Seredain is a member of dedicated High Elf forum: Ulthuan.net. He is infamous for documenting his use and evolution of the Cavalry prince list, starting in 7th edition and going all the way through to the end of 8th.
This series of posts will document the culmination of that journey including his final 25% and 50% lord and heroes army lists and some of the thoughts of why he took what he did.
Post 1: 5 Aug 2014 - including final list used with the 25% Lord/hero cap.
Between South Coast and Milton Keynes, I played some more games against good opposition – Matt Hinton (Lizards), Dom Pemberton (Empire) and Donal Taylor (Ogres), from Angel Wargamers. These were decent players who, frankly, often know the minute rules better than I do (in particular the exact mechanics of challenging have only been only slowly dawning on me for some time now).
In particular, Donal’s ogre army proved an insurmountable obstacle on 3 occasions through a combination of tight list design, tough unit matchups and player skill. I can beat ogres, but beating a top ogre player with a top list is a completely different ball game. A top ogre player doesn’t give you his ironblasters, and an army like mine has limited tools to deal with them in the early game when 4-5 mournfang, a full gutstar and 7-8 maneaters are bearing down on you. Archers are not so reliable a solution when the move-and-shoot chariot cannon can always hover behind a building or friendly troops, sniping away from the far side (magic notwithstanding). So, at 2.5K, there is always the chance you will have two cannon balls rolling through your characters on Turn 6 and taking vast chunks of points off you. Since my other big losses of recent times have largely involved the same problem – it was time for a rethink on how the bus worked.
Getting into combat - Problems
The best way to get safe from shooting is to get into combat. But, although this sounds relatively simple for a knight unit with M9, it isn’t against good opponents because they will do their utmost to chaff you up and expose you to counter-charges. Ogres have access to cheap chaff and units which you do not want to be charged by – mournfang in particular. I often found, watching games and playing them, that the curse of slow-play usually afflicts players that look at the table during the movement phase and genuinely don’t know which option to choose when they only have a bad set of options. I often found this with the knight bus against Donal’s ogres: I could outrange mournfang, for example, but needed to clear the chaff first before I could take advantage. Also, the risk of taking a charge from them with my 2 ranks of knights meant I sacrificed chaff early to hold them off, and hovered my bus at its average charge range whilst my shooting chipped away to tilt the odds. All this took time and valuable shooting resources, both of which exposed the rest of my army to the ogres’ assault while my best heroes prevaricated. Crucially, it also allowed more time for the ironblasters to batter my knights.
The upshot was that, when my heroes emerged from combat in the late game, it was very unlikely that they were going to be safe from cannonballs. Ogres were the worst but, against armies with access to both good shooting and good magic, Chaos Dwarfs in particular, this could (and had) happened to me even before the pre-combat dithering was over. It was a very serious problem indeed.
The Bow Noble as a solution
In part, the Mounted Bow Noble helped. With access to a third fighting character the helm bus could (and did) absolutely destroy monstrous cavalry, even when they managed to get charges on it. I would pop the Potion of Strength when it seemed my opponent had no option but to take the charge and BOOM, the incoming unit would take 3 S8 shots from Stand and Shoot and 3 additional S7 attacks alongside the attacks of the prince and BSB. Fantastic, and very useful in forcing earlier combats to escape enemy shooting phases.
But, considering the points spent on this extra character, there were some inadequacies for my list. Firstly, the Bow Noble would almost always die by the end of the game if the “full bus” was involved in serious combats. The Charmed Shield gave him the utility to ride with the dragon princes or go solo to eat cannons, and so the character gave me a myriad of options, but he was ill-suited to the helm bus’s primary role: to lead from the front and get stuck in. Secondly, he was actually of limited use in the cannon-sniping role. Not against static machines like Empire cannons and elf bolt throwers, which he helped kill quite happily, but against the ironblasters, with which I was most concerned. These could always hide behind terrain or units (miraculously shooting between models.. grrr), making the Bow too inaccurate to work properly. Finally, the Reaver Bow itself offered limited utility for the removal of chaff, since it only fired 3 shots per turn. These considerations, which I could play around for the sake of the noble’s wonderful utility and usefulness in a cavalry stand-off, were made particularly keen by the fact that I hadn’t yet taken a 4th bolt thrower: a much simpler way of adding flexible damage output and chaff clearance to my shooting phase without the need for the careful employment of the carrying character. Alternative options were available which might achieve more for the unit itself than the noble could.
Firstly, magic. Since High Magic is a versatile lore with lots of tools, it rewards having a good spell selection. On the flip side, against versatile lists it also forces you to make unsatisfactory decisions when you can only take 4 spells. Against some lists, chiefly lizardmen and other elves (good magic, good combat units / shooting, lots of chaff), you really benefit from access to a clutch of the numbered spells as well as the sig spells: drain magic is fantastic against buff-spam phases and soul quench is wonderful for clearing the board of chaff, archers and even machines. 4 High magic levels (even with the Ring) does not allow you this utility – 6 levels does.
Secondly, the fighting characters. The prince, with a 1+ rr save, continued to be hardcore in combat but he had his limits against multiple S6 and S7 attacks, and the BSB was more fragile still with only the single re-roll from Luckstone and a 6++ from dragon armour. In the absence of other high strength ASF attacks, these models were vital for my army and needed protecting. Against the baddest stuff, dragon armour on the prince, and High magic in the unit, would constitute a massive boost to my heroes’ survivability (and the knights love a ward too).
