Welcome to Skell – Dark Host

A while back, while they were previewing the themes, I did a sort of mini-write up on what was coming in the future following the three themes, and what I thought was going to happen with them. Now, months down the road with all the Theme’s set out, I wanted to take some time to go over them in a bit more detail, shedding light on what some of the standard archetypes, as I see them are, as well as strengths and weaknesses. This week. we look at the Bane Host. 

Dark Host is one of the most popular themes in Cryx. It takes our already impressive debuff retinue and adds to it a plethora of hard-hitting models with a gamut of defensive abilities that often allows the army to arrive mostly intact. We will take a look at what is allowed, how to use it and where it all fits together. Stick around! 

Overview

There is no theme, in my estimation, that hits as hard as Dark Host, the home of some of the most powerful models in Cryx spanning all three editions. The Ubiquitous Bane Thrall (Warriors) of MK II, the Absolutely maddening Bane Knights of MK I, and the powerful and versatile Bane Riders. In addition to all the Bane models and units, it also has access to powerful support for both the casters and the army. It represents a horrifying host of powerful elite undead, and it brings that imagery to the table extremely well. 

Dark Host has the following Restrictions and Benefits

Its a litany of who’s who in the Cryxian forces, and it feels as good to play as it does to read. 

Allowed Units

Let’s take a look at what we have here. 

Cryx Warcasters
Non-Character Jacks
Bane Model/Units
Darragh Wrathe
Machine Wraiths
Necrotechs
Scrap Thralls
Skarlock Thralls
Soul Trappers 
Wraith Engines

It’s a pretty solid list of models. Nothing here that strikes completely false or strange. 

Like every other theme in Cryx, it allows every Warcaster and disallows a bunch of jacks when it’s not with its bonded caster. This leaves out Deathjack and Malice, as they have no bonds, but everyone else can technically end up in the theme. 

Bane Model/units is pretty clear. Bane Knights and Bane Warriors are going to make up the backbone of the list, with Bane Riders taking up flanking positions when in the list. For Bane Solo’s the only one that exists, currently, is Bane Lord Tartarus, who brings both support and direct melee. The only attachment, sadly, is the Bane Warriors. We’re gonna need one for the Knights one day. 

Solos are where this list starts to get strange. Darragh Wrathe seems only in here because he’s a necromancer and helps the army with speed. Machine Wraiths and Necrotechs both support the army in small ways, with each being a solid filler slot for that 2 point vacancy that many lists have. Scrap thralls are here for Goreshade 2, and I swear no one else. His feat almost depends on them, and he’s the archetypical Bane Caster from MK II, so it would be a bit disappointing if he wasn’t allowed to function in a way that feels just right. Skarlocks make sense, as every theme has its Cryxian caster assistant of some sort, and this guy is the cheap, tired sedan that no one wants, but ends up with when you can’t get anything else. Soul Trappers are great 1 pt models, and they perform great at their desired function, bringing souls, faster, to their respective casters. With games dragging on longer and longer these days, a 3 turn plan for a couple extra focus isn’t all that bad. 

The Wraith Engine, I’m pretty sure, is a holdover from the days when it was regarded as a huge pile of garbage. Tossing it into this theme and allowing its bubble of armor to work on all models really made a difference in the way the theme played. Where the armor was light-ish before, stacking a caster buff, the Wraith Engine and Darragh Wrathe can really push the armor to difficult to deal with numbers in a few areas. 

Its a great theme with a fairly large swath of models that will both be useful and will see play on a regular basis. It’s limited and strange, sometimes, in its model selection, but it does well enough almost all the time. 

 

Benefits  

I really like all of these benefits. I was not a fan at first, but once I played them, they are some of the absolute best in the faction, especially considering its the only area many of these models will see. 

First, as always, we have the Merc caveat, making it so that you can add mercs to the theme. This will allow a number of solid solos and a few support units to leak into the theme from time to time, though not many are terribly notable, the only one that sees repeated use is really Eilish, as he can dispel rebuke. 

