Arkhan the Black Undead Army

Arkhan the Black Undead Army
Arkhan the Black at the head of a Deathrattle Host

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sigmar League Round 6: Death vs. Stormcast Eternals!

 The stage is set, the final match! The Mortal Realms will tremble at the titanic clash of mighty armies!
 What's up folks :) I'm feeling particularly dramatic on this one, because it's the final round, I just played the game, and I happen to be writing this in the middle of an EPIC THUNDERSTORM.

 That said, ready for League Round 6? Yes? We're starting anyway!
 First things first, the Scenario.
 This Round we played "Gifts from the Heavens," a wildly random scenario played over two Objectives, but the Objectives arrive in a random table 6th on Turn 2. At the start of Turn 2, one Objective arrives on each player side. On a 1-2, left 2'x2'. On a 3-4, center. And on a 5-6, right.

 The Objectives are Controlled if a Player has the most models within 6" of it, and there are no Enemy Models within 6" of it. So even one model can contest. What's more, each Objective is worth as many points as the current Round turn, so on arrival, each is worth 2 at the end of a Player's turn.

 But what's this? My opponent? Why, what in Nagash's name is this? These golden warriors are real??
 I didn't do my due diligence this time, so going into the game I actually didn't know what army I was facing. When I saw Stormcast Eternals come out of the box, I was immediately elated and deeply concerned. There's a lot of chatter among Sigmar players about how powerful the "Sigmarines" are, and I had no doubt that I was in for one tough game.

 The above is after Deployment, where the Sigmarines placed first Unit, and finished placing first, giving them First Turn.

 Here's his list as best as I remember it:
 Lord-Celestant on Stardrake (General)
 Lord-Celestant on Dracoth
 Lord Retributor
 Concussor (on Dracoth)

 Liberators (Battleline, Hammer/Shield)
 Liberators (Battleline, Hammer/Shield)
 Vanguard Raptors (Long-strike Crossbows, and one ANGRY bird)
 Paladin Retributors
 Kurnoth Hunters (Bows)

 Please forgive any errors, I know nothing at all about Sigmarines, and while I looked up these units names, I'm reasonably confident I missed something and/or got something wrong. Still, this is most of it - some serious heavy-hitters (especially the Stardrake, shit that thing is scary) and some rather ferocious teeth, considering it's a melee army.

 These Paladin Retributors are somewhat familiar, being in one of the first Stormcast waves, but those Archers in back are brand-new. They're Battleline too, and while in game they didn't seem particularly overpowered, they will annihilate your average ordinary Hero with little trouble.

 I'm particularly unsure what those Dracoth Riders were - pretty sure they were both Heroes, because they were both their own units, and the partially-painted one had more Wounds, but otherwise they were very similar. I know that's a Lord-Celestant on foot on the right.
 ...And I definitely recognize those da' gum TREES. To hell with those prickly bastards! Seeing those in a list of otherwise Stormcast was a nasty shock, but I did appreciate the chance to see them and the Stormcast Archers side-by-side to make a real comparison.

 My list was pretty standard for me, with some slight variations. For one, I have Vargheists that Iron Stubble generously graced me with. I couldn't wait to put paint on those suckers and try them on the table!

 My list:
 Arkhan the Black (BWAAAHAHAHA!)
 Count Mannfred (Barbed Nightmare)
 Vampire Lord (Nightmare)
 Wight King (Horse, Infernal Standard, Cursed Book Relic)

 30x Skeleton Warriors (Swords/Shields, Banner, Musician)
 *The Skeleton Champion was my General, with Ruler of the Night for those 5+'s
 10x Skeleton Warriors (Swords/Shields, Banner, Musician)
 10x Skeleton Warriors (Swords/Shields, Banner, Musician)
 10x Skeleton Horse Archers (Banner, Musician)
 5x Hexraiths
 5x Black Knights (Banner, Musician)
 3x Vargheists

 This, again, is more or less the same thing I always run. But I traded Kemmler for a stock Necromancer to get Varnhel's Danse, and kept in the Vampire Lord to right with Mannfred. In my limited experience, having a Vampire Lord partner makes Mannfred waaaaay more likely to do the damage/stick around through the game.
 The Vargheists, of course, I wanted to try. And the Hexwraiths I keep in there, because those suckers with Ethereal and Mystic Shield stick around like none other - plus they're one of my few units with any sort of Rend.
 Making a Skeleton Champion my General is new, while it costs me the Command Ability of the Wight King, it does make that 5+ Deathless Minions far more durable. Plus, I was banking on the Infernal Standard going a long way to make my Skeletons stick!