Thirdly, numbers. A full 3rd rank of knights would assist in holding on steadfast against nasty charging units, meaning I could more confidently take and hold charges.
I concluded that taking High magic on the unit would, therefore, contribute more to the unit’s ability to move freely, choose its fights, and then grind them out where necessary, than the noble could manage with the Bow and Potion of Strength, especially where the latter capability could be in-part replaced by a 4th bolt thrower.
Protection from Shooting
Curu has written extensively about his belief that helm units need to be large in order to protect their noble cargo. Based on my experience, I would agree with him, excepting the rather semantic difference that High Magic replaces, in part, the need to take more knights (a decision which would render my archers far less effective). I decided to split the difference and trim points off the reavers and a little from the archers to buy 12 helms FC.
With the level 2 mage and the Ironcurse Icon (carried by the prince), I now had more bodies, harder characters and much better protection against war machines for my most important unit.
Protection from Magic
The worst lists for a knight bus to face are those which can field both powerful shooting and powerful magic phases full of magic missiles and/or direct damage spells. Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Dwarfs, and Skaven are good examples, but even armies which can field endless damage spells, such as Dark Elves (plus bolt throwers) and Daemons (particularly Kairos), can cause problems where you both really want to preserve your knights and save your dispel scroll for swaying a crucial combat.
Since I was already taking the mounted mage for the bus, I therefore decided to add another layer of defence in the form of the Scroll of Shielding. For 15 points and the cast of one spell, I could get a 3++ against damage spells when I really needed it, without having to a) burn my dispel scroll or b) put World Dragon on the BSB and kill him off as a serious fighter.
A quick word on Dwellers Below. I have often said, and will continue to say, that players who load their units with characters risk losing games to Dwellers and Final Transmutation – and that these spells serve a useful purpose to prevent consequence-free deathstar play. Unfortunately, since we lost all our ASF great weapons, I have found that losing the prince alone can be unbearably damaging against certain lists (eg Game 4 vs Lizardmen, above). My list needs its high-strength ASF attacks much more than the old 7th Ed list did (albeit losing your general is never a good idea). Correspondingly, to allow my fighters the chance to do their job in an environment where ranged damage and armour-piercing attacks are more common, I’m happy to place another character in this unit to protect the unit and heroes against more common methods of death – shooting and close combat.
A lesson I’d learned before SCGT, but which was amply demonstrated during the course of the tournament and afterwards, were the virtues of phoenix guard, in particular when fighting alongside the High archmage.
The loss of Speed of Asuryan from our white lions and swordmasters remains, in my opinion, the biggest change between the old army book and the new one. Firstly the GW elites’ ability to kill things is, comparatively, much reduced from their old versions once the 3rd rank loses models. Secondly, they don’t get to strip enemy I5 units of wounds before getting hit and, thirdly, ASF troops, now more common than ever (and which phoenix guard are par excellence), tear them to pieces.
So, without significant support from our army’s latest Big Trick – the ability to spam excellent defensive buffs through the use of magic items, special characters and/or Shield of Saphery – these troops leave a lot to be desired. Given this, I think it no surprise that the majority of white lion (or indeed swordmaster) units I saw at this tournament (top High Elf fielded almost exactly the same list as my opponent in Game 3), featured large numbers of them and a clutch of characters dumping out ward saves. Without this kind of defence, our non-rerolling great weapon elites are so much more vulnerable.
This presents a problem for my army because, in the end, it is not a points-denial list – it’s about killing things. If I fielded a massive unit of swordmasters with a bunch of characters (which I would over white lions), then it would absolutely be worth using my smaller magic phases to just buff up ward saves and make the deathstar invincible. 20 swords in 3 ranks performed wonderfully with Book of Hoeth High magic making them tonk, but would be a fair criticism of them in an MMU list that, on occasions, you can be conflicted in a small magic phase as to whether you want to buff the infantry unit, or get aggressive and throw 5 dice at Arcane Unforging. In those scenarios, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that High Magic should sometimes be about the spells first and the ward saves second. In a list where protecting the infantry is not always your first priority, the High Archmage sometimes needs to throw big dice in small phases.
Phoenix guard, since they only need one ward buff, give you no conflict between buffing the unit and casting spells. Albeit they have less to gain, in absolute terms, from Shield of Saphery, they do give you complete flexibility to use your magic phase however you wish, in the knowledge that you’ll probably get your 3++, or at least can live without the +1 if you have to. Even though it’s only a +1 boost, a 3++ on a unit with ASF and the AP banner is absolutely tremendous. You will see this unit do crazy things at MKGT.
Related to the above, it is dangerous against good opponents with good magic defence to rely on getting two spells off when you absolutely need to, especially without the Book (for which I don’t have the points). I therefore replaced the archmage’s Talisman of Endurance for Preservation.
4 Bolt Throwers
I have, over time, become increasingly dissatisfied with Sisters of Avelorn as a single small utility unit. Albeit I think the new book is a wonderful object, giving us access to a fantastic variety of army builds and good combined-arms options, there are some things that reek of last-minute decision making that don’t seem to have been thought through properly. The first standout example is the fact that Tempest needs to wound, not hit, before its nerf applies – making it useless against the war machines for which it was obviously originally designed. The second standout example, for me, is the Sisters of Avelorn. With no musician and standard, these archers were surely conceived as skirmishing troops.
