Tactical Solutions - The Winter guard “Death star”

03 June 2011 | Tobias Ford

I was playing at my regular Thursday night gaming group when I was re-introduced to something I had not seen in awhile. Over the course of the evening I had heard so much pessimism with regard to the manoeuvre that I thought an article was warranted, as such this month’s Tactical Solutions post is focusing on that ever present, looming menace – the Winter guard Death star! Most everyone has either heard of, seen, or been on the receiving end of this particular monstrosity and time after time players throw their hands up and cry in frustration – how do I deal with that!

Well, how indeed? Firstly let’s take a look at just exactly what the Death star is, how it’s constructed and why it is so terrible to face off against. In Mki it is generally accepted that the Winter guard were the ugly duckling of the Khador infantry machine. Mkii has been around for near two years now and that is certainly no longer the case. There are a couple of things that make Winter guard extremely tempting to any Khador general, and these are typically as follows:

  • At 4/6 they are extremely cheap, and a good general tar pit

  • CRA (Combined Ranged Attack) allows their POW 12 guns to be extremely effective.

The trick though, as with a lot of Warmachine combinations is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this couldn’t be truer in this scenario. Winter guard at the best have three to five additional layers of effectiveness that make them if not terrifying, extremely hard to move. Generally this works as follows:

  • The officer and standard, who provide the Bob and weave order (+2 DEF), CMA and the Grapeshot (*) attack.

  • Any of the Khador casters that provide the Iron flesh upkeep spell (-1 SPD, +3 DEF)

  • Kovnik Joe has a number of buffs that he can apply to Winter guard units – from boosted attack rolls, to tough.

These, are the common bonuses that a unit of Winter guard can receive and at this point for an investment of ten points you have thirteen models and one of the toughest defensive formations in the game to break (17 DEF tough models), who can switch it up to be incredible offensive (boosted ATK rolls, with CRA or sprays). The last layer of the cake comes with ESorcha; whose Elite Cadre grants them Combined Arms (Re-roll missed CRA’s), and has the (*) action Desperate Pace (+2 Move). At this point even though they can’t charge they can be effectively Move seven, with Range eight guns that have boosted attack rolls and can re-roll missed CRA’s and to top it off they are DEF seventeen; that is pretty brutal!

So...

Just how do you deal with a blob that is extremely hard to shift, and likely to melt the face of anyone that gets in their way? Especially considering that they are comfortable firing into melee with RAT seven (aimed) boosted hit rolls.

The most common complaint I hear is that they are just too hard to hit and in saying that, there are several strategies available to all factions that let them hit the unhittable. Some of these are famous and yet others are infamous but all can effectively be used in this situation to counter the Winter guard Death star.

Perhaps the most common and ones that are available to all factions are AOE’s. Even here though the Winter guard excels as their natural ARM thirteen allows them to shrug off a lot of blast damage. A POW fourteen gun (with POW seven blast) still needs to roll a seven to displace them and they can potentially fall back on tough too. In saying that whilst AOE’s are a good solution, they will really benefit from weight of fire, a good Khador player will use formations to effectively minimise the damage from blasts whilst retaining a reasonable zone of interference.

The second general counter is feats that either directly hit, drastically increase your chances to hit, or shut down the Winter guard. Of these popular examples include PAspyxious’ feat (direct damage), EKreoss’ (auto hit), or PSorcha (forced stationary).

The third way to generally counter Winter guard is to interfere with the layering of their buffs. This can be done in a number of ways but the three most important or effective are to kill Kovnik Joe, purge Iron Flesh, and too deny their orders.

Killing Joe can oft times be easier said than done because like all good generals he is hiding out the back out of threat range. Ranged assassination, arced spells, very fast solo’s and potentially ambush are all your friends here. A pistol wraith or a sniper solo, can take him out, as can a Man Hunter, Mage Hunter Assassin or similar. Ambushing a unit on is also a great way to remove him, especially if they play him to close to the edge.

The three most common ways to purge Iron Flesh are EEiryss, Admonia (Withershadow Combine), and Thrullg, between these three models every faction in the game has a way to purge upkeep spells. Some factions have additional options, particularly Menoth or any faction with access to Hex Blast (although Hex Blast needs to directly hit).

Lastly, since Bob and Weave is an order, interfering with the Winter guard’s ability to give or receive orders will prevent this buff. This is a bit trickier than the other two as the ability is rarer. Some feats grant it, such as Field of Talons (Old Witch), or the Withering (PDeneghra), as do some spells like Rebuke, Fear of God and Crippling Grasp. Some solos will also prevent orders particularly Dahlia Hallyr and Boomhowler.

These are the three general ways to pick apart the Winter guard Death star. By slicing away their support mechanisms you can make the unit distinctly easier to deal with. The window for doing this, however, can be quite small so it is very important to plan for it, focus fire and stick to the plan!

The principles listed above can be applied to anything at your disposal. If for instance you do not have access to a direct damage feat, but have the thunderhead, or Bile thralls – use them to remove them. Being adaptable is crucial to Warmachine strategy as are the right tools for the job. With a bit of pre-planning you should find that you have all the tools in your bag to defeat any opponent – even one’s that receive more forum time than they perhaps deserve. Tobias Ford Desert Spiral

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