Saturday, July 21, 2012

In Defense of the Mountain King

I meant to originally write this article yesterday but instead decided that since my argument included elements that were common to all Gargantuans, I figured I’d address those issues first.  While the comment was made that all of the elements I listed were common to all warbeasts, I do encourage you to read through each breakdown again because they’re slightly different with Gargantuans since Gargantuans are much more difficult to kill.  They take all of the advantages of having warbeasts over warjacks to a slightly higher level.  I brought up these same issues in my article Gargantuan Possibilities before we even knew what the Gargantuan statlines would look like.  I addressed issues of focus, damage boxes, and animi, and why their careful balance was necessary.  I’m pleased with how they’ve been balanced in general (at least for the two that have been spoiled) and I think the Mountain King is much better than people think.  This is a lengthy argument that requires a holistic approach to looking at the entire Troll faction and playstyle and consequently the article is quite long.  If you're passionate about this subject, I hope you'll be willing to read all the way through to the end because you need the entire picture to see why the Mountain King isn't terrible.

First, I’ll share one of the more common examples of why the MK is quite expensive: Whelp Shedding.  This has been brought up several times on the forums but let me reiterate it for those who might not be aware.  Every time the MK gets damaged by an enemy attack, you can place a whelp in B2B with the MK.  Note that this can happen from any attack – melee, ranged, or magic.  The point that was brought up in the forums is that the MK spawns a whelp in addition to other whelps it could spawn if you paid the points for them – effectively throwing two whelps out there for each time you suffer damage.  These can be placed in such a way as to prevent enemy models without reach from even getting in range to attack in melee.  It’s also worth pointing out that the rules for Tramplesmean that those whelps can even prevent heavies from trampling through their small bases to get to the Gargantuan – the normal tactic for getting up close
The whelp blocking tactic has been discussed at length on the forums so I want to bring up some other issues that differentiate the MK from other Colossals/Gargantuans that are inherent to Trolls themselves as well as some spells that Trolls have that can have scary implications.  Let’s start by discussing some of the spells that Trolls have at their disposal to make the MK fairly scary.  The important thing to recognize with these spells is that either Warmachine factions don’t have access to these spells, or make much less use of them than the Trolls will.  Here’s a list of each warlock with the spells, abilities, or feats that help the Mountain King:

With STR 15 the Mountain King will love
Borka's feat, especially since it can
Power Strike
Grim: Feat, Cross-Country (very situational), Return Fire
pGrissel: Cacophony (very similar to Temporal Barrier pHaley offers the Stormwall which everyone loves so much, by the way), Herioc Ballad, Calamity
eGrissel: Feat (Unyielding), Quake, Inhospitable Ground
pDoomshaper: Feat, Scroll of the Will of Balasar, Fortune, Purification (for removing enemy buff spells)
eDoomshaper: Feat, Primal Shock, Wild Aggression
Gunnbjorn: Guided Fire, Rock Wall
pMadrak: Feat, Carnage, Sure Foot
eMadrak: Feat, Killing Ground
Borka: Feat, Mosh Pit
Calandra: Feat, Fate Blessed, Bullet Dodger (minor buff), Soothing Song, Star-Crossed (enemy debuff which will save the MK from taking tons of damage)
Jarl: Feat (the movement applications for this are scary and hilarious), Quicken

In other words, literally every warlock has something useful for the Mountain King, and most of them are in the form of buffing feats.  Granted, some will be more effective than others, but they still all over it something useful and that’s not something you can say for the Stormwall or the other Colossals.  I also want to highlight 3 spells in particular that will be very very good with the Mountain King:
Primal Shock – this was the first thing that Troll players were looking for.  This spell was previously great enough with Mulg hitting STR 13, but now cast from a model that’s STR 15?  Yes, please!  For such a low cost, eDoomshaper now has an even more reliable way of killing you from a distance, and a model to throw out front while he does it.  I would like to point out that a POW 15 magic attack roll is on the level of Obliteration which is one of the most powerful spells in the game – and this spell is much, much cheaper with a built-in “arc node”.
Rock Wall – this spell is awesome enough at keeping your models alive but with a Gargantuan on the field it becomes exponentially better.  Clever placement with the wall means that you can prevent non-Reach models from even engaging you, especially since you can spawn whelps to block off the exposed edges of your base.  The subtleties of this spell are too much to merely discuss and have to be seen for yourself on the tabletop (hmmm, I sense an article in the future…).  Needless to say, being able to create terrain at-will is quite significant, as anyone who’s used Janissa or Gunny could attest.
Guided Fire – okay, this is a spell that Cygnar has access to, and will make fairly good use of it with the Stormwall, but there’s a big difference here.   For Hordes players, spending 3 fury to cast a spell is very different than a Warmachine player spending 3 focus.  Focus is much harder to come by and if Kraye is spending 3 focus for Guided Fire, that means 3 less focus to allocate to warjacks for boosting.  For Gunny, he can cast Guided Fire and his beasts will still be able to boost to his heart’s content.  Why is this great for the MK?  A 10” spray that’s entirely boosted on hit rolls is really awesome.  “But it’s only RAT 5!” – yes, but sprays are typically lower RAT anyway since they ignore things like Concealment, Cover, and they can potentially hit models that aren’t in your LOS.  A POW 16 spray is even more frightening since you can effectively reach out and kill most warcasters/warlocks with it – even if they’re hiding behind anything.  Hell, it can be used to deal serious damage to multiple warjacks/warbeasts for that matter.