Perhaps GW didn’t want to step on Asrai toes, but the fact is that a 24” range on a unit that has to wheel and can only move 5” is not what I’d call an adaptable shooting platform. I bow my head to players who field large units and can see, there, the massive benefit of being able to stand-and-shoot in a way that bolt throwers can’t manage. I can also see that having two or more small units of sisters would get much more out of them, since prime targets would be far less able to escape from flaming shots. But, for me, 70 points of bolt thrower is much, much more effective in an all-comers environment than 70 points of sisters (I know I had 84 points for 6 sisters but I needed the 14 for the prince’s dragon armour). The switch loses me a deployment drop but, in its current guise (mass missiles, fast attack units, direct damage and movement spells), my list doesn’t mind this so much. The old army worked best when it had a lattice of 3-4 units working in concert, and therefore required the deployment advantage (or at least benefited from it). The new army typically employs a lattice structure too, but with only 2-3 units and with a more powerful set of ranged attacks. The build has therefore tipped on the scales, from needing to deploy the bus late in order to find a weak point, to wanting to win Turn 1 so I can shoot first and/or rush defensive positions (or, indeed, redeploy).
All-comers lists need to consider hard counters, of course, so I’ve had to think about trolls and chimeras. Sure, I don’t have flaming shooting, but I do have flaming attacks on the dragon princes, useful especially against the chimeras. As it happens, my phoenix guard and silver helms can hold off chimeras just fine and, against these flyers, it’s also worth considering the fact that an additional bolt thrower at least forces an additional regen save. As for trolls, I had a lovely time in Game 2 of SCGT watching my phoenix guard chop them up without caring much about the regen, basically because ASF and a 3++ beats a 4++ (the litmus test of this concept will be when I first come up against a Throggstar, in which case I may need the dragon princes chipping in). In the end, a 4++ is not immunity (something so many people forget when they decide to leave phoenix guard alone and go for softer targets).
After all the above I made some subtle but important changes. To finish this chapter, here is the current list (and the list I took to Milton Keynes).
Post 2: 3 Jan 2015 - Introduction of 50% Lord/hero allowance and initial list.
The last couple of months has actually been a very interesting time for the army as my clubmates have variously further tweaked their established (and impressive) lists or else dived headlong into entirely new (to me) concepts. One thing that has been of particular interest is that many of these armies have been reluctant (since we don't play ET lists), to over-abuse the new lord cap. Perhaps this is mere conservatism (as when I kept trying to include spearelves when our new book came out), but time will tell. What is nice to see is that monstrous cavalry have very obviously started to look less attractive in the face of a new-found freedom for certain armies (High Elves in particular, I feel), to take vastly improved anti-armour options under the new lords allowance. Simultaneously, large blocks of core infantry have begun to re-appear in the club meta, partly because, if you have the remedy to moncav, your infantry blocks are less of a liability, and partly because lord level characters can spend a huge amount of valuable time stomping these massive units. Although everyone was predicting hero-hammer domesday when 50% lords arrived (the club's WhatsApp chat has been renamed "Warmachine Talk" har har), in fact the meta appears to have been blown wide open.
Cavalry Prince Evolution
The new lords allowance has given my own list some interesting new possibilities to play with. You may recall that, when it came in, I was considering running either a double cavalry prince list (giant blade, star lance) plus level 4, level 2 and BSB, or else adding in a loremaster as my third lord. Well I tried the former and had a good time with it against Nurgle-wall warriors (trolls, throgg in ogres, warriors with Nurgle level 4 and Festus) and a very interesting lizardman flying circus list (3 big units of razordons, signatures slann, magic carpet old blood, two units of terradons, 3 flying skink chiefs, 2 small skrox units and a bunch of skirmishers).
Frankly, when I took the new prince, I was starting to worry that my army was slowly turning in a straightforward big bus list and, although this makes a lot of sense against some armies, as an all-comers strategy I wasn't at all happy with the idea. Parking all those characters in one unit can surrender a huge amount of board control and makes it relatively easy for your opponent to pick a strategy, since he has only a few units whose movement he needs to consider (you can only charge one hero out per turn). Happily, necessity forced me to run my characters solo. In my opinion our characters are themselves, in effect, our easiest way to recreate MSU tactics with an army book which, outside of a few builds (which I shall leave to the experts), encourages fewer more expensive units. Running the characters solo gave me board control against the cloud lists and multiple threats / angles against the blockier armies - important for swinging difficult combats with a second-round rear charge (+3 res before your lord even strikes is huge). So, I was able to run rings around the chaos list (albeit I nearly came a cropper of keeping the fight close to a set of buildings) and, with my characters, solo-stomp the light lizard units and heroes (a glorious moment saw my prince chop the 4++ oldblood to pieces in one round - the gods were obviously smiling on me). I was pleased to see that, unless a very good reason exists for deploying the full bus (basically that's cannons), the army performed much better when split into its constituent parts (the archmage + phoenix guard being the permanent exception). Apart from anything else, being able to throw a block of silver helms against skink units allows them to perform a valuable service in themselves while the heroes can stay with the army and/or remain free for harder work.