 Which it did, starting right off in-
 Turn 1!

 First things first, right after Deployment, on their first turn, the Stormcasts dropped Meteors on me. Because they can do that (?!)
 They get D6 shots (he rolled a 6, like you do) and pick that many enemy units on the board, regardless of the range, and each one suffers D3 Mortal Wounds before the game starts. The hell? If that hit a normal, on-foot Hero, that could half kill it before the game started! As it was, it killed three of my Skeletons outright:

 Plus various small damage to some of my Heroes and Cavalry, including one Wound on my Hexwraiths and two on my Vampire Lord (ouch!)

 Above is after Stormcasts Turn 1, you can see several dice marking wounds from that Starfall, but I made quite a few saves more than I reasonably should have. I got very lucky, for the most part. Aside from that, Turn 1 was quite uneventful for both of us, I made loads of saves and regenerated a few models that had died.
 In my turn, I played VERY aggressively, with every single unit booking forward. My Archers did two Wounds to the Paladins, but otherwise very little happened - in large part because I started the turn well outside of Spell range.

 I did make the Charge on those Dracoths with my Hexwraiths, and hit them with Mystic Shield, and boy did they stick! They also did a Wound or two, but nothing dramatic.

 It was a very aggressive turn for me, trying to compensate for my usual weakness of letting my opponents dictate where and when Combats happen in these games.

 The Dracoth Riders are particularly nasty, here are my four surviving Hexwraiths after that second round of Combat. While I had held way, way better then either of us expected, I did almost no damage (the Blue dice count Wounds up, while my yellow ones count down). That 6 is to mark that they still have Mystic Shield!

 So, on to:
 Turn 2!

 First things first, our Objectives arrived - and we both rolled 1's, and the way the Scenario is written, "1" is defined on one side of the table, not player-by-player, so we wound up with both Objectives right up on each other, and right under the feet of his troops.

 This is one weakness of this Scenario: the randomness of Objectives is cool, but essentially controls the outcome of the game, and can make a game immediately one-sided. While the location of mine isn't the worst possible thing, it's pretty bad, especially with Stormcasts going first. Plus, it screwed my Deployment.
 I'd counter-deployed for the Stardrake, hoping to pin it between wheeling Cavalry and my hard-tarpit. And I'd moved up aggressively to catch that Stardrake and the Paladins early, to keep them out of my Deployment Zone. But, what that did was leave me in position to take a Charge from both of those units, and be more or less rooted, while his free Liberators unit swooped in to take my Objective, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
 Now, I could string my units back to be within 6", but at best that would leave me Contesting my home Objective, because I wouldn't be able to handle all three Stormcast units at once with what I had there, and all it would take is 1 Stormcast model to lose the point.
 That said, it would deny him the points, so I should have put more though in to that...

 I could also have Retreated with my Archers, but I didn't get the chance.

 So this guy! See his cloak of flying hammers? Apparently those are a weapon, not just decoration. Because who doesn't like flipped their cloak around in the middle of a fight... ?

 Turn 2, between flying hammers and slightly more successful shooting saw Arkhan start to shed Wounds. Based on past experience against long-shooting armies, this is about the point where I expected Arkhan to die within the next phase. Being a ginormous target with a 4+ Save and only 11 Wounds quickly gets you pin-cushioned into oblivion :P

 Around this point I started seeing that Stormcast Eternals just kind of... Shrug Mortal Wounds. The Dracoths both could throw out a lightning strike that hits every unit within 2" of it D3 Mortal Wounds on a 4+, the Starfall on the first turn, the Hammer-Cloak, and the Retributor had some sort of lightning strike as well. Not to mention, many of their units have Shields that let them re-roll Saving Throws of 1, and if they succeeded on the re-roll, the resounding reflection causes a Mortal Wound on the unit that hit them.
 Add to that, Paladins cause 2 automatic Mortal Wounds on a 6 to-hit in Combat, and the Angry Bird on the Vanguards has an Overwatch-type mechanic, where if its unit is Charged, it can potentially deal Mortal Wounds to the Charging unit.