I could continue but I think it’s worth discussing other elements that make the MK a formidable model that are inherent to normal Troll playstyle.  Trolls are one of the most interesting armies due to their crazy amount of synergy.  While every faction has synergistic elements, the difference with Trolls is that a lot of their synergy relies on non-magical, non-spell effects.  While they still have access to some useful spells, they also have models that build on layers of synergy that make Trolls more challenging to play and build effective lists.  The key here is that these are elements that you would have anyway and are not support specific to the Mountain King.  To contrast this, the Journeyman Warcaster is a 3 point model that would be used almost solely for the purpose of casting Arcane Shield on the Stormwall.  While he can do other things, his synergy is directly linked to the Colossal, effectively raising the cost of the Stormwall up to 22 points.  The difference here with Trolls is that we’ll be considering element or features that multiple models/units will benefit from, and thus are providing a consequential benefit to the Mountain King.

Pictured: Knockdown machine
Models with Knock-Down – I don’t have the time to prove this but I’m fairly sure that Trolls have access to the most models which cause Knock-down of any other faction.  Trolls typically suffer from a lower-than-average MAT on many of their warbeasts – let alone infantry models – but can knock-down models with even their most basic of infantry.  Here’s a brief list of models that can cause knock-down in the Troll faction: War Wagon, Caber Tossers, Long Riders, Thumper Crew, Runeshapers, Mauler (any heavy could, but his Chain Attack is effectively free), Impaler, Winter Troll/Rok (okay, it’s really Stationary but it’s basically the same thing), Mulg, Grim, pGrissel, Gunnbjorn, Calandra, Borka,  and maybe a couple more.  The point is that Trolls can easily mitigate the low MAT of the Mountain King while they’d still want to knock stuff down anyway.  There are ways of preventing knock-down, of course, but that can be said for most things except…

+2 ARM for all!
The Krielstone – “Yeah, so what?” you may reply.  The highest ARM Colossals/Gargantuans are the Conquest and the Woldwrath, at ARM 20 each.  The Stormwall can get up to ARM 22, but it needs to receive Arcane Shield to do so.  Khador doesn’t have any ARM buffs outside of their feats and the Woldwrath similarly won’t be able to be targeted by the plethora of ARM buff spells that Circle has, so effectively they are stuck at ARM 20 – and that’s pretty damn good.  The Mountain King, however, can stay at ARM 21 fairly consistently, thanks to the KSB (Kriel Stone Bearer) and this is better than an Acrane Shielded Stormwall.  Why?  It’s not a spell effect.  That’s more significant than I think you realize.  While they’ve dwindled in popularity, spells like Purification and effects like Blessed are still fairly common – let alone pEiryss, who’s practically an auto-include if you want an easy way to shut down a Colossal now.  Arcane Shield is great, but as an upkeep, most factions have something that can make it slightly risky to have.  The lowly Circle Woldwyrd can suddenly start pinging damage onto a Colossal at a cost of only 5 points.  Spells like Lamentation will suddenly become more popular and punishing for a warcaster who wants to upkeep his precious spell, and Purification – found on an increasing number of warcasters/warlocks – will suddenly become extremely relevant to simply strip off that spell.  The KSB, however, cannot be ignored whatsoever.  Your opponent will need to kill off the KSB in order to prevent the effect, and anyone who’s played against it will tell you that’s far more difficult than it looks.  Basically, your Mountain King will consistently sit at ARM 21 since you’re going to take the KSB anyway for your infantry and warlock.

