Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Bounty Hunter with the Heart of Gold - Grim Angus tactics (part 1 of 2)

Having just finished playing a league with just Grim, and him as practically my only Trollblood Warlock (I believe he's the only one I've played more than once), I felt like it was as good a time as any to write down some notes on my tactics with him.

I have notably less experience with Grim than I did with Magnus, but I feel like I'm getting a grasp of Grim, and by extension, now his army.

This was going to be a single entry but, like Magnus's, this unexpectedly became something pretty huge. The first half will cover Grim and his battlegroup; the second will cover the rest of his list, his theme list, and closing thoughts.

A few notes before beginning: I'll try to be clear below, which models are ones I have solid experience with, as I don't want to pretend theory is fact. Models in Red are ones I have little experience with or am theorizing about. Unlike my theme list articles, I simply can't cover every available option (for the record, that's just under 80), so I'll be focusing on models I have experience with or ones I think have serious potential.

Second, while I don't have the derisive hatred a number of players have for Grim's theme list, I also don't think it's the defining way of playing Grim. I haven't gotten a chance to run it yet (I want to get a better understanding of Grim before trying something weird), but I'll have some notes on it.

Finally, while I eventually plan on getting epic Grim and his Pyg buddies, this is just tactics for pGrim right now.

The Head Hunter
Grim is all about four things: Accuracy, range, versatility, and style. He plays all three in fairly unusual ways, and while his style is why I chose him, he provides some things that aren't really in the rest of the Troll repertoire.

While he's decently proficient with his rifle, and it's one of the most visually interesting parts of his model, he isn't actually defined as a ranged caster. His accuracy abilities work very well with ranged lists, but I feel he plays a very strong combined-arms list.

Range is an interesting component to his play style, and comes easily as much from board control as it does from speed increases. Again, when people thing range, they think shooting, especially when toting a big rifle with a bigger scope. However, Grim plays the ranged game as well in melee as he does with guns.

A very large number of Grim's abilities and spells have great uses both in melee and range, along with having multiple applications, making him very versatile. Given how close he likes to stay to the front lines, I find that he best supports an equally versatile, combined-arms list.

Style is of course subjective, but he's got a really fun backstory (even though it is, admittedly, basically made out of tropes). Since Evolution's release, he was and is my favorite Trollblood character.

Grim is one of the more subtle Warlocks in the Trollblood arsenal because he does nothing to aid in damage output or defense, though, so you're potentially looking at a moderately fragile (by Trollblood standards) list.
Grim has pretty unusual stats for a Trollkin. He's got a strong ranged focus and emphasizes skirmishing tactics, and, while you don't want him in melee, he's not exactly a slouch if he's engaged. His DEF and SPD are arguably his best stat assets.

Grim's Speed is a high (for Trollbloods) 6. As I'll go in to later, this will very often be 8 and can be pushed to 10. You'll rarely be running from a fight, and probably never be using this for a charge, but this is great for repositioning Grim to cast spells then take a shot. As a note, I find that shooting with Grim is very different than most ranged casters, as you'll often be fighting your own army's proliferation of medium bases, which makes that high SPD essential for repositioning for a clean shot, since Grim will often want to go before his army.

His MAT is 6 which is already solid for a mostly ranged caster, and his RAT is solid but not great. However, these stats aren't a particularly accurate representation of his full potential.

Grim's DEF of 16 is a huge boon for him. He'll usually be able to push this to 18-20 with help from terrain, and can theoretically go as high as 24 without the aid of another Warlock. Other than being knocked down, Grim has fairly little to fear from ranged attacks, even if they're boosted. While 16 isn't astoundingly high, with Troll support, tough, and transferring, this makes Grim very difficult to take down.

An ARM 15 is pretty low, however, and I very often find myself needing to compensate for this, however, Trolls have no shortage of ARM buffs.

Not much to say about Grim's uninspiring CMD of 8. He doesn't have any abilities that rely on it, and not many units that need to check command are below 8 anyways.

Finally, Grim's Fury of 6 is a pretty blandly average number. You'll typically be boosting a Headhunter attack and casting 1-2 support spells or animi. While it'd be great for him to have 7 fury, I don't often find myself feeling like he needs more. Given his roles, I often find myself using all 6, since he's often not in a threatened position at the end of the turn, making his 6 fury very efficient. My only complaint about that 6 is that it makes him somewhat lackluster at casting offensive spells, but 6 is still good enough to hit most things it needs to with a boost.

Pathfinder is key to keeping Grim's maneuverability strong, and very useful. I'll almost always have him hanging around whatever forest is in a good position: a strong DEF with the forest will keep him at obnoxious defenses against ranged attacks, and the rough ground will slow any actual attack against him.

