path, yeah maybe they won’t have every tool that other casters might have. But they will also be unfamiliar to your foes. And if you stick with them, run them for game after game against a variety of opponents, you’re going to learn how to get the most out of them. There’s no other way to get to the bottom of just how good (or feeble) a given Warmachine or Hordes warcaster or warlock can be.

Hence my challenge to the Warmachine and Hordes community. Pick a warcaster or warlock and stick with them. Heck, do it randomly. Or have a friend pick one for you. And learn to play them in the best way possible: by getting them to the table time and time again.

~ How many games does it take you to get a sense of a Warcaster or Warlock? If you are the rare breed that can conclusively sort out how to play a model without table time, what’s your secret? If you’re going for a Warcaster or Warlock off the beaten path, who are they and why are you picking them? 

To check out some recent struggles with Xerxis2 (and the Warcaster he’ll be sticking with for a bit), check out Chalkboard’s blog at:


  • Drew

    This is an excellent article!

    I’ve been playing Magnus1 through a journeyman league (just finished up), and I decided to buck the trend and NOT upgrade him to Magnus2 (which I was repeatedly encouraged to do) because of exactly what you mentioned- I wanted to really wrap my brain around him as a caster and what he could do/bring to the table. The end result is that I absolutely love him and am going to have to repeat the whole process with Magnus2 in order to make myself veer away because at this point I can’t envision playing my mercs WITHOUT Magnus1’s suite of buffs. =)

    I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of the new journeyman format- you have to keep whatever you add to your list in your list the whole league (with the exception of the one caster swap). It really encourages you to get an army painted and to keep playing it over and over to learn the ins and outs.

    Word of warning, though: if you play the mercenary battlegroup based around Magnus, you’re probably going to have the impulse to add a Renegade warjack at some point (and why wouldn’t you?)- just remember that if you do that, your only caster swap option at week 4 is to Magnus2, because you can’t take the Renegade out and only Magnus is allowed to field them in his battlegroup.

  • Joyous_Oblivion

    Great article! I was playing with Sloan for the past dozen games, mainly to see my first caster from Mark 2 actually play well for once lol. Now I’m moving on and trying Trollbloods in a slow-grow journeyman (increases every two weeks) and plan to stick with them once it finishes off.

    Most people in my immediate group are new to the game, but the city meta is still caster/faction hopping like crazy. No clue what you’ll face week to week at local pub nights.

  • ZeeLobby

    Awesome article, and so true. I have a real problem with jumping around way too much. I’ve put my foot down and am playing a year of minions though.

    • ChubToad

      Gators of awesomeness FTW!

  • Kenneth Portner

    I started WM/H with MK III. Playing Circle. I didn’t win one game in our JML. What do I do?

    • Drew

      Most importantly, keep at it! You tend to lose a lot early on in WM/H.

      You want to try to focus on a playstyle that feels comfortable to you-for example, if you favor the mobility of Circle’s living warbeasts or the comparative durability of its constructs- and then keep practicing with them, while perhaps working on ways to mitigate the problems you’ve had in games. For example, if you’re having trouble with “gun-line” armies, try to get some Sentry Stones/Mannikins or Woldwatchers to make forests and block their lines of sight. If you’re having trouble getting the first strike (pretty important for most Circle builds), look for things that can extend your threat ranges.

      It’s also worth looking at some “toolbox” units or solos or self-sufficient troubleshooters that can solve particular problems or hold their own without too much support. The Lord of the Feast is a good example- he can slaughter units if left unchecked, so sending him up a flank forces your opponent to commit resources to his destruction (that then AREN’T killing the rest of your army) or allow him to get in unmolested (not a good plan). The Druid Wilder gives you a few options you wouldn’t otherwise have. The Blackclad Wayfarer does the same.

      The biggest key is to keep at it- you’re going to make mistakes, lots of them, but you’ll (hopefully) only make each mistake once. Lots of players have gotten assassinated because they didn’t realize Baldur1 could Forest Walk right next to their warnoun- but they never get too close to a forest playing against him again. =)

    • ChubToad

      Pick Wurmwood. Problem solved.

  • ChubToad

    I picked Brad. Never again.

  • zeno666

    A great article.
    Its very true that if you want to be good with a caster you have to play a lot of games with them.
    Me myself I jump around my four factions a lot now testing casters out. And thats what I consider fun 🙂
    I like to play different casters at different days. So I won’t win any tournaments 😉
    But I’m having fun.