My latest games did get me thinking again about the army's utility, however. In particular, both victories, as is frankly often the case with my army, revolved around the enemy having to advance in the face of my greater ranged threat (based on 4 repeaters, hand of glory archers, 2-3 soul quenches). This is an advantage I really wanted to press further. Also, against Chaos I had to admit that there were problems for an all-comers list that hadn't made any allowance for regeneration. I got round it by assassinating Festus and shouldering trolls aside with 3++ phoenix guard, but the game was a lot dicier than I wanted it to be because it was difficult for my ranged power to make significant dents in the enemy during the first 3 turns. This is something that is very useful for my list, since it's usually much better for me to blow through combats rather than grind them out. With both these important considerations in mind, the second combat lord started to look like a luxury. Running solo he destroyed chariots, kept skirmishing units away from my shooters and threw in flank charges during the late game, but for much of the early game he was pretty much just hanging around keeping his points safe. There's also the consideration that, to get the best out of him as a fighter (and protect him from cannons), I was pretty much bound to keep him with the level 2 high mage for the 3++ (armour of destiny + shield of Saphery). That meant I either had to run him with the silver helms (fine but kinda limiting, as mentioned, with two combat lords deployed in there, plus at least a mage), or have him run in a pair with the mage (very effective but vulnerable to magic missiles, making manoeuvring tricky against a savvy opponent). There was, then, a constant tactical tension between taking advantage of the star lance's excellent solo hitting power, or surrendering some manoeuvrability in favour of the 3++. Although this second prince was a wonderfully manoeuvrable combat threat, getting full value out of him in addition to my giant blade prince felt tricky, especially when, as I saw it, many of the jobs I was using him for (chiefly backline duties) could have been handled by a much cheaper noble. And of course this expensive character did nothing for my ranged power, nor solved my inability to break regeneration.
So, having enjoyed our time together, I swapped out the star lance prince and opted for a loremaster with ogre blade, merwyrm shield, dispel scroll and cloak of beards. The utility that this adds to my magic phase is impressive - combat buffs in particular are a real boon - but my army's ranged options are also nicely enhanced by fireball (for regeneration and war machines), burning gaze and searing doom. Combined with arcane unforging, SD is a spell that will make some opponents cry and fills a significant capability gap against monstrous cavalry (important since the loss of the slance lord) and (especially) steam tanks.
The typical setup will see this guy deployed with the phoenix guard so that he can be close to my cavalry for Life-heal and the cheaper short-range versions of his spells. He also grows stronger on the back of his bodyguard - Str 6 attacks become armour piercing from the guard's AP banner giving me more anti-armour combat attacks round on round than even the slance prince could manage, and the 15 point merwyrm shield suddenly provides a magnificent parry save of 3++. The chief weakness of such a deployment is against death snipes. I have no real ward save, so getting 2 High spells off from the unit for a 5++, or casting Earthblood, are going to be things to watch out for and a good opponent can but me under pressure here. As it happens, I could probably scrape the points together for MR(1), but that would involve losing dragon armour, or Ironcurse from the prince (both mistakes I think), and Cloak of Beards from the loremaster himself - and I'm currently unwilling to lose what is a game-winning item versus one of my biggest bogeyman armies (see below).
Often, however, I'll deploy the loremaster with the archers, since it'll get the best out of regeneration, add in another unit which causes Fear (great against the kind of units that go after them - monsters excepting), give another one of my units Ld9 and provide this block with some much needed hitting power to challenge out solo-heroes looking for some easy points. Against horde or cloud armies, such a deployment would also effectively give me an extra combat block or, at the very least, some real defence for my shooting phase against BS-shooting lists (where the archers are always star performers). So I am currently working with the list as follows:
Selecting the Cloak of Beards my for new lord is the latest step in an ongoing experiment in how to maintain all-comers capability in a meta with a greater variety of extreme builds (from skink cloud all the way to 6-monster mash). Traditionally, I've mostly been one of those players who has only taken items which will always be useful against the majority of armies. However, lately I've adapted this approach by considering the particular weaknesses of my army and selecting items to compensate (much as I have always tried to do with my unit choices generally). The first such choice was against flyers. I actually have a good track record against these - the knights can't be stomped and I have plenty of ranged attacks to wound them pre-combat, but always being vulnerable to being outmanoeuvred made life very stressful against good players, and taking the points off such lists quickly was difficult because, while my prince was usually the best way of killing such monsters, he couldn't stick his neck out to far in the movement phase or his unit would be surrounded and possibly mashed to death. Such problems were particularly acute where the biggest flyer was a lord choice - like many (even most) of the chaos lists I faced. The mega-lords made the task of prince-led interdiction even harder, since against these he was outmatched unless arcane unforging could take out particular item and/or my bolt throwers found their mark. So, I put the Featherfoe Torc on my BSB and, now, I have a hard counter to all flying units which, even better, can be where it's needed even quicker than winged enemies can run rings around me.
Considering enemy lords - of more importance now than ever - I also swapped out my level 2 for a noble with sword of might, enchanted shield, luckstone and other trickster's shard. Since the silver helms, in bus formation, would no longer be abusing ward saves as a principle tactic (since I've opted for the more mixed support of the loremaster), taking another item to screw over mega-lords felt like a good choice. Next time I face a daemon prince, I no longer need to spend as much time playing cagily and sitting back - by which the danger is always that you lose the initiative and much of your board control. Rather I can now be much more pro-active with my cavalry and so get the best use out of them. Combat with flying lords feels more like an opportunity for my prince now than something to be avoided.
So, the latest changes have left me with a trio of cavalry characters which can operate independently with decent combat abilities, or band together to power up my prince enough take down monster-characters. It also means that now every character in the army can be turned towards winning my prince the hardest challenges with the aid of spells and magic items. As long as I can still maintain decent MSU play with these characters, having that capability to focus all those points into a single challenge feels like a big leap over the old system which was, in effect, to hope for a +2 ward save from shield of Saphery and grind it out with the aid of Apotheosis. Buff-wise, now the prince has access to so much more and, if I'm up against an enemy death star and still want to abuse ward saves, I'm usually free to deploy the prince with the phoenix guard (i.e. with the archmage) to get the best of both worlds.
