And The Hammer Came Down: A Bad Seeds Report

We go back a long way, the former Commander Magnus and I. Right the way back to the start of this ‘ere blog, as I may have mentioned once or twice, and indeed to before then. We spent some time together – a wild, experimental time, when we were still trying to work out what the future held. And, I admit, we drifted apart for a while – money was involved, and mistakes were made. We’ve been seeing rather a lot of each other lately, though, and I might just about be ready to say we’re back together.

I’ve been playing Magnus the Warlord week in, week out for the Slow Grow League up at Dark Sphere, and doing quite well, troubling the top three despite a second week in which I lost the ability to gauge threat ranges, charge lanes or indeed anything that might keep Magnus alive for more than two turns.

Furthermore, so that I actually qualify for painting points, I haven’t been using any of the stuff I already have painted – which happens to include both my Renegades. This has turned out to be quite a sharp decision. Rather than having Magnus hang back and try to play like a Cryx caster with the arc nodes and the distance-keeping, I’ve been having to keep him moving, using failed charges and Mobility to get him upfield and into range of things – which means I’ve been getting much more mileage out of his feat and his weapons, and realising just how brutal he is once he’s actually crossed the board and gotten stuck in. The challenge I set myself was firstly to play every league game with eMagnus so I could get back into the swing of things with him, and secondly to try and use everything on his card; every spell, every special rule, every weapon option, the works. It’s been going pretty well so far. In fact, the only thing I’ve not used is Calamity.

Obliteration has seldom seen the table, being dropped only when there’s a target that absolutely has to be nailed and the cheaper Convection lacks the POW to get it done. I haven’t even been that fashed about the AOE on Obliteration – it’s mostly the capacity to place a POW15 on something without Magnus having to enter melee with it that’s the attraction. For instance, I’ve used it to finish off Absylonia, knowing full well that failing and leaving Magnus base-to-base with the enemy warlock when he’s already taken damage was not going to end well.

Convection has proved quite useful for eliminating lane-blocking models and, in the same breath, dishing out the focus point that’s needed for the Nomad or even the Mule to charge through the lane that’s just been opened. People underestimate the Mule in melee, but it’s really not bad – a credible P+S, an average MAT for a ‘jack, and Reach mean it can put down some hurt in a punch-up.

Bullet Dodger has tended to sit on Croe, for reasons which will become clearer when I talk about the Theme Forces, although I’ve occasionally put it on Magnus himself when trying to play the range game, as it nudges his DEF into the realms of credibility. Dodge is particularly handy when a force includes so many models with Backstab – which pretty much everyone has gotten some mileage out of so far, too.

And then there’s Mobility. Ah, Mobility. Seldom does a game go by when I’m not casting this every turn – indeed, only if I have a clear, terrain-free lane for a ‘jack to walk up and hit things without even charging do I not cast it as a matter of principle just to get more speed out of Magnus. The Merc heavies put out a decent turn of speed with this ‘un on, and the Vanguards gain a truly unnerving Assault range. It’s also been pretty handy for the Mule – with Mobility up, the Mule’s ranged threat goes up to a decent 15″ if it moves, outranging the ‘stand still for Snipe’ effect that it gets built in at the cost of a little accuracy.

From that talk of heavies it might be clear that I usually run a couple; a Nomad and a Mule at the moment, since my Mangler isn’t eligible for league painting points until stripped and restarted. The Mule waddles upfield, either forfeiting its movement for an accurate shot or, more often, taking a boosted shot and enjoying the extended threat range from Mobility. The Nomad is my usual choice for bonding; it hits like a ton of bricks with four focus, and on a Mobility turn it can frequently walk into melee and thus not suffer the minor inefficiency of charging (spending focus to boost damage before you know if you’ve hit). I’ve even gotten to Backstab Garryth with it after he walked around to take a shot at Magnus. Fun times.

