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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making Cassius Work

Greetings Ladies and Gentlemen of 3++!  I know you are all so fascinated by 6th edition right now (and I was too, initially) but the Steam-Powered Gamer is here to distract you with a belated Warmachine/Hordes article.  Today's topic?  Cassius the Oathkeeper.  This guy is probably one of the most maligned of Circle's warlocks and with the recent releases that came from Hordes: Domination, Cassius actually had a little bit of a boost to his effectiveness.  Before we begin, I do have to say that Cassius is not a very popular warlock because he has some glaring weaknesses and is the "rock" in a meta full of "paper", and that doesn't help his popularity much.  The fact that he also has a bit of "Skornergy" (see my Warmachine/Hordes Glossary for the definition) with one of his spells and one of his most popular abilities doesn't help either.  That said, let's try and find a way to make this guy work by first taking a look at his special rules, since they'll inform the rest of your list and decisions.

The Strengths

First, let's understand what makes Cassius so different: Wurmwood.  So as the story goes, the actual 'warlock' is technically Wurmwood, and Cassius is just its pawn to do its bidding.  On the table, however, you treat Cassius like the warlock, just for simplicity sake.  That means that any damage suffered by Wurmwood gets "transferred" to Cassius.  This does not work like your usual transfer mechanic, just think of both models sharing the same damage pool (meaning you can still transfer the damage to a warbeast).  This does mean, however, that your opponent will have an easier time killing you off, since they have two targets - one of which has a large base.  This means it's imperative that you keep Wurmwood safe.  Fortunately, Wurmwood has Prowl to help keep it relatively safe from shooting attacks and it gains +1 ARM for each soul it collects (max: 5 souls), but it's still automatically hit in melee and that can be a problem if you're not a careful player.

There are some perks to having Wurmwood, however.  First, Cassius has an ability called Black Roots which lets him ignore the 'in-melee' penalty when casting spells within 10" of Wurmwood.  This doesn't mean that you should be getting that close to your opponent, but just that you can get yourself out of a sticky situation if you need to.  Cassius can also advance through models and obstructions if they're inside a forest (useful during feat turn) as well as giving you a much more respectable DEF 16 in melee while in a forest.  Again, this does not mean you're unstoppable, but it's helpful.  Oddly enough, you don't ignore Concealment inside a forest (Hunter would have made Cassius awesome!) so your spells will need to be used carefully.

Cassius has a pretty awesome spell list considering its size.  One of the challenges of playing with Cassius is deciding which spells you want to cast, since it's doubtful that you'll have the fury to cast all of the awesome spells you really want to use.  The spell that everyone should notice first is Hellmouth - the infamous spell also found in Cryx.  What makes this spell so powerful is that it's a super-AOE spell because when you score a direct hit, models within 3" of the model hit immediately get pushed 3" towards the model directly hit, then the 3" AOE is placed and everyone gets hit with a POW 12.  It's perfect for removing infantry and clearing out charge lanes, but this is also where "Skornergy" comes in: models boxed are removed from play.  That means no soul tokens for Wurmwood.  The other downside to this spell is that it's very expensive and that both means that Cassius won't be casting it often and also that it can't be used via Geomancy.  We'll get back to that later, though.

The other spells that Cassius has are pretty fantastic as well.  Stranglehold seems uninspiring at first, but it can be useful when Geomancied by a Woldwarden to completely shut down a target if they've been knocked-down, or making your opponent invest more resources into a model that's immune to knock-down (since they'll still have to forfeit their movement or action with this spell).  Next, we have Curse of Shadows which is another solid spell when used via Geomancy by a Woldwarden since it effectively makes them P+S 17, let alone allowing your models to move completely through the targeted model/unit and prevents them from making free strikes.  You'll ideally want a unit with a relatively high SPD to charge clean through this unit or can get into some good positions to take full advantage of this spell.  You'll also be able to cycle this spell, thanks to Geomancy to give you a solid positioning advantage.  The last spell, Unseen Path, allows you to teleport Wurmwood.  While Unseen Path allows you to reposition yourself, you'll want to find an ideal position early so you can save the fury for your other spells.

So now that we have some context, let's look at Cassius' feat.  Within 10" of Wurmwood instantly turns into a forest and models which are knocked-down in the forest take an automatic point of damage.  The auto-point is not something you'll have an easy time of spamming, but it's nice for enemy models who pass their Tough rolls (well, those who aren't immune to knock-down anyway).  This means that Wurmwood will have Stealth on feat turn, Cassius will have DEF 16 in melee, he can ignore the in-melee penalty inside the forest with his spells, and he can advance through models and obstacles (but can still get free-struck).  Most importantly, against a lot of lists out there, this 21" diameter forest will block huge chunks of LOS and slow their movement unless they have Pathfinder.  There are some serious weaknesses to this feat, but we'll discuss those at the end of the article.