The cloak of beards operates in the same mould as the featherfoe torc. I don't face them that often but I always hate fighting gunlines, and dwarf gunlines have cannons which are much more likely to cause me the most damage (more accurate, harder to shoot with arrows). Here, the introduction of a long-range fireball and Iceshard blizzard from the loremaster is really useful. But spending only an extra 10 points to completely mess up dwarf characters is a bargain against lists which an army like mine - fast moving but not a full-aggression list - will typically find challenging. Of particular use is the fact that dwarf armies really don't seem to be great at killing 3++ phoenix guard, so this unit is the perfect vehicle for the rune-pocalypse cloak. Even if the worst happens and my prince gets blown away, this item gives me a real shot at recouping those lost points by ripping the heart out of the dwarf army in turns 4-6.
So, the one obvious weakness that remains in the list is my cavalry's defence against war machines - the 6++ remains but I've lost shield of Saphery for when I go full bus. In practice, I'm hoping that the big increase in my war machine-killing/nerfing power (magic missiles + blizzard), will take some of the pressure off, and also that the extra spell redundancy will more likely see me benefit from Walk Between Worlds to rush my knights into combat. Also (and just as important), the combat buffs I now have access to make it less likely that I'll lose as many knights during combat itself and, therefore, expose my prince to a snipe in the final turn of the game (which is when cannons usually get him, when they get him). After that, I'll be deploying in one rank and looking for early combats, and possibly tempting shots at my BSB by deploying him with the phoenix guard.
My remaining concerns as 'one to watch' issues are, firstly, that my two cavalry nobles are robust enough to perform as decent combat choices in an all-comers setting - even when not using their hard-counter items. With all my deployment options (the BSB can go in the phoenix guard for the ward save and improved Ld bubble), and improved combat buff magic, I think they'll work just fine, but we'll see. Also, I'll naturally have to be much more focused as to which High spells I choose against which opponents. I've been spoiled for choice so far with my High magic and am curious to see how I can re-adapt to more limited choice. I suspect that High magic will, in fact, provide the hard counter element to particular enemy armies whilst the loremaster covers the all-comers bases. As long as there's room for Hand of Glory...
Do we give him the book or not . That's the question?
Being able to one dice miasma is fantastic since it is just an amazing spell. Shems and fireball is not bad either, but not the reason for giving him the book. The archmage can reliably 2 dice all the "small" spells in high magic, which is not bad too.
But after some games where I've tried both things (loremaster with book or with the ogre blade), you can count me in as a supporter of the loremaster with the ogre blade. He is my reasons in a nutshell:
1. The book does not change his casting habits that much. If you want to cast anything on a 10+ (wyssans, fireball, searing doom etc.) you can do it with 2 dice with the book with 68% chance. That is not good enough for me. Therefor I have to spend 3 dice even with the book. Casting these spells without the book with 3 dice gives you a 84% chance which I find to be okay.
2. After some games, I realize that fighting with 3++ phoenix guards is no blood bath on both sides. Very few kills are made. So if the loremaster can put 1-2 extra kills into the equation it actually has a huge impact on who wins combat. I had a game recently where I faced a block of nurgle warriors. The loremaster took out 2 each turn, which was quite amazing and helped me a lot.
3. Finally it also feels like a waste to not take advantage of his 3 attacks and WS 6. People keep saying that you should not see this guy as a combat character, but with 3 s6 armour piercing attacks and a 4+3++ I happen to disagree.
As you also mention yourself the combination of a loremaster and a high magic really gives you all the tools you need in the magic phase. Having always liked high magic, I found that it can be too situational, which makes dispelling way to easy for your opponent. Further, the loremaster have so many buffs for close combat, which is an area high magic lacks too.
Post 5: Using the bus in the current meta and against wood elves
Are you still finding your bus to perform the way it is intended with the shift in the overall Meta to more single mobile troops (time of the big blocks seem to be gone)?
Also with all that nasty stuff out there, I just don't find the prince to be that good. Waystalkers are just one of his nightmares as an example?
I think with this particular list it isn't too helpful to speak of "the bus", especially in respect of this latest draft, because it makes us think that every deployment will see the block of silver helms going down with at least two characters in it. That might be true against armies with template war machines but, in most other cases I will keep my eye on the possibilities for running the components separately.
When does a silver helm unit become a Big Bus?
The chief problem I had with the level 2 High mage who, in pre-50% days, did a wonderful job of adding solid defence to a full bus and a full complement of High spells, was that he was mostly stuck in the silver helm unit. He was too fragile to go anywhere else if I was facing an enemy with even a token amount of shooting or damage magic. Obviously when facing war machines I'd have to put the prince and ogre blade BSB in the bus as well, but the fact is I'd often be forced to do it anyway because, without them in the unit, the mage would quickly end up in the front rank, even if I deployed the helms 3 wide, and then he'd die. The problems with characters like this mage is that they shoe-horn you into a bus build even where it isn't tactically that useful - e.g. against shooty/avoidance elves or one of daemon lists (in particular Kairos-based lists) with an endless supply of furies and single beasts (easy to hide, hard to shoot) to throw in your way. Putting an archmage in the unit would create a big-budget version of the same problem, assuming he doesn't take high magic and a 4+ ward. If he does take the 3++ build I'd be satisfied he could usually stand up to combat, but a high archmage has little reason to be in combat unless the unit he's in is powerful enough to do the damage. 3++ phoenix guard would qualify, but helms usually would not, so really you're looking at adding more characters to build a proper bus, here, unless you're happy to field an archmage and silver-helm bodyguard as a support unit (actually not a bad idea). So in goes a giant blade prince and BSB. But you don't want the archmage miscasting and destroying this now valuable unit, so you put Banner of the World Dragon in. Now you have another character who can't take war machine shots (not so unusual) but, with only a 2+ 6++, can't stand up to crossbow bolts or tough combats either - so he is bound to stick with the bus for the ward buff or, if you picked another lore (Life, Beasts), you are bound to put more characters into the helm bus to push him into the second rank. If the former, you have a predominantly ranged lore riding around with a fast combat unit that often wants to deploy on a flank and make manoeuvres which would reduce your mage's targets. If the latter, you have 1000 points in one easily-chaffable block (it is of course much, much harder to chaff up solo cavalry characters).
