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Warmachine – Thunderstruck #6: Overcoming Cygnar’s Defensive Challenges

7 Minute Read
Aug 10 2011
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So I’ve been playing with Cygnar more and more lately, and I’ve been running into a problem: you can’t count on Arcane Shield anymore. What’s a player to do?


When I started Warmachine with Cygnar back in 2005, the +3 ARM from that spell was like a warm blanket, always there to keep you safe from the dark and horrible evils of Western Immoren.  It made the at-the-time overpriced Stormblades somewhat serviceable while also making Centurions one of the hardest targets in the game to take down.  I eventually sold that army during the Superiority era, but having come back to it, I’ve realized a horrible truth: Arcane Shield and Cygnar’s other defensive abilities aren’t the warm blanket that they once were.  Consequently, the nature of the army has changed.

Looking at base stats and abilities, Cygnar has never been the most resilient of factions.  They lack for multi-wound infantry, and warrior models (not counting Precursors – more on them later) on foot top off at ARM 16 (Sword Knights in Defensive Line).  Their primary heavy warjack chassis sits at base ARM 18, and their lights sit at ARM 16.  The going theory for these stats has been due to what is referred to as the “Arcane Shield Tax”.  While the nature of Arcane Shield and Cygnar’s other defensive buffs haven’t really changed, the meta concerning their use has due to other abilities that interact with them.  This seems to have created “The Problem”, as it were.

The first problem is the Blessed/Arcane Assassin rule.  For the uninitiated, a weapon with Blessed or Arcane Assassin ignores spell effects that increase a model’s DEF or ARM.  While I wouldn’t say that the volume of models with Blessed/Arcane Assassin is too high, the models that do have it are mainstays for their respective factions, namely the Protectorate of Menoth’s Knights Errant and the Retribution of Scyrah’s Mage Hunter Strike Force.  With respectable RAT values and the Blessed rule, these two units are ubiquitous for their respective factions, particularly within the confines of moderate-to-highly competitive metas.  Since Blessed or Arcane Assassin allow these units to attack base stats, they’re hitting and killing Stormblades on a 2d6 roll of 6.  Consequently, Stormblades, which are Cygnar’s best hope for infantry-based warjack trashing, are put in a difficult situation when facing down these two factions.  The only type of relief they can find is with Rhupert, who can put either Dirge of Mists or Tough on them, as his songs are not spell effects and can’t be ignored by Blessed or Arcane Assassin.

Epic Eiryss: In your base, killing your upkeeps

The other half to the first problem with Arcane Shield and other spell-based, defensive buffs is Epic Eiryss.  The ability to remove upkeeps in Warmachine and Hordes is very powerful, and with her natural RAT 9 and long threat range, Eiryss isn’t often struggling to make it happen.  Unlike the earlier mentioned units with the Blessed rule, Epic Eiryss is a Mercenary and will work for all Warmachine factions, save Cryx, who have their own upkeep-stripping unit, the popular Withershadow Combine.

Consequently, upkeep spells like Arcane Shield, Fortify, or Blur can’t ever really be counted on as a general strategy when approaching your list build.  If you go to a tournament, chances are really good that you’re going to have to face down something that either has Blessed or can simply remove the buff.

The second problem is with the Dig In rule, which allows models with Dig In to use their action to gain cover and immunity to blast damage.  For Trencher Infantry, Dig In is their bread and butter and often the key to their survival.  Yes, there are methods of 3″ AOE placement that allow Trenchers to completely block line of sight to all but the outside models of a line, but relying on smoke largely defeats the purpose of taking their unit attachment, to which I refer to the Cautious Advance rule, which allows them to advance, make ranged attacks, and Dig In.  The issue stems from the Hunter rule that allows a model to ignore cover when making a ranged attack.

Unlike Blessed, the volume of staple models with Hunter is markedly higher.  The top two offenders on this list are, of course, the aforementioned Knights Errant benefiting from the Errant Seneschal’s Leadership ability and the Mage Hunter Strike Force with their unit attachment (they actually have Phantom Seeker, which is effectively an upgraded version of Hunter).  Other things that see consistent table time include, but are not limited to, the Mercenaries Cylena Raefyll and Nyss Hunters as well as the Legion of Everblight’s Striders with the Officer and Standard.  There are other ranged units out there with Hunter, like Reeves of Orboros, but I wouldn’t exactly label them as faction favorites.  The other change is the new prevalence of sprays in MkII, which received a strong injection of defense-ignoring rules (Stealth, in-melee) in addition to access to longer range values.

