Jam Theory

As a follow up to the Tier List concept I’d talked about a little bit back, and as a further discussion to the battles I mentioned a little after that, I’ve managed to get a  few games with the Coven, and am starting to think a lot about how to get them to work both well and consistently. Though they aren’t considered competitively powerful in MKII, they, along with the Bloat Thrall and the Machine Wraith, were bif factors into why I ended up picking Cryx back in 2006. Sadly, all three took a large hit in MK II.

The Witch Coven still grabs me, though. They represent everything I want in a spell slinging faction: plenty of Focus giving them a huge control area, an impressive spell list, and a magnificent feat. They are, however, unbelievably fragile, with complicated activation considerations and huge blocks of rules that make them fairly intimidating to parse out.

But using challenging casters is nothing new to me. I’ve always gravitated toward sub par models and units – the challenge of getting them to work is something I really enjoy. There are times, like with Revenant Crew, when it is not really worth the effort, but most times I find a comfortable niche that the model excels at and end up pleasantly surprised.

Without further ado, Lets get started, shall we?

The Witch Coven of Gharlghast, Cryx Warcaster!

Witch Coven

I’ll want to just delve completely into their rules, as Context is going to be key to figuring out what is going on.If you’re already familiar with the Covens rules, head on down to the concepts  here.

The Coven consists of four separate models: Hellenana, Morgaen, and Selene, the three witch sisters, and the Egregore, their giant necromechanical relic orb. Each model has its own statline, though the witches are the identical to each other.

Witch
SPDSTRMATRATDEF ARMCMD
645416128
Egregore
SPDSTRMATRATDEFARMCMD
61111317-

As you can see, none of it is incredibly impressive. DEF 16 is good, but ARM 12 is abysmal. Their CMD and MAT are both on the lower side of bad, and to cap all off, each of them has only 8 wounds. Though It does make for a 24 HP caster under certian specific circumstances, its not particularly pleasing to see on  the card. Oh, and don’t forget that they do have weapons, though they are a measly P+S 7.But its the rest of the card that matters. Like the fact that they don’t have have a focus stat. Instead, they have the following rule:

Coven – The Witch Coven of Garlghast shares a single focus pool, and Witches do not receive focus individually. The Covens base FOCUS is three times the number of Witches in play. When the Coven replenishes its focus, the Egregore receives those focus points. The Covens control area is measured from the Egregore. Any Witch in the Coven’s control area can spend focus points on the Egregore. The Egregore cannot be affected by focus-reducing or focus-removing effects. Each focus point on the Egregore gives each Witch in the Coven’s control area a cumulative +1 ARM. Effects that ignore focus points overboosting the target’s Power Field also ignore this bonus. The Coven can use their feat only once.

The Coven rule gives them a focus of 9 for most of the game, and if something untoward  happens, it could possibly get down to 6 or even as low as 3, though its unlikely. The rule also makes the Coven immune to Eiryss’s disruption bolts portions of Reznik and Severius’s feats, Kaelyssa and Rasks Energy Siphon attacks, and a host of other abilities. In addition, it means that each model is a separate activation. with the advent of Warcaster Units, this can throw some people off. Each Witch, and the Egregore, activate separately, giving a great range of crazy interactions to the entire Coven. Having the Egregore, an independant model as well,  as the central point of the feat means that Nightfall is much more likely to reach where you need it while keeping the individual Witches fairly safe.

There are two other abilities that combine make the Coven a rules headache for newer players, but also completely unique in the scheme of Warcasters: Arcane Nexus and Perfect Conjunction.

Arcane Nexus – When a Witch casts a spell, the Egregore is the spell’s point of origin. The Witch must have LOS to her target, but the Egregore does not. All LOS modifiers are based on the LOS of the Witch. Witches can channel spells normally. The Coven can have up to one attached model; This model is attached to the Coven, not to an individual Witch. The Coven can have only one of each of their upkeep spells in play at a time.

Perfect Conjunction – A Perfect Conjunction is established anytime the Egregore is completely within the Triangular area between all three Witches and each Witch has LOS to each other witch. During a Perfect Conjunction, reduce the COST of spells cast by a Witch by 1.