The List

So what are we going to look for when building a list for Cassius?  Well we want models which will both take advantage of his feat and not be hindered by it.  Unfortunately, that means that non-Pathfinder models will either need to be used cleverly (see: activated before Cassius) or avoided completely.  We also want models which can protect Cassius (specifically: Wurmwood) from ranged attacks that can ignore Stealth.  Fortunately, most of those are low-POW attacks but we still need something which will help keep you safe.  You could also benefit from models which can generate forests throughout the game so you don't have to rely on your one feat turn to keep yourself safe or use your tricks.  You'll also want ways of casting as many of your spells as possible or extending your spell range while keeping Cassius and Wurmwood as far back as possible until you really need them.  Here's what I came up with:

I know this is what you're thinking...
Cassius (+6)
- Woldwatcher (5)
- Woldguardian (9)
- Woldwarden (9)
Tharn Ravagers (full, 9)
- Chieftain (2)
Tharn White Mane (3)
Shifting Stones (2)
Gallows Groves (1)
Gallows Groves (1)

Now, I've received a lot of criticism for a list like this in the past so let me first preface by saying: making a list for Cassius at 35 points is very difficult.  We'll revisit the weaknesses shortly (I promise!), but for now let's look at what this is capable of.  First, the oft-maligned Woldwatcher will be handy for two reasons: Shield Guard and Fertilizer.  While Cassius also has Fertilizer on his melee weapon, you don't want to get that close to use it most often.  On the Woldwatcher, however, he can use it at range or melee to kill a model and generate a forest.  This is good for keeping your models safer, but you can't really rely on it too much.  We run into some "Skornery" issues again where Fertilizer means no souls, but seeing as you can only absorb 5 souls anyway, it might not be a problem.  The main reason for taking the Woldwatcher, though, is for Shield Guard to absorb a ranged attack on Wurmwood, should it get shot at.

While most will say that the Woldguardian is not a good choice for Cassius, I actually like him for two reasons.  First, if you're careful, you can keep Wurmwood safe from ranged threat (via the Woldwatcher) and using the Guardian's animus on Cassius can keep him safe too, so your opponent can't really shoot either of them, and that's a good place to be in.  Additionally, the Woldguardian is a heavy hitter and is even better with Curse of Shadows - hitting an effective P+S 19.  Additionally, the Woldguardian has auto-knockdown which can add some extra damage during the feat turn.  It's not much, but sometimes you just need 2 or 3 more points and you'll be glad you have it!  Lastly, you'll notice that this list lacks a bit of fury and you can feel free to load up the Woldguardian and you can still use it as a transfer target - very handy!

The Woldwarden is nearly an auto-include with Cassius and you could make an argument for dropping the Woldguardian completely for two of these guys.  With the ability to Geomancy Curse of Shadows or Stranglehold or generate a forest with their animus, the Woldwarden hardly needs justification for Cassius.  It is important, though, that you take Gallows Groves in addition to the Woldwarden, since they can't cast Hellmouth and you'll want to throw that spell out there from a safe distance.  Since the Gallows Groves need the same protection as Wurmwood, they'll love the extra forests everywhere too, as well as helping you get rid of Tough models or even preventing an opposing warlock from transferring damage - if you can get close enough.

Lastly, the Ravagers and White Mane seem like quite the expensive unit but have incredible utility with Cassius.  With the potentially prolific Curse of Shadows these guys can literally run rampant through your opponent and even have the potential to wreck heavies.  With all of the forest generation and your own feat, the Ravagers (with help of the White Mane and CoS) can charge through your enemy's lines and just go straight for their warcaster/warlock while sitting at DEF 15 in the woods - enough to keep them annoying for your opponent to dislodge for a turn.  Also, with the way the mechanics work, you can get a little bit of a "double dip" from Ravagers killing models - they'll get corpse tokens and Wurmwood can collect souls!


So, finally, let's discuss the major weaknesses for Cassius and this particular list.  First of all: collecting souls is a tricky business.  While it's a potentially powerful mechanic (especially collecting them from 10" away from Wurmwood, where most need to be within 2"), it's also really easy to shut down and lots of players know how to do that.  RFP (Remove From Play) effects can shut you down as well as the obvious Soulless, Undead, and Construct rules.  This, however, is not a reason to not field Cassius!  He can operate fine without lots of souls and should be viewed as an optional (and useful) ability when it does come up.  In a similar way, Ravagers will have a problem collecting corpse tokens from certain models they kill, but at least it's less restrictive than souls, so you can still get some effectiveness from them.

The second major weakness for Cassius is that a lot of forces out there feature models with Pathfinder, Hunter, or Eyeless Sight - let alone other forms of terrain or Stealth mitigation - because not having it can shut you down if you're not ready for it.  The fact that Cassius relies on generating a huge forest can be huge against those models that aren't prepared, but it can be nearly worthless if your opponent has a certain combination of abilities.  That said, few armies will be able to ignore all of the effects of your feat, so you should think of it as a multi-tiered feat that can be effective at something against a wide variety of targets:
1) Blocks LOS (to non-Hunter/Eyeless Sight)
2) Slows movement (to non-Pathfinder/Flight)
3) Provides Concealment/Stealth (to non-Eyeless Sight)
but also, with the list generated, there's two extra benefits that cannot be easily ignored:
4) +2 DEF in melee for Cassius and Tharn
5) Cassius and Tharn can move through models and obstacles
If anyone had a feat that gave +2 DEF to friendly models and the ability to move through obstacles, models, you'd feel pretty awesome about that, right?  Well those two abilities can't be mitigated very easily (especially with Curse of Shadows, again), so Cassius isn't actually as bad as you might think otherwise in the list presented.

Even still, the meta where I am in the states features both Legion and Cryx heavily and both give Cassius an uphill battle, meaning he's not seen much in the tournament scene.  If your particular meta sees an absence of either of those factions, or you're up for a challenge, Cassius isn't nearly as bad as you might think.  Circle is a challenging faction and requires you to think differently about how you engage your opponent.  Cassius is no exception to that, but that also doesn't mean that he's bad either.

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