Khador Heavy Spam: the Challenge and Some Possible Solutions

Prologue:

This is a topic that has come up multiple times per week on the Circle Facebook page, and is a question that many factions have to face when designing their list pairing - what do you do against Khador heavies en mass?

I've gotten several requests for me to tackle this topic, and I figured my last article before Lock and Load was a good time to address it. 

The Challenge:

Khador heavies sit in a unique convergence of excellent stats, cheap point costs, and high numbers of hit boxes. 

The Juggernaut, the default Khador heavy, comes in at 12 points with 20 ARM, 34 boxes, MAT 7 and two initials, one of which is a PS 19 critical freeze weapon. 

On their own, or even in limited numbers (2-3), this is something that can be overcome without dedicating too much thought to it. 

The problem comes when you take those great stats, put 8-10 of them in a list, and then add in some kind of mass buff. 

What you end up with is a list that boasts ARM 20 across the models, with a total of 272 - 340 hit boxes between the heavies that are both accurate and hard hitting. 

But Jaden, I hear you ask, why wasn't this a problem in mark 2? They had the same stats basically!

Well true, but Mark 2 had a serious limitation that Mark 3 fixed - focus drain. Power-Up instantly made a pile of warjacks viable by removing the focus drain on the caster required for them to do simple things like run or charge. They also recently got a theme force built to turn these machines up to 11. 

Jaws of the Wolf:

This is a theme force with some extremely powerful benefits. It allows the Khador player to get free solos for every 25 points of warjacks, removes AD from opponents models, and also gives Battle Mechaniks Reposition 3. 

It allows Kayazy, Widowmakers, Greylord Forge Seers, and the War Dog as well as a few other, less typical things.

The last benefit is the least important, as Battle Mechaniks tend to be fairly safe in the backlines on their own. 

The first and second ones are extremely potent. The free solos allowed by this list are typically going to be a pair of Greylord Forge Seers and then either a War Dog or a Widowmaker Marksmen.

These eliminate or reduce the focus burden on the Warcaster (Forge Seers) or provide support by keeping your caster safer (War Dog) or solo hunting (Marksman). 

Removing Advanced Deployment from enemy models ensures that the list doesn't have any scenario problems, and specifically makes Circle really unhappy by neutering several key models.

Aside from their general hardiness, Khador Jacks have a fair number of casters that can support them in some very potent ways. Let's take a look at a few of them:

Harkevich:

Harkevich brings four really potent abilities to the table for Khador heavies.

His first one is Mobility, a non-upkeep spell that gives his entire battlegroup +2 speed and Pathfinder. This has some pretty significant implications, especially as the game shifts toward more terrain requirements. One of the main ways to deal with heavy warjacks is to abuse terrain to stay out of their threat ranges. 

Mobility fixes that problem and increases their speed so that all Khador heavies threaten a minimum of 10 inches. In addition, Kodiaks get to run 14 inches turn 1, (speed 4+2 from Mobility = 6 x2 = 12 +2 from heavy boiler) and against an opponent that no longer has access to Advanced Deployment, they can do so in perfect safety. 

Second, Harkevich gives his battlegroup Reposition [3], which allows his heavies to charge in and reposition around a target to allow others to come in, gives his entire battlegroup pseudo-sprint, and, most importantly, allows his Kodiaks to reposition back out of their vent steam cloud wall. 

This means that his entire battlegroup can hide behind a 12 inch cloudwall that advances 9 inches every turn after the initial 14 inch run. Going second against a Harkevich list tends to mean you lose on Scenario unless you have some way to deal with a cloud wall. 

One option in fighting Jack Spam is often to throw heavies around and make them really sad by knocking them down or changing their facing with spells. Harkevich (and Karchev) both have a spell called Jump Start, which, for a single focus, stands up his battlegroup and lets them change facing. This is probably the most overlooked ability on his card and might honestly be one of the best. 

Finally, Harkevich's feat gives his battlegroup +3 ARM, free charges, and the ability to shoot before they charge. ARM 20 Khador heavies are hard to deal with, ARM 23 Khador heavies are even harder. 

Karchev:

Karchev brings some completely different tools to the table. He has Battle Charged, an upkeep that gives his battle group Counter Charge, and also has Road to War, a spell that lets one warjack advance 3 inches when a model in his control range kills an enemy model. 

Widowmakers tend to be in his lists, since they excel at triggering Road to War with their accurate, auto point shots. 

In addition, he has a ten inch Knockdown spray (and with the new theme force CID options he might be able to take Reinholdt for reload!) and a feat that gives his battlegroup boosted damage rolls and magical melee weapons. 

He himself is Khador's best heavy, boasting a reach PS 19 weapon at MAT 7, ARM 19, Unyielding and 34 boxes. At focus 6, he'll kill most colossals in the game on his feat turn by himself. 

