Well everyone, the giant September theme drop is here and boy has it shook things up.
Prior to the theme drop, Protectorate had three theme forces available at events. The more powerful theme forces have, in some respects, dictated the overall power level of some factions (though they are only a factor, not the be-all-end-all), and unfortunately Protectorate's were fairly lackluster, though effective in their own right. Creator's Might was always a staple, even with its quite vicious inherent weaknesses, just because it was the best way to run a warjack-heavy army, Guardians saw some play at the World Team Championship largely with Thyra as a Cryx answer (mostly off the back of the power of Flame Bringers, not so much about the theme itself), and Interdiction saw pretty solid use with some unexpected casters and made for a very good hammer list, at the cost of some tricks and options.
On September 29th, though, the new massive theme force update dropped, including the Faithful Masses force we saw in Community Integrated Development some weeks back as well as some changes to our already existing theme forces.
Creator's Might was almost a good theme force. It set us up to run very 'jack heavy with tons of our premier warjack support options, which should be Protectorate's wheelhouse. SR 2017, though, made lists like this quite difficult unless you had some extreme tools to make it work; for most factions, this was either innately fast beasts with pathfinder/flight or access to control casters like Haley2. Otherwise, lists like this needed important scenario control pieces to stay in the game, and Creator's Might was largely lacking this. Amon Ad-Raza ran a great all-jack Creator's Might build, but basically nobody else was fast enough or maneuverable enough to do it.
Queue the theme drop and Creator's Might gets access to only one change: the use of one mercenary unit and solo. This was really all Creator's Might needed, giving it access to Idrian Skirmishers, one of our best units. The merc solo isn't super useful for it, although if you are bringing Idrians, throwing in Rhupert for Tough is nice if you've got the points. If you do so, though, there's effectively no way to maintain 3 free solos in the list. That's the downside: Idrians aren't cheap, and if you're building a Warjack centric list, Idrians will take at least one heavy out of your design. Further, you start asking the question of whether or not the list would be better in Faithful Masses, which allows Idrians by default and gives a great benefit to your heavies. In many ways that comes down to the caster, the points, and the design of the list.
Interdiction probably gained the least overall but... it was also the one that needed the least. It just got the same change Creator's Might did in the addition of a Merc unit and solo. This does mean those fun double Errant + Idrian Skirmishers builds are a thing, though! Idrian access gives the list a little more flexibility and access to Rhupert is great given that most of the time Interdiction's pathfinder is locked behind Battle Driven. Personally, my Interdiction builds were *so* tight on points, I don't see any way to fit anything new in but... in future builds, it's definitely a consideration!
The Faithful Masses
The Faithful Masses had a lot of hype behind it when it left CID, and rightfully so. It allows a bunch of the best options in the faction, including Idrians and Allegiants, while not really infringing on support options and giving a brutal benefit to our warjacks in the form of Hand of Vengeance. Sadly, the force was toned down slightly in between CID and release, only giving Hand of Vengeance to Colossals and Heavy Warjacks (mainly an effort to avoid Dervish spam being too powerful which... is probably reasonable). However, it also gained the Avatar of Menoth which is really quite good! The Avatar has been a bit of a maligned creature in Mk. 3, and his place in Creator's Might was very ill advised in general since by design that theme asked you to take battlegroup-centric casters, but Masses, while giving a great 'jack benefit, is at its core an infantry theme. In many ways the HoV buff is more beneficial for non-'jack casters, since it gives a 'jack buff they just didn't have available before, and the Avatar fits in with casters like that extremely well. He is still a huge 20 points investment, but he's a pretty easily MAT 10 PS 23 investment with casters that couldn't normally buff him at all.
In the end, with the buffs to other themes and with the slight nerf from the CID version, Masses is a very solid theme that fits right in next to our other three.
Guardians of the Temple
I saved Guardians for last because it was both a surprise and the one I'm most hyped on right now. I've been quite vocal about my disdain for Guardians, which is unfortunate since it's the thematic 'home' of one of my favorite warcasters, Thyra, and the home of one of our best units, Flame Bringers. Guardians did have a place in potential competitive pairings, but it was almost entirely off the back of how good Flame Bringers are rather than much of anything the theme force itself did. Daughters gaining Ambush was a solid benefit, but the benefit giving warjacks Girded was just a disaster area, being barely good even in the matchups it was made for.
Now we see the theme drop and Guardians, in addition to gaining the one merc unit and solo addition which I'll bring up again shortly, gained one change: it swapped the Girded benefit for one that gives Temple Flameguard Tough and Steady while base to base with another member of their unit.
This is a game changer for how that theme functions. TFG have always been an actually quite decent unit for their cost, but just never really had a place. Only with buffs did they push over the line of truly difficult to deal with, but didn't really output enough to justify the work put into them to keep them alive. This change, though just pushes them over that line on its own, making an extremely durable, difficult to remove army without specialized tools. Running single or double Temple Flameguard in Guardians makes the list extremely tough to remove once its lodged itself into a spot, and gives great units like Flame Bringers a great core unit to block for them and help deliver them to the fight. On top of the Ambushing Daughters, Guardians lists will just swarm zones and be extremely difficult to take down. Guardians becomes a brilliant scenario list instantly.
Additionally, the merc addition gives the list some options. Idrians in this list style are extremely effective, and there's been a lot of talk about even Forge Guard, our dear old Hammer Dwarves, using the TFG to deliver them slowly up the table and giving the list a more extreme armor crack option. Rhupert is available to get Pathfinder around (although between Flame Bringers and Pyyrhus, Guardians can do alright in that department), and I think Guardians makes great use of Anastasia, loving the +1 to go first to try and get the TFG up the table before the engagements start and Espionage letting the units move considerably further under Shield Wall.
Thyra in Guardians made it into my tournament pair almost instantly and is a great, sturdy list with a crazy amount of options. Excited to get it onto the table at future events!
So Where Are We Now?
Protectorate was buffed by these changes across the board, hands down. We went from having mediocre to alright themes and one great one in the pipeline to just having four really great, solid options. No, none of them are blowing anyone out of the water but they're solid, effective, and give a lot of options. Protectorate can bring more list styles to the table than ever before, and more casters are viable than ever. It's good times to be a Menite.
As far as how that plays out in the greater competitive scene... time will tell. I know I'll be getting my faithful ready for the field of battle at Warmachine Weekend this year!
Thanks for reading!