 In Turn 2, I knew the Stardrake was coming, and while I hoped the Paladins weren't going to make their Charge, it looked pretty dang likely.

 Here's where I was, I'd used the Archers to Screen my Skeletons, and hopefully bait the Stardrake into the nigh-indestructible Tarpit. I knew if he got both the 'Drake and Paladins in there at the same time, there was a strong chance he could kill Skeletons faster than I could bring them back. But if I could hold the Paladins off long enough to hurt that Drake...

 These were my Casualties from the shooting phase-

 Having taken those casualties, I was already nervous. My Skeletons' durability was untested, and I wasn't sure what to expect from 500-pts of face-eating monster.

 But, at least to start, my plan worked to a T! The Paladins charged my Archers, and the other Stormcasts *barely* made it in to that combat, while the Stardrake Charged my oh-so-fragile looking Skeletons by itself.
 Yesssss, come to me, my pretty!

 But wait - this is where I started my study of the Stardrake. And the first thing I learned was that it is hungry. Very hungry.
 At the start of the Stormcast Player's Combat Phase, it can pick any *model* in Combat within 3", roll a D6, and if it rolls higher than that model's current Wounds, that model is eaten and killed. Period.
 Uh - WHAT.
 Remember my genius plan of stashing my Skeleton Champion General in the middle of my blob? Well, here's how that went:

 Om nom nom nom... CRUNCH.
 In Sigmar, since Wound Allocation is always (almost always) done by the Controlling Player, it was fair to assume that wouldn't be an issue, except for some very few special abilities. This was a serious shock, and not only threw a monkey-wrench into my plans, but seriously weakened my lines right where I needed them to stick the hardest.

 With my General gone, my Skeleton Horse Archers were stuck relying on a 6+ save and a 6+ Deathless Minions. Since those Paladins hit at Rend -1 for 2 Damage, and will do 2 Mortal Wounds on any 6 to-hit (which they did quite a bit). Even my Infernal Standard wasn't enough to save most of them. I did save 1, just barely!

 Annnnnd Battleshock :P
 Losing 9 Models makes it danged hard to pass Battleshock, so the failure was no surprise.

 At the end of the Stormcasts' turn, they held both Objectives uncontested, having killed my Archers. I was actually in a decent position going into Turn 2, but at the end of it my Scoring was bordering on hopeless. As it was, both Objectives were worth 2pts each, so Stormcasts started off strong with 4 points.

 In many of my games, I've started slipping once Combat started. The units I run with aren't very durable compared to most others in the game, and don't really hit hard enough either, so...  This was desperation moment #1 - time to make up some ground! With a fast enough turnaround, I could maybe, *maybe,* make up the difference and be able to take some points.

 So, the moment you've all been waiting for! The Vargheists first round of combat! They're only rocking a 5+, despite their impressive Wound count, so I wanted to thin the Stormcast unit out before they were able to strike back!
 With 3 Attacks each (4 for the Champion) at 3+/3+ with Rend -1 and 2 Damage, these suckers hit like a ton of bricks, so I started off relatively strong with a pile of six Hits. That's going to be a solid couple Wounds-

 WHAT THE DAMN HELL. Yes, I really did roll that. Yes, I realize how wildly unlikely that combination of dice is in a single roll. No, I was not pleased!
 Yeah, I know, I know, I shouldn't rely on performance-based impressions from one roll in one game, but holy hell, seriously?

