Know your enemy: Harbinger

A fellow named Curt asked for this article but I’m not sure he knew the extent of his request: “I was really hoping you could write an article, or at least give suggestions, on dealing with protectorate in general and the Harbinger in particular”. There are plenty of articles out there dealing with this on a very superficial level, and there’s a reason why they’re superficial because dealing with this in detail would require me to write a book.

Flying cunt of doom!

There’s no way I can write a single article that covers an entire Faction, but maybe I could manage some individual articles on casters. These articles would still be fairly superficial because it’s equally impossible to go through every option Cryx has against her, but then I thought about a series of “knowing your enemy” articles another blogger began but never finished a while back, and I think I could manage those on detailed level. I’ve had about 20 games against Harbinger so it’s not like I’m an expert on the subject, but I’ll give it a shot and if all goes well I might do more of these.

The Harbinger of Menoth

The first thing every researcher needs to do is to steal what he can so we start with the Canon of True Law and Battlecollege. This tells us a bit about how the Harbinger plays, what people think about her, and there’s even a section about winning with her. These are all useful things to know because knowing how she wins is the first step to stopping the process. The three things I’ve decided to Focus on are:

  • Distance
  • Control
  • Defense

These are the tools that allow the Harbinger to be such a successful caster, and especially against Cryx where her abilities really shine. All three of these tools must be countered in order to reliably beat Harbinger, and they overlap a lot so it’s hard to break through them all.

The Distance issue

The Harbinger has a seriously crazy control area which allows her many abilities to take effect where she wants them to despite being safely tucked away down behind her entire army. The Harbinger usually brings an Arc Node to solve problems that would require her to move up. This is a really powerful ability against Cryx and our lack of long range shooting.

Distance allows the Harbinger to dictate the game and force you to grind through her entire army to get at her.

  • Ranged attacks can push her back but will only kill rookie Harbinger players.
  • Flanking models can force her to split her forces but she does it better than most Cryx lists.

The Harbinger also has a nifty little spell called Crusader’s Call which adds +2 movement to any friendly faction model beginning it’s activation within her huge control area. This means that the otherwise slow Menoth models will come for you at crazy speeds and most of his list will rival or exceed the threat range of all but your fastest models. This is easily combined with her other spell Guided Hand which negates our high defense causing all kinds of headaches.

  • Bring more speed than her with models charging more than 12 inches.
  • Bring more ranged attacks and kill her army from outside his threat range.
  • Bring a list that can buffer it’s way out of the problem (like eAsphyxious with Caustic Mist).
  • Bring a list that benefits from his mad charges (like Terminus soul stealing).
  • Bring a list that can stop the charges (like pDeneghra or eDeneghra).

The final problem with the Harbingers distance is that she can purify her stupidly large control area which means that you cannot rely on upkeep spells to win the day unless they do their job the turn you cast them. This ability completely wrecks our Focus economy and she doesn’t even have to come near your caster to do it.

That being said the Harbinger has two additional abilities that will force her to play a little bit more forward than she otherwise would have. These are Awe and Martyrdom and both of them are CMD range which is usually 10″ unless he’s brought Madelyn Corbeau and I rarely see Menoth players do that.

Beating the Distance issue: Closing the gap

There are several ways of winning the distance game. The first is to out shoot her but there are few Cryx builds that can manage that feat of arms. A ranged pDeneghra list could probably do it, but let’s leave caster specific lists out of the equation. The second way to win the distance game is to close the gap (funny how that works), and that’s really your best option.

You have to close in on her as fast as possible, so the more speed or range you have the better you will do. This is because in nine out of ten games you’ll have to stand there looking like a idiot for an entire round because of the Harbingers feat. The feat inflicts a POW 14 fire damage roll on any of your models that advance and end their movement closer to the Harbinger than they began while within her control area.

This feat is bullshit because of her 20″ control area, and a complete cluster fuck nightmare in timed tournaments. If you’re going up against the Harbinger in a Death-clock format then get a judge over before the game and make sure all feat measurements are done on his time, or he can burn 10+ minutes of your clock without any malicious intent.

The best way to handle her feat in timed tournaments is to stand perfectly still with 90% of your list. This makes ranged units really attractive because they can participate in the fight while standing still. The second best thing is really fast units like Satyxis Raiders that can lose a round and still make it to the fight because of their crazy speed. Faster units are also better because they can reach cover/concealment other units won’t be able to reach on the first round so they can spend a nice cozy round standing still behind something instead of out in the open.