Next, we have the Free models portion. In other themes, this is a huge deal, and to certain builds in Dark Host, this is a pretty big deal. There is a problem, though. The only free models you want to reach for are Tartarus and the Bane Warrior unit Attachment. They both have good solid rules and their points eat up a chunk of your list. Getting them free is a pretty substantial discount, adding somewhere between 6 and 16 points to the list. The problem comes when you end up with enough points for three free models and you didn’t want or need your Bane Warriors along. Its pretty depressing to have to choose something from the following list, especially if it’s your third free model. 

-Scarlock Thrall (4 Points)
-Machine Wraith, Necrotech, Scrap Thralls (3)  (2 points)
-Soul Trapper (1 Point) 

None of them really scream value. 

The Third benefit, of Banes receiving Prowl, is something that seems extremely niche, but often is not, especially combined with the benefit below. Bane Knights, Bane Warriors, Bane Riders and Agathia all get the Benefit. Technically, Tartarus does too, but he has stealth anyway, so it doesn’t matter. When deploying and choosing sides, though, be aware of how the scenario is laid out and where the concealment granting terrain is. If you can get some in the back of a zone, or center-flank, it’s really worth considering deploying a unit of Knights or Warriors to hide in the trees and see how they can hold upholding that flank. It’s also worth seeing if there is a place for the Bane Riders to hide towards the forward portion of the board on your side, as they can quickly scoot up into something a bit more forward

The final benefit is really the pinnacle of the benefits, but only because of the third. Placing 2 4″ AOE clouds on the board is pretty nasty, especially when they are 20″ up the board, a great place for a caster to hide behind while still getting work done, and even better when it gives your running models a chance to hide for a turn and not be shot to death, a capital problem that many of the Bane Models have with their pretty miserable defense. 

 

Theme Theory 

When building a Dark Host list, you’re almost always going to want to lean into the Bane Thralls as hard as possible, to start off. Then, as the days go on, you start to see what is going on, and how many different ways there are to build this list. This is especially true with the battle engine providing towards free models. 

Dark Host is all about delivering those hard-hitting models and breaking armor. They are a little light on their MAT stat, so that is always a consideration. Bringing a caster who amplifies their ability to land a hit can assist greatly in the efficacy of the whole theme. Skarre 1, Denny 2, Denny 1 and Scaverous all accomplish this rather easily. There also is no ‘Jack benefit, meaning that many times, in order to maximize your trooper potential, you’ll be coming to the game with little more than your battlegroup in Warjacks. 

Building on this, most of the time you’re free points in the list is only a single point of “true” flex. Darragh Wrath is 9 and Eilish is 5, and they eat up 14 of the15 points of real flexibility in the list. You almost always want to max out the 60 points of units and battle engines in order to get Free Tartarus and at least one, if not two Bane Warrior UA’s 

Thankfully, what is great about the list is that almost every model you want to take in the list is good and there are a number of ways to arrange the units in order to get a lot of work done on the field. A favorite method of many is the double minimum Bane Warrior. Instead of maxing out one unit of Banes, it is often more advantageous to run two minimum units because two minifeats, two activations, and an extra two bodies are often worth it. However, this does eat up some 20 points of your list, which can make things complicated, especially with Bane Knights, who, if you are running two, put the total points up to 50, and you often don’t have a reliable method of capitalizing on those 10 points. Three Bane Knights push you over to 65 points, where you stop being able to afford anything other than Darragh Wrath. The Wraith engine is an amazing model that has a ton of use, but if – say – you want 30 Bane Knights and a Wraith Engine, you’ve hit the 60 point threshold for maximum free models, but have almost nowhere to put them. Tartarus is free, but after that, you better have a caster who wants a Skarlock, or you’ll feel like your wasting points. 

its a bounty of riches, I understand that, but it’s also a list that is fairly solidly pigeonholed into certain builds because of the options of free models. With a greater spread and some better choices, I think we’d see much more variety in the builds. 

Even with all this, The Bane Riders provide some much-needed speed to the lists. While they are only speed 7, clever use of Vengeance and their ghostly ability can really turn the tide on a flank. Make sure to put only enough models into a zone to force the opponent to kill the models so that vengeance triggers. I strongly consider Bane Riders in my lists because the whole theme is slow – even with Darragh there to push it a bit forwards, and the Riders can put early pressure and/or prevent those critical scoring opportunities. 