Kill Box is proving much more effective now I don’t have arc nodes to hide behind – with Magnus needing to get upfield to do his thing I’m finding more and more that I can trap the core of an enemy army in place, or stick Magnus’ neck out safe in the knowledge that he’s going to be very hard to move towards. Given that our first league scenario was Overrun, it’s also given me a very credible advantage in terms of buying myself a control point or an extra turn to clear the control zone.

The other thing Magnus has been doing is fighting more. Magnus is basically confronted with three options when engaging in melee – lead with the first to guarantee knocking a target down (which I tend to do when he’s charging, since the fist doesn’t hit very hard and likes the free boost from the charge attack), lead with Foecleaver X to get the most mileage out of his focus (if the target will need boosts on attack and damage rolls to realistically hurt), or lead with an Armour Piercing Powerful Attack to get the most damage onto large targets as possible. He tends to end up giving away something of his potential – if he’s knocked his target down, the boosts to hit from Powerful Attack are wasted, while Armour Piercing involves him forfeiting a guaranteed knockdown from the fist. I suppose the Skorne’s client warcaster should be permitted a little Skornergy.

Oh, and then there’s the gun. I have something of an obsession with this thing, and I have on occasion botched Magnus’ positioning just so I can take pot-shots with it. However, in my defence, I’ve also blown away a Necrosurgeon with it, in a situation where committing Magnus to melee would have taken him into a Kill Box and thrown the game… and I think that’s what it’s for, ultimately. Allowing Magnus to project a bit of threat without having to move in too close to do it.

I’ve tried out both his Theme Forces, too – in fact, I’ve only been playing with his Theme Forces. As I become increasingly disconnected from contemporary WFB, I find my fluffy-list tendencies creeping back into Warmahordes; it’s not as big a problem as it used to be, though, because in general the casters I like have theme forces that aren’t complete dead ends. It also helps that I’m background-crazed for Magnus – here’s a man who’s moved from runaway war criminal to kingmaker, traitor to his people and yet fanatically loyal to the nation he would have Cygnar become, and whose rules and theme forces absolutely reflect this. The Traitor is a desperate man, pushing his limited resources as far as they can go; the Warlord has no more need to play possum and scrape thin, and instead he equips himself with an arsenal of specialist tools and an increasingly flexible group of followers.

Magnus’ Agenda is a force I’ve not fully explored yet, being disinclined to purchase even one unit of Idrian Skirmishers, let alone two. The prospect of deploying two cheap Manglers upfield has a certain appeal to it, but I’m not willing to go through Tier 3 to get to them. Instead, I’ve been stopping at 2 with the full unit of Croe’s Cutthroats, a unit who I’d cheerfully describe as ‘barely competent’. Magnus can do a lot for them – he has access to a lot of knockdown-fu which enables them to actually hit their targets, Calamity which helps offset their poor MAT and RAT, and Bullet Dodger, which enables Nyss-like levels of DEF against ranged attacks and affords setup for a few cheeky Backstabs (it should be noted that I misread this spell and played it as model/unit for the first few weeks of the league, which I feel bad about but which hasn’t had a massive impact apart from the very first game as the Cutthroats tend to get mullered anyway). Croe’s ability to Field Promote himself has caught a few people by surprise too, in particular a league game against Cryx where he was able to Promote into Skarre’s back arc and pull off a five-dice back striking charge on the Pirate Queen.

The only trouble I’ve been having with them is that everything in my current list needs Magnus’ help, and he’s often too busy chucking out Mobility and handing out focus to the Mule for shots and the Nomad for beats to spare much time for buffing up Croe and the boys. Interestingly enough, I haven’t found much use for the redeployment bonus from Tier 2 yet, and not just because I spent the first four weeks of the league thinking it’s a +1 to the First Player roll-off (which I don’t think mattered except in one game… but still, it’s an issue, and it’s making me think I should either drop out of the league or have a couple of wins taken off me for form’s sake).