Satyxis Raiders also play screens really well because they can get so far up her face on the first round that you can force him to feat defensively. It will cost you the entire unit of raiders to do it, but it’s usually worth it.

Beating the Distance issue: Pushing her back

There won’t always be fast units in your lists and especially with my Terminus list I’ve had to figure out a way to handle her even when I can’t close the gap. This is a bad situation to be in but it’s not impossible though you have to keep pushing in waves while avoiding a loss on scenario. This is exactly why I have two Machine Wraiths in my list because even Menoth has to work for it to shift two Incorporeal models in cover or concealment.

In order to pull this off you really want to be the second player. If you’re the first player you will end up outside the zones in half the scenarios, he will feat on his first turn, and you’ll be behind on control points which is something you really don’t want against one of the best defenders in the game. If you’re the second player he can move up and feat, but you can move up a few inches and you’re not completely screwed. You’ll have a round doing nothing, then he occupies the zones and then you’ll still be in a bad position but not behind on points and his feat is spent.

If you manage not to fall behind in control points you get to begin the push. The goal is to keep the pressure on her and force her to grind herself down using Martyrdom. The key to doing this is to find the model she cannot afford to lose and keep hitting that with everything you’ve got. This is a lot easier with ranged attacks but reach models or careful placement helps. The first 8-9 boxes the Harbinger loses makes no real difference but after that she becomes very selective about which models she saves.

When you’ve reached the point where she becomes selective she will usually begin to pull back. This is great because you’re not catching her anyway and you’re going for scenario. A Harbinger player that doesn’t control the game is a Harbinger player in trouble so you keep pushing at her important models forcing her to choose between losing them and getting dangerously close to death.

If she loses her important models you keep pushing for scenario while being careful not to die to a surprise long range caster kill. If she keeps saving the important models she will be forced into camping as long as you have even a average ranged threat left, and a camping Harbinger player is in a lot of trouble.

If you DO fall behind in points she will usually push up everything she has and swamp you while trying to get the last control points. This is really bad news and if you didn’t manage to force a defensive feat she’ll feat now and you lose. If she’s used her feat then you’re still up shit creek unless your list can take an entire Menoth army up close and remain functional enough to push her back the following rounds. Terminus can do this, eSkarre, eDeneghra, and maybe pDeneghra can counter-feat and avoid the worst of it, but generally speaking you’re screwed if you end up here.

The Control issue

At the ETC I had a good laugh at a Cryx player fighting a Harbinger player before the tournament began, and this is what happened. First he moved up a Pistol Wraith and shot an Errant (saved by self-sacrifice). The Cryx player needed that lane opened and there were no more Errants in range to save him so he walked up a Warwitch Siren and sprayed at something behind the Errant to avoid Purity, hit and killed (saved by Martyrdom).

The guy changed tactics and found a second lane he could use, which was blocked by Madelyn Corbeau. He walks up a ranged unit (can’t remember which one) and shoots her but needs 8+ to hit. He misses the first couple of shots, then hits her, and the shot is Suckered to the Book which takes 1 damage as it always does. Finally he moves down the second Warwitch Siren since Sucker can only stop ranged attacks, picks up his dice, aaaand Lawgiver’s Creed stops him.

This is hardcore control of a board because the Harbinger can dictate which models you get to remove until you grind her down. Combined with her other spells and abilities the Harbinger can build a fortress that you cannot penetrate until you’ve made sure she becomes selective about her targets for martyrdom.

Many of the usual suspects in a Harbinger list also brings their own control and survival mechanisms adding to the grand total and making it incredibly hard to penetrate her fortress. There are two ways to go about this and it’s up to you as a player to decide which one will work best with the list, terrain, and scenario you’re playing.

  • You can kill all the things she won’t save: This will leave all the important models alive, but the army as a whole will be decimated and hopefully unable to hit back with enough force.
  • You can grind her down by killing all the things she does want to save: This leaves most of her list alive and you will pay for it, but Harbinger herself will be forced to play defensively and her list will lose a lot of support.

I usually go for option number two unless I have the speed and ranged attacks to nibble at her flanks and pick my targets without allowing her to retaliate. This requires ludicrous speed and a high number of ranged attacks so grinding her down is the safer route and the one most lists can use.