Butcher 3:

Butcher 3 is....well he's Butcher 3! He brings perhaps the highest damage output in the game against multiple targets to the table, and in addition to his excellent personal threat range, has Energizer to get his jacks where they need to go. 

It's often been said that Butcher 3s army doesn't matter, he'll happily trade it away for a shot at your caster, and a Jack spam list with Widowmakers and Kayazy Eliminators does that very well. 

Possible Solutions:

Alright folks, the general knowledge portion of this article ends here, as from this point forward I'll be talking specifically about Circle Orboros options. 

I'm going to go through and systematically touch on a bunch of options, even ones that I don't think work at all, and discuss some pros and cons. 

Piece Trading:

Don't expect to be able to do this successfully without some serious mitigating factors like excellent terrain, poor placement on your opponents part, or insane dice. 

Khador heavies that we are likely to see multiples of cost between 10 and 13 points, and we simply cannot trade our 17-19 point heavies on a one for one basis and expect to come out on top, especially as in general we have to Primal our heavies to kill them, and even then, Harkevich can make that unlikely to work with his Feat. 

Recommendation: Doesn't work.

Alpha Striking:

This is...an interesting proposition, and it requires some very specific Warlocks to make it work. 

This works with various degrees of success depending on the enemy Warcaster. 

First, let's touch on the Warlocks I think can make this work. 

Kaya 2 can, with her ability to lasso her warbeasts back to her with her feat, give you the opportunity to alpha strike twice with relative ease. 

Kaya 1 (!!!) might also be able to do something similar, although I'm less convinced here. 

Kaya 3 can potentially allow you to alpha in with Synergy and her Feat, reposition back, and then live through the retaliation thanks to the +2 defense buff. 

Kromac 2 can crank damage up on all of the Warbeasts up a notch and also gives them bonus armor so they might live through the retaliation. 

Una 2 can leverage some insane damage with her Griffons, and her feat guarantees that she will get the Alpha. Her birds have tracker (you're taking Scarsfells, be honest) which allows them to charge through forests, and Elusive might keep them around for a turn or two.

It still takes some pretty hot dice and at least two Griffons to kill one heavy, but it's doable. 

The problem is that, depending on the Warbeast and the opposing Warcaster, Circle doesn't actually out threat Khador heavy spam except with a couple of things or when combined with Hunters Mark, and even then it only allows us to outthreat one model. 

Math time:

Speed 6 Warpwolf threats 10 inches for all of them except the Stalker and Ghetorix who threat 11. 
Speed 5 Satyrs threaten 9 inches.
Speed 9 Griffon under Una feat threatens 12.5 inches.

Harkevich: Speed 6 jacks that threat 10 inches and have pathfinder. Also has LOS denial with moveable cloudwall.

Karchev: Speed 4 jacks with Road to War making a few of them effectively speed 7 for an 11 inch threat.

Butcher 3: Speed 4 jacks plus Energizer for effective 10 inch threat. 

For Alpha Striking Purposes, I think Kaya 2 is the best here, since she can combine Dog PileHunters Mark and her Feat to allow you to alpha strike twice. 

Alternatively, Una 2 can go in with a pile of birds and kill off 3-4 heavies and then try and survive the counterattack. I dislike this idea more and more with the prevalence of Marauders and Kodiaks. A Marauder combo smiting a Scarsfell into another griffon does 4 dice at dice +7, one shy of killing it outright. 

Kodiaks can vent steam and boost damage in addition to making attacks. 

With that in mind, I still think Circle has to go first in order to pull this off against Harkevich since his cloudwall will be at the 30 inch mark if he gets to go first, and positioning against countercharging Karchev lists is a bit of a nightmare. 

Recommendation: Can work, skill/placement/dice/caster dependent.

Shooting:

I actually like this option against Karchev and Butcher 3 a lot more than I do the others. Two Woldwyrds plus a Fulcrum do an average (ish) of 25 - 27 damage per turn to a Khador heavy, and Curse of Shadows or Rust, all while staying ten inches away from their target. 

Combine this with a solid core battlegroup of hard hitting beaters, say with Kaya 3, Kromac 2, Una 2, or Mohsar, and you can potentially cripple or kill a couple of heavies before the fighting starts in earnest. I also like Loki here, especially with casters that can protect him like the Kaya's, Wurmwood, or Krueger 2. 

Against Harkevich, sadly, this approach is not going to work nearly as well since he can just cloud wall to deny LoS until he can alpha you. 

Recommendation: Reasonable against Karchev/Butcher 3, not so good into Harkevich

Out Armoring/The Baldur 2 Effect:

This is a great option into Butcher 3 and Harkevich, but not so much into Karchev. 