The Bad Seeds, meanwhile, seems to have devilish potential in the Reinforcements-ified Steamroller 2012. At Tier 4, Saxon and the Sword Knights get to Ambush, which is ace as it dumps a credible melee threat on the board and combines well with Magnus’ movement-controlling feat to ensure that the Sword Knights will get to batter something. However, the Sword Knights can’t be marshalling a warjack if they do that. Sadness. But wait! If we have Reinforcements, specifically if we have 7 points of Reinforcements, which we most assuredly do at the 35 point level which graced the tables at Fly Another Day, that means we can sneak a sneaky Nomad onto the board that way, and dump a fully loaded Reach heavy onto the board for the Sword Knights to Flank around…

So that’s the logic behind me taking the Bad Seeds to Fly Another Day. Alas, my trading partner didn’t manage to get the infantry in the post to me in time for any test games, so I was going in with no practice whatsoever, attempting to beat my record from FQDII last year. Still, at least I’d practiced the ‘caster…

Faction: epic Magnus – Bad Seeds (NQ36)
Casters: 1/1
Points: 41/42
Tiers: 4
Magnus the Warlord (*6pts)
* Renegade (6pts)
* Sentinel (4pts) Talon (4 pts)
* Mangler (8pts) (bonded)
* Mule (8pts)
Rangers (5pts)
Sword Knights (Leader and 5 9 Grunts) (4 6pts)
* Sword Knight Officer & Standard (2pts)
Kell Bailoch (0pts)
Orin Midwinter, Rogue Inquisitor (2pts)
Saxon Orrik (2pts)

Reinforcements: * Nomad (6pts)

(Owing to a cheerful misunderstanding with my trading partner, the Sword Knight UA and Sentinel… were not waiting for me at the event. Chris (Altronous) was good enough to lend me a couple of Sword Knights to top the unit up (maybe that was for the best, given that I hadn’t been able to test the unit at all – fewer rules to foul up) and the Talon was in the case anyway.)

I’d normally Bond the Nomad, and to be honest it was still somewhat tempting, but I figured I’d rather have a four-focus Mangler in every game than a Backstabbing Nomad in some games. I also took my trusty backup list, in case I needed a bout of straightforwardness later in the day:

Faction: Magnus – Most Wanted
Casters: 1/1
Points: 42/42
Tiers: 1
Magnus the Traitor (*6pts)
* Renegade (5pts)
* Renegade (5pts)
* Vanguard (5pts)
* Mangler (8pts)
* Mule (8pts)
Long Gunner Infantry (Leader and 5 Grunts) (6pts)
* Long Gunner Infantry Officer & Standard (2pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)

Reinforcements: Croe’s Cutthroats (Croe and 5 Grunts) (7pts)

A refreshingly simple pop-n-drop list, with Gorman to lower key stats on targets and a disposable beatstick or two in the form of the Vanguard and Mangler. Not a list I actually planned on using unless the Bad Seeds completely flaked, or I brain-farted to the same epic degree that I did last year…

What followed, of course, was a comedy of errors in four acts. I’m actually quite proud of the sheer range of cock-ups I managed at this event… although somewhat perturbed at how badly the quality of my play declines away from home. I’m putting it down to the four a/m journey start (to get to Oxford in time to get my lift from the kindly Mr. Hysteresis) and the four hours’ sleep (not due to last-minute prep, more to humidity, rain, earache and the water tank next to my room deciding to drain itself overnight). I’m not usually THIS rubbish…

Act I – Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

My opener for the day was a nice chap called Matt (TWF’s wulfsage) and his Proper Cygnar, a force featuring Captain Caine, some Gun Mages, a Minuteman and a whole bunch of Boomhowler’s Boys. I thought they were on my side? Bloody mercenaries. You just can’t get the staff these days…

This one started out pretty well, I thought; Magnus and the boys chewed through the Boomhowler screen with commendable haste, and the Ambushing Sword Knights were well placed to rush my mission objective (a circular area on Matt’s side of the board, within a charge and an advance of the board edge)… but it has truly been observed that Von will always find a way to cock up a perfectly good win, frequently by doing something you’d expect from someone who hasn’t been playing these games for seventeen years…