Beating the Control issue: Models/Units

Cryx has several ways of circumventing the control issues that can be built into the lists. We have Blood Hag that shuts down healing and Tough checks, we have Stalkers that can kill specific models, and we have several models with multiple attacks. Relying on having a specific set of models in a list when you’re going up against her isn’t going to get you very far, but it’s nice to know if you happen to have them anyway.

If you have these models you can circumvent a lot of the Harbingers fortress but you also won’t be grinding her down with Martyrdom so it will leave her fully operational and uninjured until the end-game. Martyrdom is the Harbingers great strength but also her Achilles heel, so if you have these models think carefully before using them and keep them back until there are models you absolutely need to remove.

Beating the Control issue: NEVER hail-Mary

Against a lot of casters you can hail-Mary and get away with it but not against the Harbinger. Any Harbinger player with a set of eyes will see it coming and deny you the kill on that one crucial model and your attempt will fail. If you’re up against the Harbinger it’s a long and tedious fight to the end with no short cuts unless your opponent has a brain-fart.

Beating the Control issue is a slow process and a game in itself, where you kill models and tempt your opponent to spend his precious boxes on keeping them alive. It’s a bit like he’s playing Blackjack and you’re the dealer trying to make him go above 21. His goal is to get as close to his limit as he can without going over it, and if you fail to push him over the edge you’re in trouble.

To make matters even more complicated the line isn’t as easy to spot as in Blackjack because it depends on what you’ve got in the list. If you have two Pistol Wraiths with pDeneghra and he has no devout then his limit is very easy to reach, but if you have Terminus with almost no ranged attacks his limit is very hard to reach.

The second you decide to “go for it” against the Harbinger you’re going to lose. She’s immune to Blind and Knockdown, she can keep her lanes closed against overwhelming odds, and when you fail you’re dead. If you manage to grind through her list you still need to keep clear of her personal spell or melee assassinations because they bloody hurt.

The defense issue

We’ve been over this in the other sections but the Harbinger plays an amazing defense. Her lists are designed to withstand incredible amounts of punishment without breaking so what can you do about it?

If violence wasn’t your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it.
– Howard Tayler, Schlock Mercenary

Some lists can simply apply more violence than the Harbingers defense can absorb, and when it breaks you win because she’s got nothing left. This is an impressive feat of arms that not many lists can manage, so assuming we cannot overwhelm we can try removing key models. This can only be done if you have the models to negate Martyrdom and it requires you to outsmart the Harbinger player quite a bit.

With most lists you simply  cannot slip through the cracks because you cannot open them, you cannot overwhelm her with excessive force, but you can hammer away at one point in her list until it or she breaks. This could be done by setting up for a spell assassination and then baiting the Book to come in and stop it.

When the book is in place you hammer it with ranged attacks until she either let’s it die or grinds herself down to manageable levels. If she let’s it die you get a shot at killing her and if she doesn’t let it die you’ll have her on the ropes where she belongs. This can be done with many different key models in her list, and with models blocking important lanes, as long as you don’t make the mistake of committing your caster to the attack and lose.

Basically it all comes down to the fact that fighting against the Harbinger is a two step process. First you need to avoid losing on scenario, and then you need to force her over her limit with Martyrdom unless you have the ranged might or special models needed to take a different route.

Fighting her list

There are a couple of really useful models in our arsenal when it comes to fighting her, and several of them are often in tournament builds anyway. I won’t go into detail with the models you rarely bring because if you’re building a list to fight her you should be able to figure that out yourself.

  • Pistol Wraiths: These are a huge boon when it comes to scenario play because it forces her to play more cautiously. The Pistol Wraiths also bring Magical guns which allows you to Chill her jacks despite the Choir, and it makes it harder for her to keep Paladins alive. (2015 errata makes this almost irrelevant)
  • Satyxis Raiders: These trannies (I call all my models him/guys/whatever so they’re all trannies now) are so fast that they can work around having to stand still for a round. They also have such a high defense against shooting that if you spread them out to avoid the inevitable fire or spell AoE attacks they can survive being out in front. These ladies are also the easiest way to avoid getting behind on control points.
  • Bile Thralls: If there’s one model/unit that can overload her Martyrdom it’s a well placed Bile Thrall. This can also pull a lot of her models out of the fortress as they have to come for the Bile Thralls before it’s to late.
  • Stalker: If you get this one on the Harbinger she’s toast, and it can be used to remove key models from her fortress. Don’t advance this model during her feat as it will take out half it’s systems and render it useless.
  • Gorman di Wulfe: He’s immune to fire so he can advance into her feat. harbinger herself might be immune to Black Oil but The Avatar isn’t and his cloud can cause some headaches to a Harbinger player hoping to win quickly on scenario.