The point is that, as is typical with our latest army book, certain choices force, or at least encourage, you to field larger and more expensive units. In this case, the mounted mage and mounted World Dragon BSB force you into fielding an army that will almost always need to deploy a full (3 characters or more) cavalry bus regardless of the matchup and, once you've started building such a unit, it feeds on itself and tends to grow bigger (World Dragon for level 4 miscasts, more heroes to push world dragon into the second rank). This is of course a perfectly valid choice. Proper big bus builds are great for certain things - they're really hard to kill and, against certain lists, you can smash big 20-0 wins (if you're playing that system - and most tourneys seem to). You'll just have to accept that one day a good player will show up with a whole bunch of low profile chaff, preserve it and use it well, and so have a good go at making sure your bus never sees a meaningful combat. Lots of players, including high elf players, have been doing this for years. If you're fine to play the points system for a tournament then maybe that's ok, but if you're trying to build an all-comers army regardless of a particular local meta, it's problematic.
Character Builds and Tactical Options
My character builds are intend to go some way to prevent me having to field a full bus except where it is advantageous to do so considering the enemy deployed opposite: the short point being that my list shouldn't need to employ one except for the purposes of LOS saves against war machines. And even then, I don't need to put all three characters in the helms because the BSB can take two cannonballs. Against machineless lists, because all of the mounted characters are very well armoured and immune to flaming, you can pick and choose where they go - whichever unit you like, or solo, or in one hero unit together as the Three Amigos (good if you want to take out chaos lords but leave the helms free to run over chariots etc). Just watch your cover modifiers agains BS weapons. When you are able to do this, you'll typically find you get much more mileage out of the helms themselves - they're fine to go running down skinks, archers, crossbowmen, scouts, war machines, chariots, fast cav - or working wide round a flank to hit an infantry unit from a weird angle - if they're not dragging both Ld 10 and the BSB with them. As for the heroes, they can concentrate on killing things that would probably, if they chose, chew up your helm unit and maybe back 300ish points in the process.
If you are forced to deploy all of the characters in the unit, it's probably because you're facing a gunline. Here you'll want to go on the attack anyway, and enemy chaff will be throwing itself into the open to block your advance - this is when your magic missiles and arrows come into play to clear out annoying units like gyrocopters while your guard and helms force redirectors to throw themselves away from Turn 1 (terrain matters here so deploy accordingly). In more normal circumstances where there are a couple of cannons but no gunline, and where you might deploy the BSB with the phoenix guard and the prince + noble in the helms, the bus is your road-block and counter-attack unit. The extent to which it performs either task is often dependent on how you employ your shooting and magic phase: do you use your magic missiles and bolts to weaken main combat units which you then shatter with the bus and phoenix guard? Do you allow the pheonix guard (magic missiles), bolt throwers and archers to chip points away from the enemy army (against MSU lists, for example,), while your merely bus protects them by threatening long charges (to be made at will)? Do you set-up a static shooting base with the infantry section of the army (plus BSB) and throw your knights forward at a weakpoint or work around a flank to earn points for themselves (while the phoenix guard hold the ground)? Depending on the enemy army, and the terrain, a medium-strength cavalry bus has a lot of options when supported well by this much ranged damage, combat buffs, a couple of movement spells and a rock solid infantry unit working in support.
Andros, I guess to conclude, you are quite right to say that my army is fundamentally a defensive list. In this context the job of the mounted characters and the knights is that you have the tools to ensure you can collect big points for winning the ranged war (shooting is not good at this - combat gets it done quicker): either by killing enemy shooting units, covering board space to protect your own, or running over units already damaged by your own ranged attacks. Knights are perfect for this because they are fast, quite hard to kill and core troops. Of course, you have the option to put all the mounted heroes in the helms to ride out in bus formation and smash hard units alongside your phoenix guard while your ranged units takes care of enemy chaff and shooting (beware of operating close to buildings, where the enemy can safely hide chaff or damaged units). The fundamental point of my mounted character builds (and the absence of certain others - including the mounted archmage and World Dragon BSB) is that you have a little more freedom to choose when it is in your interests to do this and when it isn't. The first job of the silver helms is to make sure the prince isn't killed by a cannon ball. Aside from that, the world is their oyster.
The fundamental point of the prince, meanwhile, remains that he can kill enemy models that nothing else in my low-strength army can touch. The point of the mounted heroes (featherfoe, OTS) and casters (wound heal, combat buffs, sometimes ward buffs) is to help him to do this: to combine points into one combat to bring down the worst enemy lords without being forced to keep them there for every other circumstance as well (as a monster would), or making me vulnerable to losing a load of points to cannons (as a monster also would).