Like most themes, your list build is going to depend on your caster choice, pushing you to capitalize on their strengths, shore up weaknesses, and make sure you don’t have a gaping hole in your pair. Often you’re going to want to play this into high armor and solid infantry, though dodgy infantry with their high defenses will give you fits if you can’t find a way to deal with them. 

in regards to Warjacks, it generally doesn’t matter. There are so many high power attacks that the battlegroup doesn’t really push a lot of threat around the board. It’s worth considering Stalkers, though, because they often end up at an easy 3 dice to hit, thanks to Dark Guidance and Long Leash as well as P+S 14 thanks to Dark Shroud. It’s good! The most common jack to use, though, is the Desecrator. In addition to its synergy with Banes in its accumulator rule, it also has great synergy on the board. Banes are generally slow, and have low defensive stats, leading them to be vulnerable to opposing infantry that can get the first strike off. Desecrators provide crowd control in their AOE scatter, denying that area to single wound infantry and keeping some models in front of it safe, while the AOE 4 itself is scary enough to push infantry to spread out. This gives ghostly a chance to shine, as you glide between models spread out to prevent the AOE4. Double Desecrators is a build that some casters can use to great efficiency if they can spare the Jack Points and don’t want or need Arc Nodes. 

Popular Caster Choices

Skarre 1 – The alpha choice, Skarre 1 Dark Host has been a pretty targeted terror for just shy of a year. She brings her powerful feat and utility spells to the theme all the while being an extremely viable threat in and of herself. an inflictor is nice for those shots that see through clouds, but most of the time she’ll just be standing behind them, waiting for her next turn. Make sure to bring Scrap Thralls for her Ritual Sacrifice!

Scaverous – Scaverous loses out on the third of his freebies to take Croes Cutthroats, but ends up with a very strong, very mobile and pretty unpredictable list. Recursion banes with Telekinesis and Icy Grip, as well as Deathward to push up the armor can really be a draw. Thankfully, he only really wants 2 freebies because his bane knights are extremely hard to break while also being extremely dangerous to casters and hard targets alike. 

Goreshade 2 – Goreshade takes the recursion of the Banes and simply amps it up completely through the roof. He also grants survival something that normal Bane Warriors kinda are kinda sad at, with Occultation. He has Tactician: Bane, allowing them to move and draw LOS through each other. Make sure to bring scrap thralls for his feat! 

Playing the Host

The Dark host theme is pretty straightforward. You need to get your models to your opponents face to begin the chopping process as soon as possible. Skarre 3 helps, but we can’t taker here every game. Instead, consider Darragh Wrathe as he brings a lot of utility in addition to the speed he has. The list is a magnificent armor bully, making opponents think twice about dropping the massive and powerful jacks and beasts because often, banes can often simply crush them.

Banes then end up in this strange spot as a pretty specific predator for armor, yet often will play into troops because the opponent’s other option is suicide. What sucks about this is that banes are pretty inaccurate. MAT 6, with Veteran leader on a medium base bringing them up to mat 7 is no joke, but often you’re going to be outnumbered and many times you’ll be taking casualties on the way in, requiring your models to often do more work than they realistically can be expected to do with that MAT. All of this leads to the fact that you’ll often be playing a caster that can make the Banes more accurate, and making sure you use that accuracy buff properly will often be the key. Applying it to the wrong target can often have more disastrous consequences than a surface glance will yield. This is one of the reasons that Skarre 1 is so popular, as she buffs everyone’s accuracy. 

Keeping Tartarus alive, and knowing when to commit him, is vital to the list. Often the Veteran Leader is more important than him going in and killing two models is, but if your line is jammed up, and him killing two models, making two banes, and keeping the Vet Leader on the right spot, get to it. It happens pretty easily, so you’re not going to need to jump on the first time there are 2 models within his threat. He’s free with the list, but he’s also worth 6 points, so don’t give him away. 

