There are good casters
There are bad casters...
...and there are disaster casters.
Welcome a Calamity Research Labs Warmachine Log: Disaster Casters, where I’ll give you an serious rundown on a caster which gives you the feeling you’re playing hard mode while all others play easy. For tonight, let me introduce you to Koldun Kommander Alexandra Zerkova. Enjoy reading!
Why does she qualify as a disaster caster? My take is, that she does because she is the closest thing Khador has to a spell based assassination caster in Mk II. However, she doesn’t pack a fat spell to assassinate with (Like Hellfire). She has Razor Wind to do that job, but that it is weaker than her „gun.“ To top it off, she has no Arcnodes, so she’s a squishy caster close to the front, apparently without personal protection. The other Khador Casters have Iron Flesh, and those that haven’t can kick face themselves, or take it on the chin. Add to that the apparent strangeness of her spell list. Banishing Ward - good. Razor Wind - handy. Watcher - that is supposed to be my insurance? Force Blast - hm, yah, okay... still. Icy Grip - this’d be good if you had not to be within 6“ to begin with. Twister - uuuh, am I supposed to spam this? Influence - same issues as with Icy Grip.
So, she appears to be a real gamble. The spells aren’t bad, but the relative proximity to the enemy constantly gives you a bad feeling. If there is one attack vector you forgot about, you probably just lost, if you don’t win. It feels like your doing a Hail Mary! Move from putting her on the table till you’re taking her off again. It feels like playing Devil May Cry 2 on „Must Die“ mode.
Then, what is there to do? I for one liked Lady Z’s feel from day one. Her background was inspiring to me, and her Stavro Blofeld attitude in the Retribution book sealed it completely. I strived to build a list that could face anything, and I think I got quite far with that, maybe as far as you can get. First off, as a Khador player, you have to wrap your mind around her a little differently. She can be played as a spell-based assassin - as long as the enemy caster is Arm 16 or less, and that includes the majority of them. Above that, you need help.
Lady Z is more of a solutions provider to your army. Banishing Ward is pure spell denial. Force Blast frees up jacks, clears charge lanes or shoves things into charge lanes or off objectives. Icy Grip lowers an enemy unit’s defense. It’s like an upkeepable Ice Cage on Crack. Twister is an attack spell which doubles as a cloud effect and LoS-Blocker for key angles. Her feat is awesome denial - even with the ways there are around the „loss of initial ranged“ stuff. A good knowledge of the rules - especially LoS - makes using her close to the front less dangerous, especially with the three artifacts she has. Increase Spell range by 3“, save a focus, ignore LoS, all great.
Her best match-ups are other spell-based casters, because spell-assassinating her is not so easy thanks to the Orgoth Seal and Banishing Ward. Her hardest matchups... heavily armoured casters favouring ranged attacks. Heavily armoured means she can’t throw away her troops and still win, and ranged means she is in serious danger as she has no dedicated ranged protection besides an Ogrun Bokur, if you have one. To have a chance at winning, you need an army that really packs the punch and can bring the pain, best without needing help from the caster. Thankfully, Khador has such things in spades (and clubs, and diamonds, and hearts!).
When it comes to warjacks, any that go easy on her focus are great. You need Warjacks for Watcher, and you will need them as offensive pieces, too. The three common Warjacks especially worthy of mention, in my mind, are the Juggernaut, the Spriggan, and the Kodiak. The Juggernaut because of his Ice axe and the fully boosted attack from watcher. The Spriggan because of his focus-efficiency, high armour and damage, bulldoze, and reach. And the Kodiak because of the heavy boiler, vent steam and pathfinder, the last of which nicely synergizes with Lady Z’s own. If I had to choose a standard set, I’d go with Juggernaut and Spriggan. The Juggernaut as defense, for blocking LoS and that last minute Ice axe intervention. Nothing feels like stopping an assassination with a crit freeze or the simple brutality of P&S 19+3d6. The Spriggan as the main offensive piece, with powerful charge, reach, bulldoze and all that. If I have the points, switch one of them for Beast 09. It combines the best of the Juggernaut and the Spriggan. And the Kodiak, too! A special mention goes to berserkers. Their Run/Charge for free is very nice, especially when seen in combination with the defense-lowering effects like Icy Grip and Ice Cage. Actually, the offensive role can be filled with next to any warjack, since the awesomeness that is Bulldoze once again only works during the activation of the jack. I still prefer the Spriggan for his flexibility (and looks).
From all of Khadors units, there may be only two to avoid: The Winterguard Infantry (unless you also take Jozef) and the Assault Kommandos. The Winterguard Infantry needs Iron Flesh to really rock the board, and while the Assault Kommandos return much more than you invest, Zerkova doesn’t invest. So if the opponent does not bring their favourite food (med-def troops), they’re just speed bumps. There are three things I consider auto-include with a Zerkova list: Battle Mechanics, because you absolutely, positively, need those jacks. Greylord Ternions - not just for style. They provide ranged defense, Ice Cage, and the awesomeness of troop removal called Frostbite. And the Great Bears of Gallowswood for overall independent awesomeness. For troops, I prefer Iron Fang Pikemen. Doom Reavers with UA are very tempting, but I think that Berserk and Abomination might get in the way - for if they don’t, something’s gonna get LoS to Lady Z.
As for Solos, there are some key choices. However, not all of them will fit the points. The Koldun Lord. Power Booster complements the Jacks, he has another Ice Cage and Frostbite. Battle Wizard is mainly on Paper, but with Icy Grip’s def-lowering, I might get it to work one day. The Man-o-War Drakhun. Hardhitting Bodyguard on a hard-hitting horse. Buy this always with dismount! The War Dog. Also a cool, dirt-cheap bodyguard who gives Lady Z great defense-boni. Also the Ogrun Bokur for some more ranged protection. And then, Epic Eiryss. To strip off enemy upkeeps and focus on the assassination turn.
Truely, as long as you don’t play 50 points, this doesn’t really leave you any real leeway, at least in my mind (as long as it works, you can disagree). When building an all-comers list, that is. Lady Z is capable to deliver her army, but it takes skill, even more so when playing scenarios - not the „rush to the centre“ kind, but the „seize different things“ kind, because her real estate is really crowded when you bring the whole entourage (2 Warjacks, 3 Solos). Some might call playing her boring. They may even be right. However, everything gets boring, and, I think the most stressing thing is the constant tension under which you play. But I said it once and will do so again, I have yet to encounter a caster which cannot ever be made to work. Noone is that bad, and that’s what I love about this game.
And that concludes my contribution here. Until next time, farewell. :-)