The consequence here is often that Trenchers are easily dispatched unless they simply rely on their smoke clouds to keep them alive, making them a very expensive screening element.

Unfortunately for me, Trenchers and Stormblades were my point of re-entry for Cygnar, ergo I’m left with having to completely rebuild and repaint my forces in order to stand up to the current competitive meta.  My thoughts moving forward are this:

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First, I need to rely more on base stats and less on potential stats via spell buffing.  There’s always been an argument against taking Precursors since they can’t benefit from Arcane Shield due to the Spell Ward ability.  While this is unfortunate, they aren’t paying the “Arcane Shield Tax” in their stat line, allowing them to hit ARM 18 under Shield Wall.  This reliance on base stats instead of potential stats is beginning to make this unit a very attractive option to me.  The same can be said about Gun Mages, the Black 13th, and Cylena Raefyll and Co. with their scary-high, natural DEF values.  Yes, these models will die to a stiff breeze, but hitting them will always take more effort than the standard “point-and-click” maneuvers that have been the demise of many a Trencher or Stormblade.

Second, I need to reevaluate my overall strategy for list-building and game play with the faction.  Arcane Shield used to mean that I could run some measure of an attrition game.  The loss of this dominance means that I need to retool my thought process away from the attrition style and more towards assassination.  This isn’t to say that Cygnar can’t play the attrition game, but rather that it often leans more in the direction of the assassination style.  Siege, with his brutal feat, and Haley, with her hard control elements, are notable exceptions.  However, when I look at the rest of the faction, going for the throat seems to be the preferred flavor.  Both Strykers, both Caines, Epic Haley, Epic Nemo, Kraye, and Kara Sloan all provide the necessary foundation for an assassination-style of game play.  Moving forward, I’m going to work more in this direction. 

Guns Blazin’: A New Direction

Captain Allister Caine (*5pts)
* Ol’ Rowdy (9pts)
* Squire (2pts)
Arcane Tempest Gun Mages (Leader and 5 Grunts) (6pts)
* Arcane Tempest Gun Mage Officer (2pts)
* * Cyclone (9pts)
Lady Aiyana & Master Holt (4pts)
Precursor Knights (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
* Precursor Knight Officer & Standard (2pts)
Rangers (5pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)
Reinholdt, Gobber Speculator (1pts)
Rhupert Carvolo, Piper of Ord (2pts)
– 50 Points


This list is designed to be well-rounded enough to deal with high-ARM and DEF when necessary, but the ultimate goal is assassination with Epic Caine.  Direct support for him includes Reinholdt and the Squire for an extra shot, Lady Aiyana for increased damage, Epic Eiryss for stripping upkeeps that would otherwise keep him from killing his target, and Gorman and the Rangers for increased accuracy.  Fortunately, the latter four elements also function well within the confines of the army as well.  Precursors receive most help from non-upkeep spell sources, benefiting from Heroic Call or Dirge of Mists from Rhupert, while also getting to capitalize on Gorman’s Rust Bomb and Lady Aiyana’s Kiss of Lyliss.

Gun Mages are an obvious choice with Epic Caine thanks to his Elite Cadre rule, along with their Cyclone bringing important control elements to the table to more easily allow my warcaster to do his job.  For a warcaster who loves his focus as much as Epic Caine, Rowdy is a great ‘jack to have, bringing both solid durability thanks to an effective ARM 20 with his Buckler in addition to focus efficiency from Aggressive and added assassination assistance with his boostable, MAT 8 Tremor attack.  Here’s a quick shot of one of the finished Gun Mages next to the previously-finished ‘Ol Rowdy as a reference: 



As you can see, I’m keeping the same brown flavor as I did with my Trenchers, but I’m trying to work some blue in this time to keep it with the flavor of the army.  More on this army as it comes together.

That’s it for today’s Thunderstuck.  Keep an eye out for the next installment!

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