The Wraith engines change up what they are supposed to do from turn to turn, and list to list, so keep an eye on what you’re doing with them. If they are there to provide Dark Shroud to your Knights, make sure he’s around for that. If they are around to divert gunfire from your troops, make sure they do that, and if they are there to bully scenario and draw out all the magic attacks to them, make sure they are doing that. If you can’t protect them from retaliation, don’t make them corporeal. Have a different model make the attacks to get that vital Machine Wraith out.  They are important parts of the list, treat them like it. 

The Bane Warrior UA also needs to be kept safe, at least until you deliver it and his minifeat. Prodding the opponent to kill 2-3 of the unit who are holding a zone or contesting a flag or just being a general pain, while also keeping the rest of the unit, and hopefully some other models, safe and using the minifeat the turn after in order to return those losses can often mean the difference of the unit being wiped out, or not. With the minifeat returning d3+1, it is often worth it to use if you’ve taken 3 casualties. Waiting another turn means that you’ll have so few effective models then that the returns won’t be accomplishing everything. It’s better to waste a single possible Resurrection than have the whole unit wiped out to poor timing. 

As you can tell, keeping models safe is a key to the list. You often have numerous moving parts within the list, and keeping it all going doesn’t rely on all of them, but you have to have enough of them to maintain the machine. its a rough balance, but you get used to it after some time. 

When you’re lining up against an opponent, make sure to try and get good matchups. Look at the table and see where you can leverage ghostly by swinging through terrain, either completely or by using it to prevent the opponents alpha strike, and see where you can post your Wraith Engine. 

Dark Host isn’t necessarily build to one archetype or another but often has the flexibility to play in any method. While assassination isn’t generally the primary mode, all the models hit hard enough that an opposing caster has to be wary of all your models. Attrition isn’t always possible, but against heavy, hard targets, Banes can often commit fewer models than other armies to remove the opposing durable models, pulling ahead on attrition. Scenario isn’t always the best for them, but with the Bane Riders, Darragh Wrathe, and Wraith Engines, you can push the opponent into a slow scenario loss. Knowing how and when to switch gears, and when your list is tailored to certain gears, matters, and is one of the keys I’ve had in winning with the list. 

Also, the list is many times just a big, dumb hammer that smashes opponents lists into dust. Don’t get careless with your caster, keep blowing up models, and if you have a favorable matchup don’t relent. 

Vulnerabilities

Dark Host, while being a very strong list, has its own host of vulnerabilities that you need to pay attention to when building the list, playing the list, and looking at the matchups. 

Dark Host casters often enjoy hiding behind the clouds and waiting out the opponent’s army until its time to become involved. Casters/armies who can see through those clouds can make the game problematic as your innate defense mechanism is shut off. This goes doubly for armies that can ignore stealth. you’re only using stealth on turn 1/2 to deliver the army, but many times this is when the opponent is going to start the attrition game in their favor. The theme has generally low defense stats, so ignoring another defense you brought along is painful. 

That lower DEF stat can really be a pain, as many high volume attacks tend to be inaccurate to offset their volume, but those DEF 12’s aren’t that scary even for RAT/MAT 5’s. Bane Warriors ARM of 15 might shrug off POW 8 or less blasts most of the time, but anything higher, especially those High Explosive POW 10’s, are going to break through. Bane Knights, though, or bane warriors supported by a Wraith Engine, can change that. 

Another small vulnerability that you’ll want to pay attention to, is RFP. Though it doesn’t affect every list, it does affect many and having your minifeat nullified changes how you approach your attrition losses. Lists will often run double min Warriors for the attrition factor and dual minifeat. Knowing when the opponent has RFP easily and readily available to them is crucial. Additionally, multiple RFP attacks can also remove tough, which is a problem again, as the UA you “purchased’ with your free points is losing even more efficacy. 

Lastly, the speed of its infantry models can be a problem. There are multiple ways of building lists to compensate for the weakness, but if you’re going to rely on the infantry, be aware that you’re going to need to run more models on more turns that you expect, simply due to their base speed of 5. Faster opponents and those that out threat you are almost always going to get the drop on you, and knowing how to either counter punch correctly or prevent the alpha all together is a key to making sure you aren’t simply smeared across the board. 

I hope you enjoy host as much as I do, and I hope this gives you a basic introduction to the theme and its models!  

Until next time!