I’m usually pretty good at manipulating Magnus’ charge distance and lanes on feat turn, making sure that while he might not be engaging the enemy ‘caster he’s catching them in the Kill Box and keeping them honest in terms of their placement for a turn. Alas, when Magnus got stuck into the Minuteman he didn’t quite charge far enough to catch Mr. Caine. Even then, he might have lived; a couple of Boomhowler’s boys took shots at his Bullet Dodging hide and missed, and for some reason I neglected to dodge Magnus out of sight behind the Talon. Caine still missed one shot, and I did make the Dodge, but one miss wasn’t enough, and the hammer came down…

Act II – It’s Like I Don’t Know How To Play Wargames Or Something

Dice And Decks’ own Chris (Altronous) had managed to lose his first game despite fielding Stormwall (a prize was given out to Dudley’s Jimmy ‘gstar’ Stark for nobbling the brute in the first round) and so bounced down to face me in a spot of Destruction. I always remember Destruction. because it’s not a ‘grab these arbitrary areas of tabletop’ scenario, and because I tend to do quite well at it. I also remember this Destruction because the mission objectives were cupcakes, with 50mm diameters, and if you destroyed one, you could eat it…

I’d been informed I had to use the Most Wanted list at least once, and figured double-tapping Long Gunners had the best chance at blasting the objectives from a safe distance. It turned out to be a decent plan, although it took me a turn longer than anticipated to pull off, which gave Stormwall time to zap Gorman, demolish the Vanguard, and pummel Magnus into near-death – BUT NOT QUITE DEATH. Oh no. That would derive me of the perfect chance to screw myself out of a win, after all.

See, I play Blood Bowl, and if there’s one thing that Blood Bowl teaches you, it’s that greed ain’t good. You don’t stand around hitting the other dude’s dudes when the ball is RIGHT THERE and the touchline is RIGHT THERE and you only need one die roll to score. So why, exactly, did I sink six focus into half-wrecking Stormwall? I don’t know. I don’t know if I thought IT’S A BIG SCARY MODEL IT MUST DIE, or if the lack of Gorman’s Black Oil meant I was worried about keeping it honest, or whether I just thought I was playing Hordes and could have my commander and heavies do stuff in the same turn.

What should have happened was this – one focus to each Renegade and three to the Mangler. Long Gunners double-tap one objective to finish it off, then the Renegades shoot up the other one, then the Mangler tramples (free with every Iron Aggression purchased) over and finishes it off. Simple. What actually happened was that Magnus busted half of Stormwall’s grid off single-handedly, the ‘jacks just about finished off one objective between them, and then Chris evened the score by smashing my objective and won the game by stamping Magnus into a fine paste.

At least I had a cupcake, and a fairly successful charity auction – I do this every year, this thing where I shout at people until they give their money away in exchange for nerd swag – and Robbie was good enough to spot for me so I could snaffle myself a Graveborn deck for the next time I run into the Plymouth mob and their newfound love of Magic.

Act III – What Is This I Don’t Even

Nik (Largi) and his Trolls were the order of the day for our first, last and only Reinforcements scenario, and this was a much closer game than it looked from a distance. While Nik undoubtedly had the upper hand in terms of wrecking stuff (Mulg ripped through both my heavy warjacks in one turn, while I’d just about managed to butcher some Runeshapers and Janyssa), I was well placed to get the upper hand on control points and bag the game if Magnus could just survive for a turn. Unfortunately, when dice down was called, we both had six points worth of stuff in the other’s scenario control area (Nik was appalled and relieved to discover Nomads were so cheap) and so his wrecking-ball approach to my battlegroup put him ahead on Victory Points and gave him the win.