 As for the Stardrake, despite the damage it had done, it didn't get anywhere near as much damage through as either of us had expected, and my Skeletons were ready to return the favor!
 Now, some ability on the Stardrake gave me a -1 To-hit it, but my Wight King and his Cursed Book did the same right back :)

 Here's the state of the game, this was after Combat in the Stormcasts' turn, and gives a solid idea of where the board was around this point. From right to left - in return attacks, one Vargheist was killed by the Stormcasts, and several Hexwraiths finally succumbed, as well as the dramatic damage to my Skeleton blob and the loss of my Archers.

 Still. My turn :)
 We did our combats, I cast some spells (and rolled *no* 6's on my first cast of Curse of Years, true to form.

 But the best part about this? After my Turn 2, I won Initiative. Double-turn, baby! YEAH!

 Turn 3!

 First things first, I rolled to get my Skeleton Warriors back. And since there's no limitation on which model can come back, it just has to be one that's died previously that game, look who's ba-aaack:

 Hail to you, Champion - the best of the best bonebags comes back to the fight! And, he returned to the unit a healthy 3.5" from that big blue mouth :P

 Here's a follow-up big picture of my turn. My Skeleton units ran for all they were worth, while Mannfred joined the combat on the far right, my Vampire Lord joined the combat on the upper-right, and Arkhan made the Charge to pile in against the Stardrake, supporting my freshly-bolstered Skeletons (who also were Varnhel'd again to pile-in and attack twice!) My Black Knights, center, had moved up, and miraculously made their Charge against the Vanguard! At the same time, my smaller Skeleton unit moved up and engaged the Dracoths, and also made that charge (See below for photos of those last two Charges, I took this picture too soon).

 The Hexwraiths, as usual, have Mystic Shield, and while it's not making them invincible, it is making them frustratingly tough to shift!

 In our I-go, you-go Combats, I'd been doing serious work on the Stardrake, so a number of its attacks were dramatically weakened, but it was still a beast. I was a bit cocky that my Champion was back, good as new, and out of reach of that fanged maw. Felt pretty good, that is, until this happened:

 Aw man, he got another one!
 ...That's my Banner.
 .......The Banner that's the only way my Skeletons are hanging on, by getting models to return to the unit.

 While I'm getting over re-living that moment of shock, let me talk about my Scoring situation. Obviously, I didn't score any points, even with a double-turn. The reason is, while I could get units to Contest (maybe), since they're starting in Combat, it would mean Retreating, and giving up Attacking, while staying close enough that anything I left Combat with would just Charge me again and get another free swing without me having swung back.
 Even more to the point, all of my units were blocked - there was nowhere they could move that would be closer  to the Objective that didn't put them more than 3" from an Enemy unit. Even Arkhan had taken a couple Wounds, and his base was so large, he never would have fit anywhere without being within 1" of an enemy unit.

 That said, note that my Skeletons are running full-tilt (a mighty 6"-8" a turn) and avoiding Combat, in the hope that my fights go well and my engaged units are able to clean up enough to let them claim the Objective.

 Here's the picture I referred to above. This is only a 10-man unit, without the benefit of either my General's 5+ Deathless Minions or my Wight King's Infernal Standard. Still, I expected them to do something, and wanted to give them the chance before those Dracoth's finished off that last Hexwraith.

 These Black Knights made one heck of a Charge! But notice how there are four of them? Yeah. That angry-ass bird *ate one* when they Charged, somehow doing me TWO Mortal Wounds just because I got close. Screw you, bird! Another example of Stormcasts sweating Mortal Wounds.

 But! The real star of the Combat; between a particularly unsuccessful Curse of Years (two Wounds) and a very successful Arcane Bolt (three Wounds!) and very, very lucky rolling from Arkhan as the first attacker this turn, I was able to kill the Stardrake before it could strike.

 Then, after some other Combats, I had the opportunity to Pile-In on the Paladins. They do insane damage, but I have no unit better suited to tanking it than my Skeletons, even without their Banner.

 These Combats in Turn 3 were brutal. My Vampire Lord killed the Celestant on foot, the Dracoth's took out my Hexwraiths and Skeletons each, and Mannfred and the Vargheists polished off the Stormcast Battleline unit. Both Vampires eagerly gained a Wound back, wounded badly as they are.

