Monday, May 21, 2012

List Building: Witch Coven - Part 1

The Steam-Powered Gamer is back!  I've been hiatus for the last week taking care of the school production of Beauty and the Beast and it's been a lot of work.  I put in about 40 hours into the show this week - and that's in addition to my normal hours teaching.  It's all over now, though!
Today I will be bringing you all the eagerly-anticipated list building article on the Witch Coven of Garlghast.  The Witch Coven is viewed with a lot of anxiety by the Warmachine community, and especially Cryx players.  How can they win?  What can they do?  Their spell list and feat make it difficult to see exactly how they'll achieve their victory at first glance.  Compared to their peers in Cryx, the Witch Coven seem difficult to use and understand, and it's not immediately apparent which models should be taken with them to make the most of their capabilities and achieve victory.  Toss in the fact that they operate differently from pretty much every warcaster in the entire game, they're not often seen on the tables.  Let's see if we can make sense of them here but we'll need two articles to cover these ladies since there are many complexities to their playstyle.

Naturally, the first thing we should look at is exactly how these ladies work.  There are three witches (Helleana, Morgaen, and Selene) but they all have identical stats, including pitiful melee weapons, high DEF, and a really low ARM.  They generate 3 focus each, meaning that you start with a focus stat of 9.  For each witch that you lose, you generate 3 focus less, but note that your opponent has to be capable of killing all three witches in order to get that dreaded casterkill.  Granted, even losing one of these ladies is a serious blow to your effectiveness, but it's worth noting that it's much more difficult to kill three models than one.  Fortunately, when you camp focus points, you are raising the ARM of each witch.  These ladies will rarely want to camp more than a couple focus, however, as their effectiveness is clearly in their spellcasting abilities.

The coven have a couple rules you need to study in detail.  One important rule to figure out how these ladies work is Arcane Nexus.  What this means is that the glowing ball Egregore is the point of origin for each spell and ranges (including control range) is measured from it instead of the witches.  The Coven rule explains how they generate and share their focus, but Perfect Conjunction is really the ability you want to read.  Here's how it works: the Witches must have LOS to each other and as long as they are in a triangular formation, around Egregore, their spells are reduced in COST by 1!  This is HUGE!  Additionally, if they're in B2B with Egregore, they also gain Stealth, making them quite difficult to kill at range (unless you're playing against Legion, of course).  Fortunately, you can see with the picture below that the model geometry works out perfectly to keep your Perfect Conjunction and your witches Stealthed fairly easily and compactly.
Perfect Conjunction achieved while also benefiting from Stealth

Alright so let's get into the meat and potatoes, shall we?  Before I jump into the spell list, I want to look at the Coven's feat, as it's absolutely amazing.  While in the Coven's control area, enemy models suffer from -2 MAT, -2 RAT, and their LOS is reduced to only 5".  This is brutal!  Remember before how we talked about how Stealth would keep them alive against most targets but Legion?  Now Legion has something to worry about!  While Legion is really good about being able to force their beasts nearly endlessly, they need to because they usually suffer from fairly poor MAT values and their ranged-beasts really rely upon their Eyeless Sight to let them hit their targets.  The Coven's feat will totally screw around with everyone, but will be especially annoying to Legion players who are used to being able to ignore everyone else's rules.  Their melee beasts will suddenly find themselves being unable to hit almost anything - especially when you remember that most Cryx warjacks have DEF 13+.  It doesn't matter that your 'jacks have a lower ARM if your opponent can't even hit you!

Even a normally MAT 6 model will need to boost to hit your warjacks and that means that they won't be boosting damage rolls as often (and even then they'd only have a ~74% chance to hit a Slayer).  Toss in the limit to LOS and it will be doubtful that your opponent can even see your models to hit them with ranged attacks - let alone charges since you need LOS for those too.  This is a very powerful feat for getting your models into optimal positions to strike at the heart of your opponent.  "So what?  I can get my heavy hitters there with any other Cryx warcaster.  Why are the Coven any better?"  Not only can you line up the kill with the Coven but you can make sure that nothing gets in your way of killing the target you want, thanks to their Coven's suite of spells.