The Cavalry Prince vs Wood Elves
Waystalkers are a threat if they are alive and have a clear shot to your prince when he's riding with helms, yes, but there are things you can do about this. Just like waywatchers, waystalkers are terrified by the amount of ranged hits this list can put out - take the snipers out as a priority. Archers + hand of glory and soul quenches + fireball are brilliant at this. Why, against wood elves, do you have to deploy the prince with the silver helms? He doesn't need LOS so you're free to put him where you like. If waystalkers don't have trueflight arrows (I believe they don't), you have cover saves. If the waywatchers are gone or far away, hide the prince behind the silver helms. The simplest option is to put the prince in the phoenix guard and get the archmage's war buff. If you don't want to load up, the BSB is perfectly happy in the archers and will ignore those sniper shots with his items. Both he and the prince will do good work in the infantry units threatening long charges. Obviously your army's chief anti-armour weapon is not designed to kill armourless elves. The fact is that neither the BSB nor the prince is likely to see combat against wood elves that don't have wild riders, but they're easy to protect, still provide the leadership, and frankly the rest of the army is perfectly designed for killing light units in droves. This is precisely the sort of environment where your silver helms will want to ride off and bag themselves some archer units. Even in a ranged war they can be great: there's nothing like a line of heavy knights charging straight at you to make an archer think twice about which target he's going to pick.
So, inevitably, with the site broken (what happened there?), I bugger off for a few months and then look what happens! 8th finishes and we have a whole new game come through the door. So I thought I’d sign off on the old list and welcome in my first draft for Age of Sigmar. I can only apologise to those helpful souls above for failing to get back to them – this is the first time I’ve logged on since my last post. Chiefly this was due, first, to Ulthuan going down, but also an enormous disinclination to sit in front of a computer screen having spent all day, every day, sitting in front of a computer screen at work.
Happily, I am currently enjoying a lovely holiday in Majorca and so am far less inclined to pick up my laptop and smash it against a wall before reading a book - or anything not on a screen (don't you find it makes your eyes go funny, after a while?). In fact, I've had an itch to finish the 8th Edition story of the army, and the poolside is as good a place to sit and type as any.
When we last met, I was in the middle of a tournament. I’ll speed quickly through those games:
My penultimate game was against white lion star elves with multi light-casters plus anti-heroes loremaster, a frost phoenix and MSU cavalry with a couple of bolt throwers. Things started cageily, albeit my long range shooting pinged off his bolters quickly (partly thanks to a 36” fireball from the loremaster), and his frosty failed a charge into one of my own machines. My firebase was protected by the phoenix guard, who I knew could take a weakened lion unit, and the centre ground was held by my helms plus BSB. As his MSU units started to be whittled down, things looked under control, but then a failed panic test by the helms, on re-rolled 10 no less, saw them run off the board and totally abdicate control of the centre of the field - then I was in trouble. Somehow, through judicious use of my ranged attacks and a tight deployment to discourage the frosty from running amok, I clawed points back, in particular by throwing my prince and loremaster out of their units to carve up MSU silver helms on the right whilst the frosty was stuck on my left. These heroes then ran into the white lions to start assassinating characters – that unit being much reduced by bolter fire. Unfortunately, one disastrous round of combat saw my loremaster killed by 5 lion attacks and my prince wounded twice by the enemy loremaster, whilst a reaver charge in the rear went disastrously wrong and saw me lose, not gain, combat res. Simultaneously, the phoenix guard had failed a soft charge to clean up the lions and secure victory. This was too much for one round of combat. My prince fled, but escaped, and I went down by something like 11 to 9. A good plan gone wrong, and a fun game. Catching frosties is difficult for my army (sorry, was difficult), but once again a flyer had been forced by tight deployment to stay out of the action for fear of getting pinned and swamped, so it was at this moment that I decided the featherfoe torc on my 2.5 list was not really necessary. By contrast, I'd been impressed by the Sword of Anti-heroes on my opponent’s loremaster, so quickly resolved a new build for my 2.5 BSB. Apart from that I learned little - subject to a rather large bum-fudge from Mistress Fortune, I think I have the measure of white lion-based high elf armies. Phoenix guard, ranged spam, archers and fast combat characters do well against them – they suffer hugely from slow movement and a lack of ASF once the ranged war is lost.
My last game was against a light-based Empire list with stank, two cannons, double demis, big block of halbs, skirmishing archers, wizards, warrior priest, walter – the usual. As a match-up, this is one of the harder ones. I say this with no hint of whinging – I can take these lists – but conditions need to be right for me to pull off big wins. Specifically, I need to do real damage at range in order to neutralise the steam tank as a serious threat – otherwise he can pin one of my two main units, especially the phoenix guard, down – and its these who I really want pushing into the halbs whilst my magic, machines and knights run down the demis. Similarly, in my favour, Empire finds it very difficult to take big points off me unless I run straight into the jaws of the trap to find myself getting pummelled by banishments and cannonballs, then pinned by the stank and overwhelmed by a halb-demi counter-charge (I learned that lesson the hard way from my first game against this kind of list, and I wasn’t about to repeat it the mistake). If I don’t run immediately into 24” range of the walter, however, the Empire bubble can’t do its work – and these sorts of lists are in my experience, reluctant to go on the offensive.