 In turn 3, I again scored no points, while the Stormcasts scored a mighty six more points, for a total of 10.

 And then, what goes around comes around, because the Stormcasts pulled off a double-turn going in to-

 Turn 4!

 Yikes! While not as devastating as the Double Turn I took earlier, this does give the Stormcasts a chance, first to choose which Combat to strike first in, and second, a chance to Score again immediately before I get a chance to react. Curses.
 Oh, and to shoot. Shooting is real bad with Double Turns. It means a full round of Shooting to thin my units before Combat even starts, which can make all the difference in a fight.

 You can see, right to left, my Skeletons and Vampire Lord fell, as did most of my Black Knights, and a huge number of my Skeletons. Arkhan felt the burn, with both many of the arrows and some lightning juju from the Lord Relictor.

 And, here is that scoring situation again. He's deployed his units perfectly- maintaining contact with his own units and holding the Objectives, while at the same time engaging me in Combat and blocking me from moving past them, because of a sheer wall that keeps me from getting beyond 3"
 But, even if I could jump over them, I needed to kill them to take those Objectives. Which was taking much too long...

 He made his Charges after shooting. This was deeply concerning:

 I needed Mannfred to live. While he wasn't really important for points, he was distracting half the table. And, he granted Deathless Minions to my Vargheists as long as they were alive.
 Having already seen how potent those Dracoth Riders were, and with Mannfred having only three Wounds left, I was not optimistic.

 Fast forward a bit, not only did Mannfred successfully beat that Dracoth rider, but in my follow-up turn (bottom of Turn 4), between Curse of Years, Wind of Death, and some very lucky rolling from Mannfred's Sword, Mannfred killed the *other* Dracoth Rider as well. Daaaaaaamn!

 Woo! Got him! Mannfred wins again!
 This guy. On paper, he's incredibly powerful. In-game, he tends to be a bit lackluster. But in my last few games, he's seriously rocked out. I keep taking him for his Signature Spell, Wind of Death, but the fact that he's much tougher than the average Vampire Lord, and hits harder, is a welcome bonus.

 This I just thought was a super cool picture, the Stormcast Liberator standing against the tide of Skeletons that threatens to overwhelm him!

 Turn 5. The final turn.

 And, as luck would have it, I got the double turn this time!
 I made some Charges, fought some combats, but the big standout moments here were my Black Knights restored back to full health (woo!) and Arkhan pulled this off:

 This move here, and finally killing the Stormcast Battleline unit, I finally netted 5 pts.
 As of right now though, the Stormcast Eternals had pulled off a full 8 points from Turn 4, giving them 18 to my 5.

 This Combat above was my only other hope to do better. Not win, but do better - it was very, very unlikely, but if - IF - I'd managed to kill enough models to pull them back and get the Objective... But not only did I not do the damage, but then my own unit was killed right back down to one :P

 I didn't even manage to contest this point! They were killed back down before scoring both rounds where they made it that far. Shaaaame!

 But it was SO CLOSE.

 **Rabbit-hole Analytical Rant**
 Now this. This was a moment I'd also been waiting for. So I'm told Kurnoth Hunters and those Vanguard Archers are the same points, with Vanguards being Stormcast Battleline. Their shooting is similar range, although Vanguards have less range if they move, while Kurnoth's are unaffected.

 The Sniper Vanguards one Attack each, 24" (30" if they don't move) at 2+/3+, Rend -2, and 2 Damage. They have a 4+ Save and 2 Wounds. In Combat, they do 1 attack at 4+/3+, no Rend, and 1 Damage.
 The Angry Bird does: When the Unit is Charged, roll a D6 for each model in the unit. And 6 causes 2 Mortal Wounds. I guess I was lucky to only lose 1 Black Knight?

 The Hunters, by contrast, have two Attacks each, 30", at 4+/3+ (3+/3+ for the Huntmaster), Rend -1, and D3 Damage each. But, they also have a 4+ Save and 5 Wounds (huge!) and, more importantly, can easily Root to re-roll that Save. In Combat, they get 3 Attacks at 4+/4+, no Rend, 1 damage.
 Also, they can Trample, to do a Mortal Wound on a 4+ at the end of any Combat - which is CRAZY for a cheap archer unit.