Tough is a given with trolls. I've never actually passed a tough check with Grim, though, and his ARM is low enough that once he's knocked down after surviving Tough, it'll be easy to finish him off anyways, unless you get really lucky with those tough rolls or it was a last attack.

True Sight gives Grim a lot of potency against special rules or your opponent using terrain to their advantage, and helps his whole army's ranged game, since all of his offensive abilities will benefit from it, too. As a reminder, it doesn't allow him to shoot past forests or clouds and doesn't ignore cover.

Headhunter is a solid and versatile weapon that fits Grim's role perfectly. He has a few roles with this weapon:
-Solo hunter: RAT 7(+) and RNG/POW 13 with magical and True Sight makes him really solid at killing medium to heavy solos at a distance, and taking out that support solo or glass cannon early is really satisfying. Also great for one-shotting cav, heavy infantry, and lesser warbeasts
-Support: against heavies, it's just high enough damage to have a good chance of doing some respectable damage and setting the heavy up for a charge with Bait the Line.
-Opportunistic Attrition: while not high enough damage to reliably take down a light or caster/lock by itself, POW 13, boosting, and accuracy buffs are enough to make it threatening to just about any light or caster. Over the course of the game, you'll do well to take a few attacks of opportunity to soften medium-weight targets. You'll often not be able to take advantage of Bait the Line due to those models being covered well with positioning, but it's worth taking the shot.

Grim's Snare Gun is an oddity. The strength of setting up the kill is pretty obvious, but I've never actually used it:

-Grim's accuracy isn't that much higher than the rest of his army's, and the range is short enough that setup puts Grim in a threatened range himself, and the restricted range also means he's probably not aiming.

-Grim already has potent DEF debuffs that don't sacrifice Grim's most damaging attack.

Gun Blade: For a Warlock with a ranged emphasis, this weapon's pretty good, however, it's generally a last resort, as a number of Grim's defensive advantages (including what range and mobility give him) fall apart in melee.

About the only times I'd charge with Grim is if there was an isolated solo and I needed to reposition Grim where it was with those additional 3" of movement from the charge, instead of just shooting it to death; or if I lucked out and one of the defensively weaker casters was out in the open and nothing else would do the trick.

Cross-Country is part of what defines Grim's playstyle. Most of the game, everything that needs it in Grim's army will have pathfinder. An ideal pick for this spell is on anything with a great threat range: Pathfinder and Hunter mean you can run or shoot straight through forests. This can allow you to shoot from a very safe distance, or give incredible threat ranges and first strike possibilities to melee units with long charges.

Not that Grim himself gets some benefits from Hunter, as it stacks well with True Sight. Combined with Magical weapon, you ignore Concealment (and Camouflage), Stealth, Incorporeal (and anything that restricts non-magical attacks), Cover, and LOS-blocking forests. About the only common thing you need to worry about is attacking through regular cloud effects. NB: somewhat obnoxiously, you can't ignore Cover when casting spells, due to what I believe is one of the few mkII rules oversights.

Lock the Target has two purposes. The first is the special rules preventing a melee monster from reaching your lines. Grim is often far enough forward that this is very important in stopping a melee beast from wrecking your day, but remember that you need to damage to get the effect, so many heavies won't be worth it. A lot of Grim's power comes from being able to isolate enemies, so instead of trading a heavy for a heavy, you're taking theirs down inches from their restricted backup.

The second use is an auxiliary ranged attack, against a solo or infantry model, which is important because Grim's army is often starved for magic attacks.

Marked for Death is a very useful spell, great against Cryx, Legion, Circle, and many casters/locks. Unfortunately, the setup relies on Grim's relatively mediocre FOC, so the only time I'll be casting this on a warlock or warcaster is likely on the Feat turn, to stack the defensive penalty and insure that, even if I can't kill them that turn, I'll be able to upkeep it and keep them defensively weak in future turns.

I also often use this spell as insurance against heavies which I have a good but not great chance of damaging: I'm never going to be that guy who complains "I couldn't roll a 6 to save my life," because I often can't, so I ensure that my heavy connects his punches by slapping on that DEF penalty.

Return Fire is a relatively situational spell. Against Cygnar or another heavily ranged build, with the right build, it's a pretty nice spell. Most of the rest of the time, it won't get cast unless I've got nothing else to do with the Fury. Also note: the attack doesn't require you attack the model that attacked you.

A cool trick that should both be regarded as an opportunity and a warning: Return Fire doesn't require it be the enemy's turn. If your opponent has Return Fire up, you can cast it and attack: if they Return Fire and hit you, you get an extra shot, ignoring ROF. If they don't take the bait or miss, then you've still got RF up. Your opponents can also use this trick on you, though, so watch out.

