Transfer of Power
I have yet to play enough games to really judge the power of Zaal, Ancestral Advocate, but I think I am starting to unlock him just a little bit. One of the most fun parts of both of Privateer Presses games, at least for me, is acclimating a new Warcaster or Warlock. I like putting each one on the table and seeing how they interact with the game what they do both for me mentally, and what they provide for the models on the board. I also enjoy the pains that they put my opponent through. Watching when and how an opponent reacts to how you’re playing the game and what your abilities are can in a general sense give you insight into how future opponents will react. All of those points, when added together, can give a really solid sense of how a ‘Caster is going to mesh with your style, your faction, and your temperament.
Thankfully for me, I think that Zaal2 is going to fit right into how I play the game. He’s a troop caster who brings a few support pieces and provides maximum output for the models on the board. Some casters bring buffs to bolster their own troops, or debuffs to weaken the enemy. There are a rare few that bring both. Zaal Brings both additional hit and additional damage through one of the more powerful methods in the game: Boosting. Every single model in the army is able to boost and push through to change the numbers when needed from an average of 7 to an average of 11.There are a few hiccups in his plan, though, and some problems in both list building and model application that can be more than a little daunting.
I’ll try and tackle the list building first, because the problem is obvious. Zaal 2 wants souls, and he wants them baaad. The transference engine only works if there are souls collect and convert, which only happen with friendly, faction, troops. Relying on Annihilation is shakey at best, and can have devastating consequences if used poorly, draining the fury you have for transfers this turn in return for souls and fury next turn. Obviously if you don’t get to use the souls because your dead, it doesn’t mean a damned thing. That means that he needs a critical mass of souls, and he needs to be the one reclaiming them most of the time. For Skorne, that means that the Ancestral Guardians and Immortals will need a good, long, study before putting them into his list.
However, and I am sure we all know this by now, his feat only works on constructs, and he cannot collect souls from constructs. This means, in true Skorne fashion, that he wants two things in his lists: Cheap, abundant souls and constructs galore.
Compounding that problem even further, I really feel that he wants Ancestral Guardians with a vigor that is beyond measure. With up to 4 attacks each, the possibility to use the feat to maximum affect is strongest with those solos. However, in order to achieve each attack, they must give up a soul – and a Fury – on Zaal, draining him of precious resources. Unfortuneatly, Zaal also leaves only a few other solos that can be included in the army and expected to contribute: Paingiver Bloodrunner Master Tormentors, Tyrant Rhadeim, and Tyrant Zaadesh. Each other solo in the army list creates a conflict some portion of the game plan: Void Spirit (undead, eats souls), Willbreaker, Extoller Soulward, and Agonizer (no Melee attacks). Thankfully, Both Zaadesh and Rhadeim are pretty awesome, and Rhadeim gives a fantastic Vision target, something I’ve been lamenting. (Aside: Wouldn’t it just be better to pay 2 more points for an archidon? Think on it.)
Cheap souls, though, we have in abundance in terms of units. with Nihlators and Praetorian Keltarii that are both 5/8 and Praetorian Swordsmen, Praetorian Karax, and Venator Slingers are all 4/6. We even can, if pressed, field a dozen Paingiver Beast Handlers for 6 points! Nihlitors seem the best move, with berserk allowing multiple fully boosted attacks, and swordsmen with sidestep seem the next best thing. Better than that: Using both! Bloodrunners are a little bit expensive at 6 points for 5 guys, but they really can get their unit dug in, provided they keep hitting, and Zaal helps with that.
His warbeasts, on the other hand, I haven’t really found anything particularly enthralling with him. Instead, I’ve found myself taking the bare minimum to cover his fury in turns that it might be necessary, but have yet to find that to be the actual case. I’m almost convinced he can run with only Scarabs for Transfers, strange as that seems. he gets nearly enough from souls and can cut, with a heal in his feat, early on if needed. I’m interested to see it tried, but not really brave enough to try it out. I don’t think he gains much, though, with +6 beast Points he’ll be running a single short.
There are so many different builds floating through my head right now, that I’m not sure which one is going to work out to be the most effective for him. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and I’m not sure each of them even overlap.
Style 1 – Soul Assassin: Using a glut of souls from a blitzkrieg into the enemy army on turn 2, Zaal sits on 20 or more souls. depending on the math, you may or may not upkeep Transference. With +2″ on the threat of Sunder Spirit from the Shaman (or the Farrow, honestly) Craft Talisman, you can reach out to tag a caster some 19″ away. If you manage to get righteous Vengeance off, you can reach up to two feet into the board. 20 fury gets you 4 fully boosted Sunder Spirits from your caster, and can easily put 12 points of damage into an arm 16 caster at up to 18 defense. With this style of play, you definitly want to try and tag the caster with a Shaman or a Raider turn 2, preferably both, to soften them up for a nice explosive end. This requires Zaal to play a little more upfront than you really want a def 10, ARM 18 caster to be, but the risk can be worth it. Running turn two with Zaal really helps, as sitting on 6 fury with two fully healthy warbeasts makes some people a little jittery.
Style 2 – Soul Train: This list is the most obvious, the simplest, and can easily catch an opponent unawares. Harvesting souls from the models you have run screaming at the enemy, you’re able to retaliate with the few who are alive in devastating manor. Depending on placement and vulnerability of enemy models, you may even have some AG’s with three souls on them, ready to feat and deliver a massive world of hurt to the enemies of the Skorne. With this style, you’re looking to have some 5-8 key pieces to survive so that you can linchpin them into the enemy where it hurts the most and hot have to many worries about hitting or missing. Zaal, as well, may end up tossing spells around, likely with 19+ fury. This is where he’ll often use Annihlation, due to the opponent needing to clump up to kill masses of your infantry last round. many times I expect, Stealing the opponents models souls will be an excellent way to refill Zaal without needing to reclaim them. In this instance, your trying to bait your opponent to overcommiting to kill hordes of your models that you brought to die anyway, and be punished in return by your second wave of Immortals and high-value solos. From that point on you’re going to be running out of steam and will need to be able to finish the game.
Style 3 – Grind: This is the list and style I think is going to be the most used by me. While its true that I’ve been blitzing the enemy in the last two games, I have found that its really, really hard to keep that momentum up turn after turn. In the Grind style, you want to play a nearly standard game with an above average quantity of troopers, but try and not give them everything at once. Make them work for the 5-8 kills a turn and then try and punish them for taking them by grinding out more work with transference. It will likely be a longer, more exhausting game, but I feel that it will overall prove its value. Getting work out of models is key, and blitzing them seems to simply commit them to a horrifying death.
I really think that each list has its own pros and cons, and can be tailored to fit the person playing the list. I don’t think I’m ever going to swap out from the Raider-Shaman combo, but others won’t see the value in it and will come up with a different solution to his problems. I look forward to taking a peek at other peoples thoughts on the matter.