 While the Attack on the Vanguards is scarier, it's a single shot each. That can miss, and/or be Saved, even if it is Rend 2. The extra Attacks on Kurnoth's make the considerably more reliable, even if they don't hit as hard, more often than not Rend -1 is plenty.
 Where they really differ is in durability and combat. Hunters have more than double the durability in Wounds alone, but being able to re-roll their saves skyrockets that to insane levels. Because of the higher Wounds, they're much less vulnerable to Mortal Wounds. Because of the re-roll, they're far more resilient to normal Wounds as well. Because they hit harder in CC, they're much harder to steamroll, or shifted quickly.

 While Vanguards are very scary, I feel like making them the same points as Kurnoth Hunters, and giving them a combination of limitations and abilities similar to Hunters, it seems like the Vanguards are the "fixed" version of what they were going for with the Hunters...
 **Rabbit-hole Analytical Rant**

 In any case, my Vargheists rolls were ice-cold all game, barely making 1/3 of rolls that should have been 50/50, but even that was significant damage. By contrast, Mannfred was rolling for murder, and hit like a ton of bricks. Even with that, it took two rounds of Combat to kill *one* Kurnoth Hunter, so that's where my wheeling Cavalry spent the rest of the game :P
 It was a remarkable showing of re-rolling 5+ saves (with my Rend -1), but it's a shining example of how damned powerful a re-rollable Save is.

 The final showdown - dun dun! I can't believe my Wight King A.) Survived, and B.) Survived with *four Wounds* still on him. That's nuts!

 The above is an incomplete picture of the final turn, there was one more Paladin with a single Wound still standing against the Wight King, and both Vargheists had survived. Still, this is mostly what was left on the table!
 Oh poor, poor Black Knights...

 The final score. In the last moments of that final turn, I cleared - and took - my Objective, but I just wasn't able to shift his. That would have given me a 10-18 loss. More respectable, but far from a victory.

 Closing Thoughts:

 Yikes. I know I complain about dice a lot, and this being a dice game it's entirely expected that the dice will turn on you at some point. But, they may also turn in your favor, you never know.
 Playing against Stormcasts, you really get the strong sense that stats matter. All their units have rock-solid stats across the board (except Bravery), with their Saves and Hit/Wound being especially robust.

 This time, I got Scenario-screwed real bad. I mis-played the first turn in that for once I maybe *should* have held back, but I underestimated how quickly the Stormcast infantry would reach me, and was too focused on taking down that Stardrake.
 When I deployed, I counter-deployed the Stormcasts, but also spread out so I could reach an Objective in any section of the board. But, What I was not prepared for was for both Objectives to be allllll the way on one edge of the board, where half of my forces would have no chance to get there, and the other half would be in danger of being overwhelmed. He got pretty lucky, the preponderance of his forces had been on the side of the board that wound up getting the Objectives, where I'd split more 50/50.
 I may have had a chance if, as soon as those Objectives dropped, I ran my Cavalry and Vargheists straight for that side of the board at full-tilt, but I fully expect they would have gotten bogged down just as badly, and that would have allowed his Dracoths to pile-in and possibly have saved the Stardrake. Even then, with hot dice and good maneuvering, I was already on the back-foot, so it was on my to shift him off rather than the other way around.

 Also, my Stormcast opponent was truly on the ball in terms of holding me off. Once those Meteors landed, he had it all figured out how to keep me off the Objectives, and I didn't have the speed or the position to make it past.

 In list-building, this is my most successful list yet, with the Skeleton Horse Archers being a hard dud and, Black Knights not being that well-suited for this scenario, but a great deal else working fairly well. The Infernal Standard and Skeleton Champion were baddass, and would have been far more successful if not for getting snipe-eaten.

 Still, all in all, it was a truly great game :D and, not only did I finally face Stormcasts, but I also killed a Stardrake! Personal goal for the win!

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