Baldur 2 with either a pair of Woldwraths or a pile of heavies can blunt the enemy alpha with Rock Wall and then likely survive for a few turns of extended fighting with Roots of the Earth keeping his heavies/colossals at ARM 22-23 while the battlegroups flail at eachother. 

This takes a lot of practice and skill to do, and it's highly table/terrain dependent as well, but into Harkevich and Butcher who are topping out at unboosted POW 19s (21 if Butcher is throwing Silence of Death around), the healing and ARM stacking can do the job. 

Unfortunately, Karchev comes along and ruins all the fun by cranking all of his Warjacks' damage output through the roof on feat turn. Three to four unboosted POW 19s into ARM 23 isn't too scary, doing between 9 and 12 damage on average. Three to four boosted POW 19s changes that math considerably, doing between 21 to 28 damage. 

I still think that it's doable because of Rock Wall, but it's a scary, skill dependent matchup and the burden of not screwing up is on the Circle player. 

Recommendation: My preferred answer to Khador spam - still a very hard game. 

Assassination:

This is extremely caster dependent, and generally speaking pretty hard. 

Harkevich has Iron Sentinel, which makes it impossible for him to become knocked down while base to base with a Warjack AND gives him +2 defense and Armor. 

Karchev is ARM 19 with 34 boxes, Unyielding (+2 ARM while engaged) and focus stack on top of the ARM. Fortunately he also has a movement system, so if you cripple that he becomes insanely easy to hit. 

Butcher 3 has a Feat that prevents living models from charging him and refills his focus stack so he can be effectively ARM 23 for six attacks. 

Casters that I like for this tactic include Krueger 2, Wurmwood, and Baldur 1, all of whom can bring a significant gunline to the fight and have ways to lower DEF, Knock Down, or lower ARM.

Krueger 2 can TK enemy heavies around close to the warcaster and then have a Druid Pulse of the Earth it to knock the caster down. Apply Wyrds and profit. 

Wurmwood can Hellmouth the caster around until they're in your sights. 

Baldur 1 gives you multiple turns of shooting (or meleeing) thanks to his Feat and has a Critical KD spell in Earth Spikes that he can spam out with Wolds. 

Recommendation: risky, but can work. Skilled opponents will realize that you are planning for this and deny you the opportunity. 

Scenario: 

I don't think this is a viable option against a Khador heavy spam in SR 2016 and I very much don't think it's an option in SR 2017, although I haven't tried it with the solos scoring flags yet. 

Basically the Khador player doesn't have to worry about a timeline nearly as badly in 2017, and can afford to spend a few turns getting set up for really good trades while exchanging control points. Jacks might not be able to score all zones, but they can sure contest them just fine. 

In SR 2016, Krueger 2 might have a win condition here, but I don't see if for SR 2017. 

Recommendation: This won't work at high level play unless it's like round 6 and your opponent is brain dead. 

Piles o' Dudes:

I'd say this is even more difficult to win with than it is to win on Scenario. Khador heavies mulch dudes now. The Kodiak in particular can just wade through jamming infantry like they don't exist by Venting Steam and then charging. 

Trampling MAT 7 heavies go through small based guys no problem, and they also destroy Tharn with ease using initials (or Vent Steam, fun fact). 

I'd like to address a bit of dice math here that has been a point of contention - a unit of Tharn Ravagers into a Khador heavy. 

Tharn Ravagers are MAT 7 PS 13 with one attack. If all seven of them make it into the same heavy, not likely I might add, at dice off 7, they do 3.5 damage per attack. 

3.5 times 7 = 24.5 damage, roughly ten off of one rounding the thing. With cortex and an arm left, you're going to lose 3 Tharn on average, and then not have the charges to finish the jack off the next turn. 

Hand of Fate on Una 2 changes this math a little bit, but it's still falling short of killing the heavy unless the entire unit of 7 gets onto it and Hand of Fate actually does average out to 2 extra damage per attack. 

At that point, your 20 point unit of medium infantry will get chewed apart by one to two heavies and you will not have the ability to kill them off. 

Recommendation: I don't think this works. 

Conclusion:

Khador heavies in large numbers are very difficult for Circle (and many other factions) to deal with. 

We can't piece trade effectively, we have a hard time alphaing effectively, and the scenario game is also difficult. 

This is a matchup that Circle has to think about when building a list pairing. It's one of the things that we struggle with as a faction. 

Personally, I play Baldur 2 with double Woldwraths to try and combat this as I think Harkevich heavy spam is something that he fights better than any other warlock in the faction, and that's the main reason he is in my two list pairing. 

Going forward, I think it will be interesting to see what happens with SR 2017, Grymkin coming into the meta, and all of the other things that Privateer Press has planned. 

What do you think? Are you harboring any secret anti-Khador tech that works great for you? Do you have any suggestions for playing into this matchup? We'd love to hear them in the comments section!