I really love the spell list for the Coven.  Often on blogs and in articles (even my own), you'll see authors discussing 'threat ranges' of models.  While it's a great exercise, most opponents have ways to mitigate these threat ranges to make them less threatening, either by throwing other models in the way, casting denial spells, or utilizing terrain.  The beauty of the Coven is that they can completely ignore most of these methods of preventing your models from getting the full potential of their threat range with what I call "Spiritual Spells".

The first of their three "Spiritual Spells" is Veil of Mists.  This is one way of removing any terrain elements from slowing your models down (except against pBaldur) by placing a 4" AOE cloud effect that your models can move through, does not block FF model's LOS, and lets you move through other models and obstructions.  This means that you could hide on the other side of a building and pounce unsuspectingly against a target on the other side.  This can be a great spell since it's placed in your control range, meaning you can reach out nearly 18" away to create this wonderful zone of ignoring terrain and models, giving you some great flanking opportunities.

Next in this category is Ghost Walk which simply grants a model/unit the Ghostly rule.  If you're going against a pBaldur player and his feat is up and Veil of Mists won't help, this spell is great since it allows a model/unit to not only completely ignore the rough terrain created, but they can ignore free strikes.  In many ways, Ghostly is better than Incorporeal because the former rule ignores free strikes while the latter can be free-struck by models with Magical Weapons.  Again, Ghostly will let you advance through obstacles as well, so you can ignore buildings or even Mohsar's infamous Pillars of Salt.

The last of the "Spiritual Spells" is Curse of Shadows.  What makes this spell special is that not only is it an offensive upkeep that drops the target model/unit ARM by 2, but it lets your models move past them (like they were incorporeal) and they cannot perform free strikes.  This is brutal against large units which your opponent tries to screen more valuable models behind (like warcasters but also solos or attachments).  Combine this with a trampling helljack and you can have some real fun!  Not only can you more reliably kill the infantry models even with your lower STR, but even those which survive can't free strike you!  This is especially funny against a bunch of infantry with Reach.  You can even combine this with Ghost Walk if you want to go really deep into the enemy's lines to engage vulnerable targets - be creative!

Now that we've looked at the "Spiritual Spells", the only spells which are left are Occultation - which is pretty straight-forward and grants Stealth to a model/unit, Infernal Machine - an amazing buff which gives a warjack +2 MAT, SPD and gives it Terror (combined with the spells above, you can see how this is a devastating buff!), and Stygian Abyss - their only offensive spell which is fairly long range with an average POW but has Critical: Shadow Bind.  Remember that while all three of the coven are alive, their focus stat is 9, meaning that Stygian Abyss can be quite the potent spell and can hit even the most difficult targets for only 3 focus (and hopefully also trigger Shadow Bind!), if they're in Perfect Conjunction.  Even their offensive spell is designed to support the rest of your army!

There's one last thing I want to mention.  Since the Witch Coven is not a unit, it means that each witch activates independently.  So?  Well this means that you essentially get three separate activations, and if they're in Perfect Conjunction that means that they can throw out lots of spells and can cycle important upkeeps all over the board and you won't run into problems with the order of your activations like you could with other warcasters.  Need Curse of Shadows on 2 different units?  No problem!  Want 3 warjacks to receive Infernal Machine?  Done!  The best part is that with a Skarlock, you can have 5 (!) warjacks benefit from Infernal Machine on your turn, and it'll only cost you 4 focus, if you're in Perfect Conjunction (upkeep on 1, cast with witchA on 2, cast with witchB on 3, cast with witchC on 4, and cast with skarlock on 5).

Now that you have a fairly in-depth look at what the Witch Coven brings to the table, you should think about what kind of list you would run.  The most daunting part of the Coven I think is that there are so many models/units that they could take and have work well.  That should be encouraging though!  In Part 2 I'll share some models to seriously consider with the Coven as well as a couple of lists I generated that would be interesting to try out.  Lastly, in Part 2, we'll look at some tactical examples of how to achieve a caster kill in specific situations.
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