Honorable Mention: Transmute. The Earthborn is, in my experience, an auto-include in Grim's list, which I'll explain in more detail in its list in the army portion of this, but this means that Transmute is worth noting right here.

Transmute is an incredibly useful and versatile animus. Virtually every board you'll ever play in will have walls or forests, usually both. This compounds with Grim's ranged game for faster repositioning on Grim and longer charges on his army. Furthermore, it can shore up the list in one of the few places Grim has no ability: ARM. Putting +2 ARM on a solo, heavy infantry, beast, or Grim is often enough to ensure it either takes a few more attacks to take down or is no longer threatened. If Grim isn't in a position to do anything else, I'll often throw a couple Transmutes up on beasts and valuable solos.

Water features are few and far between, but count your lucky stars if you get one in a solid position: you can push Grim up to DEF 22/ARM 19 with very little work.

Grim has one of those game-defining feats and, like everything else about Grim, it's versatile.

Lock the Target's  DEF penalty plays a huge part in efficiency. Trollbloods (and their beasts in particular) tend to be a little on the inaccurate side for my tastes. What Grim does is make sure this isn't the case: that penalty pulls very high DEF pieces into the realm where a boost will likely hit, but what I find at least as valuable is making a likely hit nearly guaranteed. This doesn't particularly matter for infantry other than the obvious benefit but, for beasts, it's huge.

Each attack you don't need to worry about accuracy is one less fury that you need to gain on hit rolls, and one more you can put into additional attacks or into damage rolls. During Grim's feat turn, he does an amazing job supporting his army, and I'd almost call him a beast caster, except those benefits are nearly as good for his infantry (the only thing they don't get is the added flexibility). I've started regularly finding myself unsure what to do during the last third or so of my feat turn, because all of my main targets are gone.

This is the ideal time to cast Marked for Death. Of course, the best target is the enemy commander, but anything you absolutely need dead is nearly as good of a target. The idea with stacking this is that first it pulls them down to -5 DEF (and strips many defensive bonuses), the second is, if they're not dead by the end of the turn, you've got an accuracy buff on them for the rest of the game. This is most commonly when I cast Marked for Death, because the combination of a relatively short range and a mediocre Fury stat makes most of the targets I care about far from a guaranteed hit.

The SPD penalty is what makes up easily half of Grim's strong ranged game, and defines where Grim wants to be on the field.

At the point when you're using his feat, you want to know exactly what your opponent's speed is on every model, and what his potential speed is. The ideal way of using this is to isolate his front line (which you're planning on clobbering with your defense penalty) from their second line (which, at -3 SPD, can't Charge, Leap, or Slam). If you pull this off right, a melee-focused army will have less than a quarter of their available resources able to attack you in the next turn and, if they do, they'll be largely isolated in the heart of your army and likely to go down quickly.

The denial of any special attacks is fairly situational, but still useful as an additional bit of insurance.

Using the feat defensively: sometimes, your opponent has just plain outmaneuvered you or you're otherwise stuck with a ridiculous charge or other threat range. I've found Circle particularly frustrating with this, though they're hardly the only army built around immense charge ranges. While this isn't a fun choice to make, there are definitely times when you'll need to use the feat to simply keep your opponent's forces at bay for a turn. Not being able to get in their collective grill is part of why I take a decent to strong ranged element with Grim: it means that, even in a mostly offensively wasted feat turn, I can still get a few good attacks in.

Using this feat in conjunction with Lock the Target: there are a number of things which can get around the board control of this list- most notably, Place abilities and ridiculous threat ranges, though the latter can often be countered by catching them in your Feat, if they aren't too far behind the front line. Alternatively, you might just not be able to catch enough threats in your feat, if they're thoroughly spread out.

In Either case, while it seems a bit like a waste of resources, Lock the Target adds in some redundancy and allows you to cover even more ground.

Positioning your Feat: Grim has one of those feats where you want to be as close as possible to the enemy, to get every major threat or weak point in that bubble, however, this tends to leave Grim very close to the enemy. The first answer to this is to simply calculate threat ranges and get in the least threatened position while catching the most enemies you can. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn't that bad: there will often be a pretty ideal location- just look for a point where most enemies with real hitting power are within the bubble, and get Grim there He's usually got the speed to do it.