So, what does all of that mean in non-rules speak? It means that when a Witch casts a spell, it actually originates from the Egregore, not from the Witches themselves. Though the Witch must be able to see the target, everything else eminates from the Egregore. This allows, in desperate times, the Witches to circumvent cover, stealth or other similar Line of Effect based rules to win the game

In addition to the Witches, the Egregore has its own set of rules. Stealth, Pathfinder and Construct, as well as Circular Vision, Steady and Companion make up the fairly common rules that allow it to wander around the board pretty much unhindered, as you would expect from a strange floating magical Orb. It has two additional rules that affect the Coven and how they play: Black Mantle and Sympathetic Link.

Black Mantle – While in B2B with this model, friendly Faction models gain Stealth.

Sympathetic Link – When this model would suffer damage, you must assign that damage to one or more Witches instead, divided as you choose. A Witch cannot be assigned more damage points that she has unmarked damage boxes. This model does not suffer the damage assigned to a Witch.

Black mantle is used to moderately protect the coven while in perfect conjunctions. while its not required to be in B2B, the Witches have nothing but their 16 DEF to protect them at that point, so stealth is better then nothing, and is very good many times. When its bad, though, its exceptionally bad.

Sympathetic Link is a major part of playing the Egregore. With the defensive stats of a Cryx heavy, its only really protected against POW 10’s, with anything higher than POW 12 causing serious discomfort. Thankfully, stealth is a good defense the majority of the time, with the same caveats as above for Black Mantle. The ability to rearrange damage as I see fit, however, means that I have around 21 damage before anything really negative takes effect. Taking damage through the Egregore is actually preferable to taking damage through the Witches do to the redistribution, but is still not something that you should be looking to happen. While its key to keep each Witch alive, keeping the Egregore safe is just as important. its much easier to hit the giant, glowing orb.

We’ve finally come to the spell list and feat, and man, these are good.

Spell List: (hover for complete wording)

  • Curse of Shadows – armor debuff and delivery system
  • Stygian Abyss – direct damage
  • Veil of Mists – control, terrain mitigation and delivery system
  • Infernal Machine – Warjack buff
  • Ghost Walk – positioning aid and delivery system
  • Occultation – delivery system

Its a very, very good spell list for getting the generally vulnerable and low defense models in the Cryx army into the enemy intact, and the same theme is taken into their feat, Nightfall:

While in the Coven’s control area, enemy models suffer -2 MAT and RAT and their LOS is reduced to 5″. Nightfall lasts for one round.

I’ll admit, it doesn’t look like much, but with the massive 18″ control area centered on the mobile and generally sturdy Egregore, it is brutal. Delivering an army with the feat is a fairly simple task thatcan put your opponent on the back foot and really give you a tempo advantage. Most of the time, you want to drop it turn 2, but sometimes its a turn 1 feat, if you and your opponent are both very fast, or you went second and want to see a model or two get to the enemy.

The Egregore is generally sturdy, and fairly safe during the feat, but know any melee tricks that the enemy has. while under the feat, they are going to be looking to take advantage of the Egregore’s relative vulnerability. Make sure you know your opponents walking threat range, as a lack of Line of Sight does not prevent the warpwolf Stalker from walking up 6″ and using reach to pummel you from 8″ out. The same can be said of guns: make sure any guns that can walk out of the feat also don’t have some insane 19″ or better range. strangely, many times its better to get closer to the Sniped or Marshalled defenders so that they can’t walk out and shoot the Egregore. One good set of spiked dice, and your heading for a bad day.

Good, we’ve gotten though the basics of the coven, their rules and a little bit of the thoughts behind them, but in order to make them work, we kinda have to know how they tick. While rules are good, the story is more in the details.

The Coven is an extremely versatile caster that allows you to deliver your army to the enemy with unprecedented flexibility. They have the capacity to either mitigate or completely ignore almost everything on the board. Terrain is taken care of with Ghost walk and Veil of Mists, guns with Nightfall and Occultation, free strikes with Curse of Shadows and Ghost Walk, and alpha strike capacity with Infernal Machine, Nightfall, and Stygian Abyss. They force your opponent to react to you, creating the decisions that are so common when playing against Cryx, where your opponent can’t get a leg up.

