Many of us playing back when the Privateer Press forums had faction specific sections will remember one of the better tools available to Menites as a community: The Canon of the True Law. This series contained guides and write up specific to individual models of the faction, as well as general strategies and the like, but unfortunately was largely lost when the forums were reworked. Further, they were obsolete, given that they were Mk. 2 centric, and a lot has changed since then.
So, here we are, putting ink to paper (finger to keyboard?) to bring a new law to the people: the new Canon.
So... where to start? Well, there's no piece more foundational and basic to the way the Protectorate functions in battle than the Choir of Menoth, a piece more ubiquitous to Protectorate list design than perhaps any model in any faction.
So, what are the Choir exactly.
The Choir of Menoth is the most fundamental support piece to the Protectorate arsenal, so much so that every warjack available to the faction is designed at least somewhat with the Choir in mind. For the most part, Protectorate warjacks have glaring weaknesses present, be it that their base damage is a bit poor, or their survivability/speed don't allow them to be effectively delivered without support. At 10/19 and SPD 4-5, even with the Protectorate's suite of buffs to try and get them in better shape, our 'jacks lean heavily towards the 'poor' side of defensive stats and speed, but with the help of the Choir are able to deliver themselves with minimal help into heavy gunfire or spellslinging, then hit a bit above their weight class due to Battle. It creates a ton of power, but also a core weak point, to almost every Protectorate list design. The Choir die easily when targeted, and keeping them both relevant and safe with their positioning is a core part of learning to play the faction.
The Choir have three available Hymns, which they use as a special action during their activation. This means it must be done after their Movement, and can't be done if they receive a Press Forward order. The Hymns have a RNG of 3" and each member of the unit can effect 1 Warjack. The entire unit must sing the same Hymn, and when a Warjack has been effected by a Hymn, it can not be effected by any more (so two units of Choir can't cycle Hymns around on a Warjack.) Put simply, a min unit of 4 choir can effect 4 warjacks, max unit of 6 can effect 6 warjacks, etc.
-Hymn of Passage
When many factions are building a gunline, a concern that they always have to consider is whether or not they can handle Protectorate. To do so, you need weapons with the Magical damage type, as guns can not target a Warjack effected by Hymn of Passage. This means into many gunlines that don't have the right tools, or just don't have the right amount of those tools, our 'jacks can approach with impunity.
Knowing what guns your opponent has is integral to making Hymn of Passage work. Retribution, for example, has Magical on nearly every gun on their warjacks, which makes Hymn of Passage nearly useless into that list style. Convergence of Cyriss' Optifex Directive can give their Vector's Magical weapons as well, creating a similar issue, depending on how many guns vs. how many Optifex Directive they have. Many support pieces across factions can hand out Magical weapons as well, such as Aiyana from Aiyana and Holt and the Bog Trog Mist Speaker. Taking the time to study your opponents lists and know what those pieces are is integral; if you know you're looking at a gunline, ask your opponent what access to Magical weapons they have, because it will be key to your matchup. Warcasters with Spellpiercer are a bane for us.
A further thing of note is that this does not stop your 'jacks from being effected by ranged attacks, it only stops targeting. Sprays ignore this, for example, as long as they target something else; if the template hits your 'jack, they still get to make the attack and damage rolls and everything even if you have Passage up.
Passage lasts for one round.
-Hymn of Shielding
In most cases this is the lesser used Hymn, specifically causing your 'jacks to become untargetable by enemy spells. Same rules as Passage apply here, such as spells that are sprays targeting something besides your warjack.
Usually it's fairly clear when Shielding is the correct move. Many Cryx lists rely heavily on spells like Parasite to get work done on heavies, and Shielding stops those from getting on you (although if it's already on your warjack, Shielding doesn't stop them upkeeping a spell that's already there.) Adeptis Rahn from Retribution is a great example of a spot where Shielding will be absolutely integral to your matchup, as he relies heavily on targeted spells to do his damage. Shielding is also just an easy go-to if your opponent has no non-magical guns, you aren't attacking anything really that turn, and so the other two Hymns don't matter much; at the very least it stops their warcaster from shooting a nuke or something into your 'jacks just to use up some focus.