You always want to activate Grim as early as possible on his feat turn (unless your plans went poorly and you need to use it defensively, I guess). This isn't just because of the offensive potential. You also will then be able to gauge exactly which models will be able to retaliate, and roughly at what distance. Furthermore, Trolls are fantastic at bricking up, and getting a wall of Beasts and multiwound infantry, while more vulnerable to some tactics, often is the best protection for Grim. Your opponent will be able to take out some of your army, but will then be stuck with what remains of the wall hitting back hard. Having Grim go first will allow you to know what threats still remain, and put bodies between Grim and the threat.

Army Composition
Reiterating, Grim supports his army quite well with range (and board control) and accuracy, in a way that plays well as a combined arms list, not helping one area so thoroughly or focusing so heavily that a narrowly focused list works particularly well with him.

What Grim doesn't do well is defense and damage. The closest things he's got is Cross Country and his feat, which both allow you to outmaneuver your opponent, but do nothing for you if they can still get to you. He also has no way of directly increasing damage, meaning you're stuck with the power you bring (though, as noted above, accuracy indirectly affects damage).

What does this mean for your army?

Fortunately, Trollbloods have enough options to both play to his strengths and shore up some of his weaknesses.

Accuracy: Grim has a lot of ways of handing out accuracy buffs, but no way to increase damage or attacks. I find that ideal pieces for Grim are ones that have high damage or a high volume of attacks, as you can increase the chance that attacks will connect, so you want to make sure you have good attacks for this.

Damage: Grim has no way of increasing damage, nor does he have any abilities that specifically help melee over range. This is a interesting scenario for Trollbloods. It means that he helps ranged elements just as well as he helps melee elements: they are equally supported.

Ranged attacks are inherently more flexible than melee, but melee attacks are almost always higher volume or higher damage. For me, what this means is that I take a combined arms list that tends to have a few strong ranged elements but a majority of melee elements.

However, it means that, if you want to specialize, you can without a loss of power.

Defense: without any defensive abilities, you have a choice: rely on your models' natural defenses, or take support. I'll get in to this more below.

Speed and range: this is an odd one. Grim needs to have his enemy in his control area to really get the edge on speed, because much of it is derived from board control. You can certainly benefit from high threat range, but Grim doesn't really support a monstrous threat range, since his abilities all require him engaging the target (with his gun(s), spell(s), or feat).

Minions: Grim's only abilities that actually effect Minions are Cross Country (useful, but not necessary) and Return Fire (highly situational, and no particular benefit to most Minions). So, depending on your support choices, especially in smaller games where you'll have fewer involved, Grim can run Minions nearly as well as faction models.

Battlegroup: due to Grim's accuracy and flexibility, I prefer him with around 2 heavies and 1-2 lights. Again, range isn't necessary, though, given his lack of damage boosts, at least one melee heavy is just about necessary. Which brings me to...

The Earthborn
Yes, this model gets its very own category. I consider it essential to Grim, from my experience.

Starting with Transmute, this animus is hugely valuable in the first half of the game. As long as you plan well, you'll very often find your important models within 2" of a wall and/or forest. This defines the Earthborn as a surprisingly valuable support beast early on, and helps Grim keep his army alive and mobile. Late game, Grim will often be right behind the front, putting Transmute on critical models.

Pathfinder is another strong asset for the Earthborn. It means that there's one more important model that Grim doesn't need to help, for it to keep up with him.

Combat: with strong raw stats, Elemental Communion to help its armor, and Adaption* makes its weapons almost always 1-2 points higher than the stat card would suggest (plus, it's hilarious when attacking casters with weapons in the POW range of 6-8).

In short, the Earthborn would be a solid melee choice on its own, but Pathfinder and Transmute make it ideal for Grim.

*adaption is a dumb word, PP. No one uses it, and it doesn't even have the snooty and/or fantasy points of being older than the more common word.

Grim doesn't have a ton of use for Light Warbeasts. Since he can't boost their damage output or ARM, the only good reason to take them is if you their stats are right and they have a good Animus. Most trollblood lights simply don't have the utility or damage to be useful, since Grim has other ways of getting medium-weight attacks.

The Axer is a decent choice. Rush helps Grim's maneuvering more than it's valuable for a threat range. Thresher is a very solid ability, as it has a reasonable power and can attack a lot of models which, again, is made more efficient by Grim's accuracy. Definitely worth considering but not nessary. An important comparison below will be to 1-2 Champion Heroes, which fulfill a very similar role.

The Impaler seems like an obvious choice, but again isn't necessary. It's got a fairly strong weapon and decent threat range, and it has slightly below average defenses. There are two reasons you take it, though. Critical Slam helps immensely with setting up the kill (however, it'll only work around 50% of the time, even with a boost, and taking two Impalers isn't worth it). Far Strike, of course, is the obvious synergy. However, Grim's gun isn't so amazing that it's necessary to need Snipe. This can work in small games, where two sniped models will make the difference, or in large games supporting a  ranged heavy, but it isn't all that necessary, going back to Grim not supporting extreme threat ranges.