Then we have some tricks that can help us get to her where few other factions can. The main way of winning against Harbinger will always be the grind, but occasionally you get the opportunity to trample down to her because the vast majority of models in her lists are small based. With access to Ghost Walk Vilmon can stand there until he turns blue for all you care, because Ghost Walk + Trample allows you to safely ignore him. This of course means nothing if you’re dead.

It’s impossible to tell anyone exactly how to fight a Harbinger list because they’re not all exactly alike. Instead I can walk you through the abilities you need to worry about and abilities that help out against her.

  • You need to remember that all faction models can get +2 movement on their charges. The very slow Menoth will charge you at 10-12″ and some of their models will come at you from ranges that will make Satyxis Raiders envious.
  • You need to remember her Guided Hand spell because high defense will not help you in a melee fight against the Harbinger. It has no effect on ranged attacks so staying at range is your best bet, but then it’s hard to push her back and grind her down.
  • You need to remember that she can Martyrdom a model dying to a free strike and it will keep on charging, so simply threatening free strikes will not save your caster if there’s a Paladin on his way in: you need to block the lanes completely.
  • You need to remember her Awe ability because -2 to hit for Satyxis Raiders is a huge deal and they will get in there. Unless you have debuffs available it means you have to send two Satyxis where you would normally only send one and it’s annoying. A lot of our infantry is undead and won’t care though, but think about it before you send in the Warwitch Siren and she needs 7+ to hit a defense 10 Warjack.
  • Stealth helps a lot against Harbingers usual suspects as she has to get her troops close to kill yours, and that means outside of Martyrdom range. It also helps if your caster has it as it cuts harbingers assassination potential in half. If she has Rhoven with her you’ll lose some key models like Tartarus but it’s still a lot better than not having it.
  • Tough helps a lot against Harbinger as she really really hates armies that go toe to toe with her in the attrition battle and win. A single tough unit won’t help you much but if 70-80% of the list is tough then you’ve got game.
  • Undead models negate a lot of the problems with her walls, since they ignore Awe.
  • Ranged attacks are extremely valuable against her and you can use them to force a lot of attacks on that important models she cannot afford to lose.

I hope this cleared up a bit about fighting the Harbinger, and if you guys have other casters you’d like articles on then let me know in the comments. There’s no guarantee that I have solid experience against them of course, since there are so many casters in the game that it’s unlikely that anyone has 10+ games against every single one of them.


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28 Responses »

  1. Incorporeal models can be hurt by feats. Ghost Pirates and Wraiths can’t advance closer during her feat. *sadface*

    A great article anyway though.

    How about Leviathans? She is on a large base and it can participate in the fight during her feat(although the choir will just stop you shooting jacks).

  2. page 14 of mini rule book: This model suffers damage and
    effects only from magical weapons , magic attacks, animi,
    spells, and feats and is immune to continuous effects.

    good right up besides though, I learned something new today =)

  3. Thank-you!!! I friggin HATE playing against that floating teenage tramp. This is a great write-up (Incorps v Feats aside) with some really well-considered and thoughtful ideas on bigger game issues without getting too list-specific. Nice work :-)

  4. Good article. Haven’t played her, but I’m beginning to hope I never have to xD Seems like you have to think more than usually, and that you would be quite fucked playing against her for the first time…

    • Without a doubt. You really have to be one step ahead of her the entire game because her feat will set you back a step :)

      • I’ll take the spanking as a lesson in case I run into her at the masters xD Would have to get some advice from someone regarding picking the right list I think :) Having played only Menoth once in a 20pt game doesn’t help either :D I think I have to start going to the club some more, to get some more games against different factions…

      • I also have to regret to tell you, that I won’t be bringing the Wraith Engine :) But I will get it assembled and ready as soon as possible :)

  5. Nice write-up as usual. I don’t face Harbinger much (probably only a couple of times in the last year or so) so have really struggled with her particular combination of abilities. Got one horrible, painful loss by grind-off, and one lucky win by Harbinger overextending on feat turn (spell assassination – by pSkarre! Arced Hellfire FTW, yeah baby!)