Read his animus and cry
Troll Animi – While animi are useful for all Gargantuans, the big difference here is that Trolls have a wide range of really useful buffing animi that other factions don’t really have, and/or they can get it cheaply.  Sure, Legion has Spiny Growth – but that’s on an 11 point model.  Tenacity is great and cheap, but a +1 DEF/ARM is not going to break the game (although it is super useful).  Besides those two animi, how many other useful ones can you see on a Gargantuan?  What about Circle?  Circle has Primal, but that won’t work on the Woldwrath.  I guess Megalith’s animus could work if he’s nearby, but that’s pretty much it since most Circle animi are self-targeting.  What about Skorne?  Rush is fantastic, but Trolls have access to that too.  Trolls, however, have access to a bunch of animi that will be super useful on the Mountain King.  The best part?  A lot of them are on light warbeasts, meaning they’ll be cheaper to take.  Here’s the list of models with useful animi for the Mountain King: Pyre Troll, Slag Troll, Axer, Storm Troll, Winter Troll, Bomber (although this is admittedly minor), Mauler, Earthborn, Rok, and my favorite, the Bouncer.  That’s a long list of useful animi and most of them (five models) are only 5 points and thus don’t constitute a significant investment of points.

All of what I’ve just discussed is not the same as just “adding to the cost” of the Mountain King, as I’ve already established, because you could take these models anyway for their usefulness.  The advantage here is that they offer the Mountain King something that you would want to take anyway – thus mitigating the “added cost” – unlike the Journeyman Warcaster who really doesn’t offer much more than a magical hand-cannon and Arcane Shield – thus increasing the cost of the Stormwall.  Granted, there are warcasters who already have Arcane Shield, but like I already mentioned – it’s an upkeep spell that can either be removed or made expensive to maintain, and focus is more valuable than fury by the nature of the different game mechanics.  The same is true for any other ARM buffing spell that any Warmachine faction has access to.

Lastly, I wish to address the question of “What does the Mountain King offer that two heavies of equal price don’t offer?”  It’s obvious that some of the Colossals/Gargantuans offer their warcasters/warlocks offer something the faction didn’t have previously and the Mountain King offers the same thing, just in a different form: Efficiency.  That’s right.  Sure, it doesn’t offer a ton of abilities, but it does offer a lot of heavy-hitting in a 5-fury package.  Trolls are notoriously low-fury on average, with Calandra and Doomshaper being the craziest of the lot with Fury 7.  The Mountain King packs more heavy-hitting power than an entire suite of light warbeasts and even offers more heavy-hitting than two heavy warbeasts.  How often do Trolls have to run their warbeasts “hot” in order to kill something?  The Mauler is great but it needs its animus to have the same hitting power that the Mountain King has natively, and that fury needs to either be spent by the warlock (preventing them from casting other spells) or the beast itself (preventing extra attacks/boosting).  The Mountain King offers lots of hitting power in a fury-efficient package.  Yes, Mulg also hits just as hard for cheaper, but with Character Restriction he can only fit into one list and even then, Mulg is slower, can’t Power Attack: Sweep or Power Strike.  Also, with the huge base, the Mountain King offers a more consistent way of blocking your own bases - which is more notable in a faction where every warlock is on a medium-sized base.

Without any buffs the Mountain King can deal 49 points of damage on average to an unbuffed Stormwall, 42 damage to the Conquest, and it can completely wreck the Kraken.  An unbuffed Stormwall with 3 focus can only deal 40 damage on average to the Mountain King and the Conquest can deal 45 – but we’ve also discussed that it’s much easier to buff the Mountain King with something than it is to buff other Colossals.  While Trolls might not have had a problem dealing with Colossals anyway with such hard-hitting warbeasts, the Mountain King is fairly efficient with its fury against such high-ARM targets and your five and six fury warlocks will be grateful.

Here’s a 35 point list that I would hate to face:
pMadrak (+6)
- Mountain King (20)
- Bouncer (5)
Krielstone (full, 3)
- Stone Scribe Elder (1)
Kriel Warriors (full, 6)
- 3x Caber Throwers (3)
5 Whelps (2)

In short, Sure Foot on the Mountain King makes him DEF 11, provides a huge base for my models to cluster around to get the +2 DEF and knock-down immunity.  The KSB will allow the MK to sit at ARM 21 when waiting for my opponent and P+S 20 if I get charged first.  The Bouncer’s animus plus the Whelps mean that anyone who gets close to the Mountain King will have a hard time staying there, let alone getting a second model in range, thus keeping him alive long enough to heal up from any attacks and then wreck face. Even if they have a way around it, I can just camp my Kriel Warriors right in front of him and they’ll be super annoying to remove with DEF 14 ARM 17 and won’t be knocked-down when they pass their Tough rolls.  With the Mountain King sitting at DEF 11 (12 against living models near whelps) ARM 21 with 48 damage boxes right behind the Kriel Warriors, any opponent will be cautious about charging in there.  The Caber Throwers and Carnage basically make the low MAT of the Mountain King irrelevant and he provides enough heavy-hitting for the entire list by himself, without Madrak worrying about having too much fury out there.
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