What is so frustrating about them, though, is their vulnerability. For all their ability to gain stealth, their combined 24 HP, their 16 defense and their unparalleled freedom of activations, they are incredibly hard to keep alive, and there are some insanely hard matchups out there.  If the enemy is allowed to build momentum, especially after the feat, there is little chance for the coven to really survive the onslaught. Unlike most casters in the Cryx stable, the Coven does very little to increase the potency of the faction, with Curse of Shadows their only reliable debuff, and no offensive buffs at all. Even their feat doesn’t help the Cryx army kill better, its simply extrapolates on the theme of delivery.

They key, as obvious as it is to state, of the Coven is getting your models to the enemy as fast as possible, and that means taking models that really matter once they are delivered. The Coven loves self sufficient models that can get tons of work done once delivered . However, the Covens fragility means you can’t typically wait out the enemy attrition style and that a single miscalculation or a solid play by the opponent can leave you on the back foot, leading to your eventual downfall. It only takes a RAT 9 (7 aiming!) POW 13 attack to remove a Witch from the board. While the models that ignore stealth are rare, its not impossible for those numbers to be able to draw a bead on one or more members, or even the Egregore.

Instead, I’ve come to the conclusion that a Coven army wants to be as deep into the enemy’s half of the board as possible, as fast as possible, and it has four major effects on how you play the army.

First, the opponent comes out of the gate reacting to you which immediately gives you tempo advantage, enabling you to capitalize on both your spell list and your feat. Good feat timing in this situation can drop the hammer on the opponent both mitigating their best possible turn and enabling you to overtake their position and get carve deep into their belly.

Second, it gives the Coven breathing room. The Witches want to be able to sit comfortably at the back of your army and make sure they reach the enemy. With their ability to vanish off the board at the slightest glance of an enemy model, keeping them as far back as possible is key. They still want to threaten scenario, however, and allowing them to get in position to dominate either zone at a moments notice is the first step to that, with keeping the opponent on their side of the table, is the first step to that.

Third, playing off the theme above, it allows them to play a fantastic scenario game. Its much less difficult to control or dominate scenario zones and destroy objectives when the battle lines are drawn nearly completely past the zones. It can also allow for a very sudden end to a game, provided your willing to sacrifice one of your witches. Dominating from a vulnerable position matters much less if loosing your warcaster does not loose you the game, especially if you know you can just repeat the domination next round whether they remove your Witch or not.

Fourth, and finally, it puts their warcaster in a very large bind. They can either try and put themselves into the game, therfore exposing themselves not only to your army, but to the very real Spell Assassination that the Coven represent, Or they can try and hide near their own table edge.  While the assassination aspect of the Coven has been toned down a bit since the MKI heyday (Perfect Conjunction providing boosted hit and damage, and Stygian Abyss being P+S 13 with Crit Blind), it can still get the job done with a little help, and a single Shadow Bind crit can really make sure it does the job next turn. Three boosted damage POW 12’s seriously threaten arm 18 or less, averaging 15 damage against ARM 18. Three boosted to hit Pow 12’s have a ~82% chance that the model is pinned in place suffering -3 defense for a round,Both circumstances are scary at best, and can be used against almost every defense and armor value, due to the crit and high starting hit value.

This leads me to value, in a coven list, things that are both fast and defensive, with abilities that make the opponent unable to engage how they would like.

The three that really jump out to me are: Soulhunters, Satyxis Raiders, and Blackbanes Ghost Raiders. Each of these is speed 7 or greater, has ways to mitigate terrain, and innate defensive tech. Though Darragh Wrathe is required for the Soulhunters to get full use out of them, Ghost Walk can somewhat make up for not having him in the list. That eats a large portion of your 50 point standard list. Normally the challenge would be to get to the opponent on your terms, but we’ve covered the spell list.

With Raiders, UA, Captian, Soulhunters, Blackbanes, and Darragh, you’ve ate a massive 34 points. The addition of three arcnodes, two Warwitch Sirens, and a Scarlock eat a further 18 points that gives you a total of three points to play around with, don’t you feel lucky! Aiakos fits right in there, and with his four focus, stealth, 11.5″ walking threat, he fits right in!

As I said up top, I really think that the Coven holds a fantastic spot in Cryx. Yes, they have their problems, including the ever prevalent blast damage, no ability to change the Cryxian to hit probability, and the threat of Killbox on scenarios, but their capacity to step outside of the standard Cryx attrition or armor crack list makes them feel just a little roguish. I’m not convinced I should play them competitively, but I’m sure as hell going to test them out!