And so it proved this game. I needed to plink off the cannons with arrows and put wounds on the steam tank with bolts and searing doom, and my opponent needed to wallop me with his war machines and magic before deciding whether to commit with his demigryphs. Without inflicting damage at range, I would not commit to the attack, and neither would he. But, in the event, both our shooting and magic phases were duds – throughout the game. He took some bolt throwers and the reavers, I took a cannon with archers and a unit of demis with the character-led helms (Hand of Glory for M10 and +2 WS being most welcome). His army looked worse than mine, by the end of it, but there is very little to say to say about this game other than it was a stand-off. I mullered the halbs, but they simply hid behind a house (buildings make Empire turtles so much harder to crack). His stank, having lost no wounds to dud searing dooms and bolts, pinned my phoenix guard, and both units stayed there (the loremaster’s ogre blade not doing its duty this time), chatting or something. Draw.
So what became of the 8th Cav Prince list? Albeit it had only been 2200 points, I learned a lot from Firestorm 4s, finally, about the usefulness of the sword of anti-heroes. By this point, the phoenix guard block had become the solid heart of the army and, with the sword-toting BSB (a decent option event against cannons, since he could bounce two balls), liberated the helms and prince from anti-deathstar duty to use their speed in more imaginative and useful ways. If anything could crack the no-sword 3++ guard, it was a genuine multi-character deathstar. For those moments when I wanted to go full bus with the helms, massed characters were, again, the biggest threat. And after several games against lists with one or multiple flying monsters, I found that I’d had fewer problems than I’d feared. The fact was that even the archers, being deployed in numbers, would hold on steadfast for long enough for me to bring in support against flyers which lacked steadfast-breaking numbers of attacks. Having a unit of real size was very important to their role not only as ranged offense, but as ranked-up infantry. Indeed, ranged dominance combined with ranked-up defence and quickly organised counter-attacks had seen me secure an extremely high success rate (total, after that last high elf game) against lists with flying monsters/characters. Deathstar lists, particularly ogres (helms being quite poor against ironguts and ironblasters), struck me as more of a problem. Another potential problem was death magic, since I had relatively few true wards on my characters. Magic-heavy ranged lists also posed a constant threat to the helms-as-bodyguard so, although less potent, swapping the power stone on the archmage to a scroll of shielding felt like a safer all-comers choice. Finally, I wanted the Reaver Bow back. I long ago decided that the Bow + Potion cavalry noble was too fiddly to use, left the noble too unprotected and offered no support to the prince. However, the bow itself remained excellent value for the points, added extra dominance in shooting wars and still allowed room for a lance, enchanted shield, luckstone and OTS for combat duties and prince support. Depending on the opposition, the noble could either act as a front-line companion to the prince, with the bow as a useful bonus for early turns stand-offs or even stand-and-shoot duties against other cavalry, or else he could act as the new quarterback character (see page 56), whilst the BSB was engaged in serious combat and leadership duties with my frontline units.
So, I made my final list amendment of 8th Edition, and finally stuck with it all the way until 9th hit. The list was:
I should say, in enormously late reply to SpellArcher and Andros, that the lack of Book of Hoeth was simply down to the fact that I wanted to spam magic missiles with the Ring of Fury. This was one of the best ways to spend a (risk free) single dice and, along with the loremaster's spell variety and the archmage's access to basic Soul Quench, gave me a huge amount of damage output in the magic phase. Compare the cost of casting a large soul quench with the cost of spamming two small ones - the latter can be done much more cheaply - although I always had the option to throw 6d6 hits when I wished. It also allowed me to choose other spells for the archmge, where occasion dictated, without losing altogether this ability to throw hits with him. All together, this was much more important to me than the extra casting power of the Book. Partly because my army's existence depended on its ability to control the movement phase and win shooting wars against massed-missile armies, especially skirmishers who could avoid combat with the phoenix guard - making the annihilation of light troops absolutely essential for the list's all-comers credentials. Further, I'd taken the loremaster, which might mean only casting 1-2 spells per turn with the archmage. That would, of course, mean I got much less benefit from the Book's re-roll. As for the Book in defence, where it is most valuable (since the archmage would always be the dispeller of choice), the Scroll of Shielding could effectively eat more dice in a round (much as a dispel scroll would), than the Book would manage on a crucial turn. Not as potent over time, but a decent prop given the extra damage output and tactical options given me by the Ring.
And, d’you know what? It all worked. Alas, for lack of time to write, I took no pictures and produced no reports. But finally I’d found a list I was totally happy with. And it showed – even ogres were somehow, finally, much less of a threat as, with another top-notch combat character in the form of the BSB and that extra pip of shooting, I could control the match ups much more easily. The prince was liberated to pursue specialist targets with his knights (mournfang etc), whilst the anti-heroes BSB finally allowed me to march full-face toward the ironguts with the phoenix guard, giving me much better cover for my archers and machines and allowing me to bring the ironblasters into range of my arrows and (particularly) magic – something I’d traditionally struggled to do whilst standing off against ogre gutstars in the past (although shifting casters back into the archers was usually a good idea when the hellheart was there).
Finally, 9th loomed, and I thought I’d best take some shots of what looked like my last game. Appropriately, it was against dark elves. A huge unit of shades with Hellebron, and a bunch of MSU units including dark riders, warlocks, flying BSB etc. I castled, drew the enemy into a hasty advance with my advantage at 30+ inches, and then opened up with massed magic missiles. Arcane unforging saw me pick off the BSB, and massed bolts and arrows withered the (very dangerous) shade star. It wasn’t an especially close game, but my tight deployment did at least allow for a final few decent photographs of the 8th Edition cavalry prince and his army.