Shielding lasts one round.
-Hymn of Battle
This is the most straight forward of the three but in many cases the most important. Battle gives your warjacks +2 to their damage rolls for a turn. Most of our weapons are built with this damage value in mind, often sitting at about 1 POW below what you might like on a 'jack of their cost, but with Battle putting them a bit above the curve. This definitely shows when you use the 'jacks who *don't* have a lower POW than you might normally think, such as the Crusader or Guardian, or many of our characters. The Avatar is a great example of a 'jack whose sheer output is largely due to his stats seeming to be unaffected by the often loathed 'choir tax'. The Choir makes the Protectorate one of the hardest hitting factions in the game when it just comes to sheer output, both at ranged and in melee, without warcaster buffs. The trade off, though, is that when you do Hymn of Battle, you have left your warjacks open to non-magical ranged attacks and spells, so deciding when to Battle is important. Most times you're making attacks, you're probably doing Battle, but you have to always weigh the cost vs. benefit. If you have one Reckoner shooting a target, and the enemy has a lot of nasty guns that can mess up your 'jacks, it might be worth doing Passage instead of Battle just to keep your army alive.
Where Do We Stand
So where do you put your Choir?
There's some simple math that goes into a few aspects of the positioning of Choir. Typically, and I want to stress this is typically because the beauty of Warmachine is its complexity and how diverse its tactical situations can be so sometimes you'll do different things, you want your Choir to move to a spot that's as far as possible from your Warjacks while being able to effect them *and* be able to effect them at their end location this turn, so you can do your Choir before your Warjacks again next turn.
Typically our Warjacks are SPD 5, and at SPD 6 with a 3" range on Hymns, Choir can effect a Warjack 9" away. Some casters, like Vindictus or Thyra, can mess with this a little but for the most part this is consistent. If you have a Choir member standing next to a Warjack, with their front edge touching the same line, a SPD 5 Warjack can not run fast enough to get out of a Choir's range of influence. As long as they're touching at all, a SPD 4 Warjack won't ever get out of an area the Choir can effect, barring terrain and such. Considering this while deploying is important; you have to either make sure your Choir can move first and effect your Warjacks after getting a few inches ahead of your deployment, or make sure wherever your 'jacks are running this turn is somewhere the Choir can reach. This is especially tricky with casters like Amon ad-Raza, who makes the 'jacks much faster and they can outpace the choir, but is also why the Reposition 3 benefit of Creator's Might is really good.
After the first turn, you have to think about where your 'jacks are going, such as running again, just walking, or charging into opponents. Where does your Choir need to be to be able to still effect your 'jacks at whatever their end position may be. A simple example is, again, a SPD 5 'jack that you intend to charge. That 'jack will move 8", so if your Choir member is 3" from the back edge of your heavy, he won't be able to catch up because the 'jack will be 11" away. You have to have that Choir member 1" or less from the 'jack in order to keep up. If your 'jack is faster, let's say with Amon making it SPD 7 so moving 10" on a charge, your Choir member has to actually be an inch PAST the back edge of the 'jack to keep up, putting the model right next to the 'jack, before he since Battle or whatever you're doing that turn. Being aware of this leap-frogging positioning game is integral to especially battlegroup heavy, melee centric lists so your Choir can consistently keep the buffs where they're needed. You have to be able to do this while also making sure they're safe; if a Choir member will just die where he is, there's not any point having him there and you may just have to accept that the 'jack isn't getting buffs next turn. This is fine too; you just have to know what you can and can't do.
Gunlines or lists running only 2-3 'jacks are far easier, as with Guns you can pretty much expect to just keep the Choir 3" behind your 'jacks, repositioning even further back if you can with Creator's Might, and just using Battle or whatever you need and shooting.
