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Skorne Theme: Imperial Warhost: First Impressions

Sardonic Artery looks at Skorne’s Imperial Warhost theme, discusses its pros and cons, and argues why, at first glance, you probably won’t see much of it in the competitive scene once other themes release in September 2017.

It’s day one of Gen Con 2017 and Privateer Press has dropped the latest Skorne warbeast theme (before 6 AM even, causing my mad War Room refresh skillz to atrophy). Let’s see what it has to offer.

You can take:

  • Skorne warlocks (duh)
  • Non-character warbeasts (save when the character beast likes the boss enough)
  • Beast handler units
  • Solos with battlegroup controller (read: currently Zaadesh1)
  • Willbreaker solos; and
  • Skorne battle engines (read: currently the [now great] Siege Animantarax)
Boi I sure do love muh 'phantz

Boi I sure do love muh 'phantz

Benefits:

1) One free krea or agonizer for every 30 points of warbeasts/battle engines

Given that I can usually only afford one of these support beasts (and only get both in an ADR list, swapping out one for the other + a gobber chef) I like this benefit. Since the theme force essentially limits you to beasts, battle engines, beast handlers, and the occasional non-fighting solo, it is likely that you’ll get three free warbeasts in a 75-point list.

2) Skorne warbeasts gain hyper-aggressive 

A warbeast takes damage and can make a full advance towards the attacking model. A few caveats here:

  • Hyper-aggressive is not triggered while advancing, so there’s no movement jank if you take a free strike.
  • If you hyper-aggressive move you must advance directly towards the attacking model, so you can’t get cute with the movements for terrain benefits or blocking charge lanes unless it’s a straight shot to the attacking model.
  • Hyper-aggressive moves are optional, but you can make as many moves as you are damaged from individual attacks. Yes, widowmakers, plink my elephant for 4 damage and 16” of movement up the board. Surely I won’t walk out of my control area and get murdered by the rest of your army…

This benefit is solid, especially for Zaadesh2 who loves heavy battlegroups and has countercharge / inviolable resolve as spell options. However, just like counter-charge, you’ve got to know when to use it.

3) Your deployment zone is extended 2” forward

Can’t go wrong here; especially with SPD 3-4 beasts. About the only warning is if you face that rare list that can attack your advance deploy models the top of turn one.

Imperial Host Gut Reaction

It’s easy to miss the gold in theme forces the first time around (see Runes of War in MKII, Ghost Fleet in MKIII, and any list that clicked once a later release dropped), but as is, I don’t expect to see much of Imperial Host once every other theme force drops next month. Here’s why:

1) The Benefits Aren’t That Impressive For the Limitations

I know, I know. 21 free points in a 75-point list—what am I complaining about?

Sure, it feels a bit dialed in on the benefits (and I understand that beast handlers can’t have access to repo 3” thanks to free charges when gently caressing a beast), but I’ve got no complaints there. The issue is that you don’t get enough for the lack of troops. Since the free beast options are limited to kreas and agonizers, this is about the only time I’ll take 2+ of either. In some ways, I may have preferred the (originally printed) two free reptile hounds option for flank control—namely because of the lack of troops available and the way SR2017 scenarios work (more on that in a minute). You could use a max unit of beast handlers as a frontline, but that seems like a poor option.

Secondly, while hyper-aggressive can lead to some great “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moments for your opponent, the bubbles from kreas and agonizers are small, so you can easily walk from their benefits.  

Finally, though I’ve spoken against it in the past—arguing that theme forces options should come with limitations—I can see why every Skorne theme force should allow extollers and Marketh. Those pieces matter less here, but I consider the extoller a required tax for running the Siege Animantarax. You could make the same argument for beast handlers as a derp turtle tax, but like the journeyman warcaster in Cygnar or the choir in Menoth, you were bringing them in every list anyway. 

2) Lack of Troops Hurts

The biggest argument against this theme is SR2017.

SR2017 scoring is designed to kill the hard skew and if you’ve got to keep everything (read: all your beasts, save archidons) in your limited control area, that puts your warlock at greater risk. Granted, you can get a battle engine off on the flank, but you’re still missing troops to control circular zones. This may be resolved by the potential inclusion of Mercs/Minions into themes at a later date, but currently, no frontline is a huge problem. In addition, this is now the second theme force Skorne has that doesn’t get access to frontline troops. That’s a lot of models waiting to find a home in another theme.   

3) Other Skorne Themes Are Better

While the fart theme (Winds of Death) has no real frontline troops, as a gunline, it gets away with it. It also helps that Rasheth1 can help buff/debuff enough to make slingers work in a pinch, but with a slew of lights, 20” threat guns, spell arcing, and a beefy Siege Animantarax rounding off the list, you don’t need no stinkin’ swords to stab those bullet-riddled corpses. Frankly, if you’re not playing Winds of Death, you’re likely missing a step competitively.

In addition, since every model should have a theme force by the end of 2017, it is likely that every other Skorne theme force will be better than Imperial Host:

  • Hexeris1, Hexeris2, Morghoul2, and Rasheth1 all have better homes in Winds of Death.
  • The immortal theme force is a lock for Zaal2, but there may be additional game for Zaal1 and Xerxis1.
  • All five warlocks in Disciples of Agony prefer that beast theme (even more so if Marketh and the extoller become available).
  • The praetorian theme is currently unknown, but will grant access to most of our melee troops (including the Legends of Halaak for a great second wave). Unless this theme’s benefits are mediocre and/or its choices are limited, it will likely be the most accessible theme for your average Skorne player. This goes double if cataphracts get lumped in there, too.

You could also—and call me crazy here—play the occasional list out of theme for unique synergies. Meowkeda still rawrs your name at night. 

4) Imperial Host Does Little to Shape Competitive Builds

I’ve stated already that Zaadesh2 is one of the most obvious choices, but in Imperial Warhost he loses access to character warbeasts (Despoiler for free upkeeps, Tiberion for tank terror), swamp gobbers (to expand the cloud wall), and the two bloodrunner master tormentors I like up front for any warbeast-heavy list. Xerxis2 is another obvious choice, but again, the benefits don’t outweigh the limitations. 

Naaresh1 and Morghoul1 (bringing Zaadesh1) also have game in Imperial Host, but if the Minion theme force stays as is, they’re better in Disciples of Agony.

Finally, you could look at Makeda3 with frontline cyclops or Xekaar1 with Chiron, 8 drakes, and 3 free kreas, but let’s be honest, trying to polish our two worst warlock options isn’t going to do you any favors competitively.

Final Thoughts

I’d love to be proven wrong about Imperial Warhost’s competitiveness, but I’m not going to be the one to go out and change minds with its current limitations. Let’s see if my opinion holds after a year of CID cycles.

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You can find Colin McKay Miller (AKA Sardonic Artery) on his Twitter or at Colorado Warmachine events in his tiniest of short shorts.