    Assuming you were able to tailor a list, or at least pick one in say a three-list environment, which caster would be your go-to, and what key pieces would you want? I’ve been playing Mortenebra a lot recently and think she might have the ability to go through (/round/under :D) her defences. I’d probably want a non-tier list, including at least two Stalkers, Blood Witches and perhaps some ranged ability such as Harrower, Leviathan or PWs to clear lanes within the Hag’s aura. But I guess the risk is my lights would still be vulnerable to the feat, and the small model count army would be vulnerable to attrition if I couldn’t open a lane. The flying Beak of Fury delivery system would be no good if she decided to camp heavily.

    Any thoughts?

    • I would go with pDeneghra and a lot of guns, but that’s my solution to everything so I’m not sure it counts. If you can spend her feat turn standing still and blasting to keep the pressure on her Martyrdom you’ve gone a LONG way towards winning.

    • Mortenebra – theme og no-theme – handles attrition poorly and has a hard time assassinating someone camping at ARM24 (unless you get the DJ into melee with the girl, but shes got far too many ways to prevent that).

      Key piece removal is central to the Mortenebra assassination, and if your opponent know his game he’s not gonna let you clear that charge lane/ trigger that Overrun and so forth. A stalker is your best bet at killing Harby, but it still need a good charge lane (and for your Stalker to survive).

      I havent played Harby for quite some time, but Ive had the most succes with cheap infantry spam in waves for some good attrition. I dont see Harby as the good a attrition caster anymore (Mk 2), as Martyrdom requires you to get too close to the battle. McThralls on the other hand plays the attrition game just fine :). Skarre1 seems to be able to do the job, as do Denny1 (if you use your debuffs offensively).

      • Yeah, I absolutely get that Mortenebra doesn’t want to be trying to attrition! But as noted, a Stalker will tear Harbinger to pieces if you can make a lane. With a second (or even third and fourth) Stalker and Blood Witches with Hag, is it going to be that hard to do? It seems to me that as long as we can keep our key pieces safe through her feat turn, we can use them to remove the other guy’s key pieces to make a lane.

        I have a picture in my head of this working, but it’s totally theory right now. I think I need to try it out and see!

  6. Question, would Venethrax be a good possible counter? With Lamentation and his feat it seems like he would be a good choice, or am I missing something? I know he is usually considered an anti-hordes caster but seems to me it might work well.

    • He doesn’t really have the tools to work through her reliably. His soul collection is severely hampered by Errants, Martyrdom, and Tough. His upkeep reliance has a tough time against Purification and she can easily work from outside Lamentation range.

      With Lamentation up he’s also very vulnerable to the long range assassinations Harbinger usually has access to, or he’ll be badly hurt and unable to camp through the round he needs to close the distance.

      It’s not an impossible fight, but as a counter to her he leaves a lot to wish for. The good thing about Harbinger is that you can take her down with almost any good list because it all comes down to tactics instead of list building.

  7. Sorta funny you posted this now. Menoth has apparently done well at Gencon this year, and most of the top Menoth lists were Harbinger/pSevvy.

  8. Superb article, thoroughly enjoyed the read, thank you :-)

    You could possibly add the Reckoner’s Ashen Veil debuff (-2 to hit) effect which combos with Awe for -4 to hit for living models. Most Menoth lists have at least one of those ‘jacks!

  9. I think the new gaspy has a good spell list to help deal with harby. not to mention vociferon to help keep the distance.

    gaspy3 (35pts)
    full raiders+UA
    raider captain.

    add a full unit of bane thralls with UA and tartarus at 50 points. push with the raiders and jacks (mobility) and force the feat and then come back with banes.

  10. Thanks so much for this article, the last tournament I went to was a small local one and 50% of the players were Menoth, 75% of them used the Harbinger as their main list. The best match I played I worked through it with my Terminus list as I just hit him so hard on my charge turn with so many attacks that he could not even come close to Martyrdom the models he wanted. I even threw BLT away to get a thresher on 3 or 4 models to keep the models dying for Terminus to force her back. At the end she had to go for a hail mary on an armor 28+ (I forget the exact number but it was above his usual camp) Terminus and failed miserably.
    This article is making my try the min blood witches for the anti-tough + healing.

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