The last thing to really think about is making sure your Choir aren't getting in your own way. This is actually often the hardest part, especially with more varied list designs, as it's easy for forward-moving Choir to block off your own run and charge lanes. Frankly this just comes with practice and planning; know where your stuff needs to go and don't stand there. It sounds simple, but there's so much to think about turn by turn, we all forget sometimes.
How Much Singing Do We Need?
So how much Choir should you bring? Protectorate ends up in a support bloated position really easily, and not overdoing it is important.
I typically look at Choir in tiers depending on a few factors.
A minimum unit of Choir is for 'I just filled my warjack points' lists or, sometimes, lists centered around a colossal. Often times a colossal means you don't have a lot of 'jacks to begin with, which is one of the benefits of a colossal since 1 choir member can effect 36-37 points of your army on his own. Either way, this is usually when you're looking at about 2-4 warjacks, especially if maybe one 'jack you aren't too worried about getting choir buffs (a Devout or something is a common example). If you're running two heavies and a Devout (or less!), min choir is plenty to function on.
This usually is for either Colossal-centric lists that fill the rest of the army out with more warjacks, or certain warjack-heavy builds that are focusing on expensive 'jacks like our 15-20 point options. Six Choir effects a good handful of 'jacks, but if you're running more than about 5, you'll start to have problems if a Choir member or two dies and you may have some trouble effecting enough of the table. Max choir I tend to find works better in more gun-centric builds with a couple reckoners and/or redeemers and the like, since you don't have to cover as much of the table in this list style in most cases and your choir won't be tripping over their own tiny CMD range to keep up with forward-moving warjacks.
-Two Minimum Units
This is probably my favorite choir loadout for very warjack-centric lists. Choir CMD is quite poor, so two min units lets you cover pretty much all of the table you could want pretty easily, while running 5-8 warjacks pretty comfortably, which is near the top end of anything you'll typically play outside some specific spam style builds. The other thing this does that I really like is it lets you mix and match Hymns; if you have a couple 'jacks charging in and a couple not, or some moving forward into gunfire while far-back Redeemers and the like are firing rocket volleys, you can opt to Battle the things making attacks while giving Passage or Shielding to the others. Super useful, toolboxy, and just a ton more comfortable to use if you're going battlegroup heavy.
-One Minimum/One Maximum or Two Maximum Units
I have had maybe two lists that ran to 1 max/1 min and no builds ever go to two max units, it's kind of a silly amount of choir. One min/one max is if you're above 8 warjacks and want to be able to effect them all, up to a max of 10 warjacks. Only way to really go this far is usually some combination of Crusaders and Dervishes, going for the cheapest possible 'jacks in large numbers. Two maximum units is for the truly absurd styles (though sometimes effective ones!) such as taking 11+ Dervishes in one build. A list like this will be pretty much all light 'jacks, and really it just comes down to 'do I have enough warjacks that 12 choir makes sense.' If the answer is yes, I guess you're taking two max units of choir.
A general rule of thumb I follow is to try to have 1-2 more Choir than I have 'jacks, but it isn't always possible or necessary due to points or style of warjack. If all of your warjacks are gun'jacks like Reckoners or something, having the same number of Choir as 'jacks is probably fine since usually they'll be so far back they won't be in danger.
Other uses for the choir... at the end of the day, they're there for Hymns, but that doesn't mean they can't do anything else. Often I'll have excess Choir (especially as warjacks start dying) kill each other by smacking each other in the back to fuel souls on a Sanctifier, for example... just make sure you're in back arcs, because Choir offensive stats are awful. Still, sometimes they can charge some things if you really need them to; some casters can buff their output, and a charge from a Choir member will still kill most basic infantry as long as you can hit your target. They're also SPD 6 with 2" melee weapons, which means they can go jam up ranged units and the like if you want, and at the end of the day they even a single surviving Choir member can score circular zones for you. They often have value just by the virtue of being bodies that can contest things or stand in the way of things, and when games are down to the wire with only a handful of models left, that can mean all the difference.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Get some Choir on the table and smash some heretics.