The Slag troll seems like the best Light I don't have experience with. It's got respectable ARM and P+S, and is by far the better of the two lights that give damage bonuses, for that extra point. Its Spew attack is flexible enough that it's good at targeting solos or jacks, and Grim's accuracy bonuses can more than make up for a mediocre RAT, to give it two attacks with boosted damage.

Frankly, none of the other lights seem worth it: the Pyre is rather poor compared to the Slag if you want a damage boost, and the other elementals do things that Grim doesn't need or that his infantry can do better. The Bouncer is the most likely choice, but even then, I've never had Grim even very close to getting killed at range, so isn't necessary.

Ranged Heavies
The Blitzer has a couple things going for it: it's got a high volume of attacks, and a solid range. That's… about it. Obviously Far Strike and Cross Country can work well on it, but it's got a variable number of attacks, so that isn't necessarily great. Basically, why I haven't taken it, is that Grim doesn't need huge threat ranges, so the Bomber's high POW, AOEs, and reliable number of attacks seem far more desirable than a Heavy that's also a medium-weight gun platform.

The Bomber is a clear candidate, and my current favorite second Heavy. While a little weak for a heavy once in melee, he's got one of the highest POW ranged weapons in the game, with a strong AOE. Two of his biggest weaknesses- a short range and lowish accuracy (paired with a low Fury by Troll standards)- are fixed by Grim's various accuracy and mobility effects. He really shines on Grim's feat turn, and will be likely to still be able to aim in the next turn, getting a lot of mileage out of it.

Impaler's Far Strike can notably push it to being able to shoot 12" with a threat range of 17". The other part of the synergy here is that Far Strike can help the Bomber aim, and the effective +2 RAT is usually worth more than an Impaler's boosted hit and damage. A Bomber makes an Impaler a much higher priority than in a list without the Bomber.

The Bomber's animus, Bomb Shelter, isn't very exciting, but it's there as one more defensive option if you're choosing light infantry with Grim, since he's so limited defensively. In theory, you could use it to give your models who are in melee Girded and chuck a bomb in after them, but it's pretty wasteful, so I'd call it a situational tactic at best.

Both Ranged heavies benefit greatly from Cross Country, since this allows them to shoot into or straight through a forest. With Far Strike and a forest in the right place, you can do put out some obnoxious firepower. You could even cycle between two heavies, here, though you'll start having trouble managing Grim's fury.

I guess the Mountain King fits in here. It's got a fantastic spray under Grim and a huge volume of high power attacks, so it initially seems like a pretty good candidate, despite serious grumblings from the community at large. I wouldn't take it as my first heavy, because it just can't do what the Earthborn can for the army, but if you've got the extra points for it, it might be a good replacement for a standard ranged heavy, with the massive spray.

Yes, a lot of people don't like this guy, and I'll be proxying one well before I buy one, so certainly won't recommend that sort of investment without experience, but think that the big guy has more potential than people are giving him credit for.

Melee Heavies
The Earthborn was covered above. I don't think two are necessary or particularly wise, though that's mostly because I'm not a fan of taking doubles in WM/H unless I've got a very strong reason to.

The Mauler is a solid choice. I prefer my second heavy to be ranged, but if you're going for a melee list, being able to put Rage on two heavies will mean something's going down hard, especially on your feat turn. Notably, this will get you up to MAT 9 POW 15 tramples, which can clear out a lot of enemies. Again, the Earthborn has so much going for it that I don't feel like there's any competition for the first melee slot, but it's definitely worth it, especially if you're feeling a little pillow fisted.

The Slag Troll is the clearest other competition for the slot of melee buffer: at only three less P+S and a lot more versatility, it's also worth considering, since those 3 points are enough to get any number of solos.

Mulg has a lot of power behind him, but his most unusual stat- a MAT of 7- isn't particularly exciting with Grim. He's got very high raw stats, and a good animus, but I'm just not seeing him worth that much, when a Mauler will have nearly the same stats under Rage. Protective Fit doesn't seem all that necessary for Grim, though it's really likely to take a chunk out of whatever attacked Grim, and at a pretty decent range. This is one I want to tryout before making a final judgement, since everyone else seems to love him...

The problem I have with testing melee heavies is that the Earthborn and Bomber are so solid with Grim that I'm usually taking them, and not often looking for a third Heavy. As I get more familiar with Grim, I'll be branching out and adding more notes, here.

(Continued in part 2, link to follow)