Of course, he wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d bothered to use my charity reroll token on something important (like Devastating Mulg away from my heavies), or set the heavies up so Mulg couldn’t reach both of them, or maybe even used the Most Wanted list and had more firepower to deal with those surprisingly tough Runeshapers. Still, I was hard pressed to find one single glaring mistake that cost me the game, and I might well have been able to carve Mulg up with Magnus, earn a control point and take home a narrow win if there’d been another turn.

Act IV – The Least Worst Merc Player

My last game was against Mike (MrChom), fighting it out for the wooden spoon prize (three heavy wreck markers, which I’d actually have quite liked…) and the title of Least Worst Merc (we couldn’t really say ‘best’, given the day).

He was running what I’d term ‘a proper Merc list for tournaments’, i.e. one which cherry-picks from the full Merc range and drops a couple of big hefty units on the board. Still, I had every faith that the Bad Seeds would be able to bag this one – if nothing else, I had the ability to move on in overwhelming force from one board edge and take whichever of the scenario flags didn’t disappear. (I’m really bad at remembering the names of Steamroller scenarios, because they’re samey and boring – have you noticed?)

And, you know, it worked. Saxon and the Sword Knights rushed one objective and, despite Chom’s superhuman capacity to roll 4+ Tough roll after 4+ Tough roll, eventually cleared Boomhowler’s boys away to net me a control point. I had Kill Box up, and the only really significant threat to my scenario control was Gorten Grundback himself (another slight case of under-ranging, much like Act I).

Even then, I’d probably have gotten away with it. Chom took a couple of shots at Magnus and he Bullet Dodged forward, catching Gorten in his control area (no moving toward any important table edges for you!) without moving into Gorten’s and risking a feat turn drag into the teeth of the Rhulic battlegroup. So far, so textbook.

So why the hell did I Dodge again when the second shot missed?

I can only assume it’s the same thing that made me underplay Mobility for two months. Until Chom asked, I’d thought it was like Rush for the whole battlegroup… but no. It’s +2 SPD, not +2″ of movement. That… puts a new spin on the speed of Magnus’ first turn, and makes me feel much less bad about the whole Bullet Dodger thing. Like Mr. H. said in the car on the way home, mathematicians don’t do sums. I can only assume that means literary critics don’t read. How else do you explain my failure to read, parse and recall text accurately?

Anyway, that meant Chom could feat with Gorten and drag Magnus forward and Black Oil him and basically take him out of the game for a turn. I managed to drive the Sword Knights forward, clear a flag and score a control point, but was all set for the assassination waddle (it’s not really a run, not on Gorten’s legs), when… oh. Dice down?

Okay, so I ‘won’ a game. Not really. I barely stayed alive against Chom on this one and I’m not afraid to admit it. If it hadn’t been for the time-out, he’d have wailed on me, ’cause I got special rule blindness where my brains should be and it pretty much showed all the way through this event.

I don’t blame Magnus though. Although the Bad Seeds list wasn’t quite the one I’d planned and I didn’t have a clear role in mind for the Talon, that’s hardly what lost me any games. The Most Wanted list was exactly the right choice for the game I used it in – might have been worth a go against Nik too, maybe, but then I wouldn’t have had all those points to pile onto my objective from the board edge. No, I can’t blame the list and, given that I didn’t even use all my reroll tokens, I can’t blame the dice either. Frankly, the only thing not pulling its weight in this tournament was the player.

Still had an absolutely whizzy jolly time, though. Dice and Decks always put on a good event, and this one’s in the very best of causes. Handing out the free water this year meant less chance of an embarrassing heatstroke incident, and the event was conducted with all the flair and good conduct I’d expect of reasonable, mature people playing pew pew games with little metal men. I gather that something in the region of £1100 was raised, all told, which is ace, and I do seem to recall Mr. H. walking away with quite a few prizes (best painted and best general – the man’s an inspiration to us all, especially since he gave away his best general prize to be auctioned off).

Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got some Rangers to paint…

You may now commence belching

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