It’s been a while since I’ve written anything but Battle Reports, but writing requires a topic and intimate knowledge about it. I’ve written about almost every trick I use, or someone else has, and writing something similar would make little sense, but then I thought about Circle. I do feel I owe you a warning because this article is really really REALLY bloody frigging long.
It’s a source of constant amazement that Circle players end up in the top of so many major tournaments, and while playing Cryx I was never afraid of them in any form or setup (I’ve only faced them once with Legion). Then I had my little flirt and had every bigot opinion about Circle confirmed by actually playing them.
The fact that I’m a Bigot does not necessarily make me wrong! Every man needs a mission in life, and for seventeen years every D&D character I’ve played has attempted to perform genocide on the Gnome race… now it’s time to focus on Circle.
There are basically three types of Circle lists. There’s the Baldur style tank lists, the Kromac style hit & run lists, and the eKrueger style board control lists. I only have direct experience with H&R/Control but the Tank and Control lists play almost like every other factions tank lists, with the exception of Shifting Stones.
If you read the stories it might appear that some trees and a circle of Druids have something to say in Circle Orboros, but it’s a scam to conceal the real masterminds because the Shifting Stones are the true leaders of Circle Orboros, and never you forget it!
A Circle list is basically a bunch of dweebs following a couple of rocks around, and if you ever see a Circle list without the rocks you can bet it’ll be an easy game. That being said, the rocks are not always the main priority, but in about 9/10 games they are.
The Shifty Stones
I hate the guy who thought these up. Shifting Stones are in every list and there’s a reason for it because these rocks truly rock (BA-dum-chi!). The rocks can heal, manage Fury, teleport models, contest zones or objectives, block lanes, and generally be a huge pain in the ass for everyone (including the Circle player).
When you kill a Shifting Stone you do the following: Limit his healing, limit his Fury management, and destroy his movement Shenanigans. That’s a lot of bang for one rock, and if you manage to get one from the second unit as well he becomes instantly manageable.
Then there’s the Stone Keeper, which is the UA for one unit of Shifting Stones. Nine out of ten players I see abuse his ability to spread out Shifting Stones due to his high CMD, and if you manage to kill him you’ll most likely neuter the entire unit of Shifting Stones in the process. Almost every player I see also forgets to pop Stone Form with him when they shift, so he’s quite squishy when that boostable AoE lands on his head by accident.
The drawback to all this power is of course the fact that every opponent knows it, but few people know exactly how much trouble it causes for a Circle player to lose a stone or two. There’s very little Fury management in Circle besides the stones, and keeping the beasts close to them is a nightmare even to begin with. I began using Warpath with Kromac to move beasts closer to the stones, that’s how much of a problem it really is.
Shifty Stone trick(s)
The Shifting Stones have a couple of tricks and one huge game winning trick. The Healing, Fury management, lane blocking and other minor tricks aren’t usually worth keeping track of when playing, but the teleportation aspect sure is. I’ve done this many times with Warpwolves run by Kromac, and it gives you an idea about the power of this setup. The Warpwolf is placed just inside one unit of Shifting Stones, and the following turn this happens.
Without Warpath a single set of Shifting Stones can only move a large based model about ten inches because it’s ‘within’ eight inches when placing the model. This is often less distance than the beast could have charged on it’s own, but it’s a placement effect that completely circumvents all sorts of screens and abilities.
In addition the placement effect has the added benefit of circumventing abilities such as Admonition and Sentry, which specify ‘Advances and ends it’s movement‘ because the teleported model does not advance (unless moved by Warpath or similar effects).
That means that you cannot rely on defensive abilities to keep you safe, only distance, which is easy when facing a single set of Shifting Stones but very hard when facing two sets. A single set of Shifting Stones can move a model 10″ from it’s current position, but with two sets a Circle player can get you from a mile away.
Once you know this trick it’s pretty easy to stay more than fourteen inches away from the front set of Shifting Stones with most backfield casters, but staying more than seventeen inches away when facing Kromac can be really hard, and then there’s some even trickier stuff.
Shifty Stones Shifty Tricks!
The casters with out of activation movement will try and trick you. They will purposely not put their beasts in the teleportation triangle and you will think you’re safe. Then they will move the beast in with the OoA movement and teleport it up to kill you.
The people without OoA movement will also try and trick you. You will look at their list and think you’re safe because they can’t move their beasts into the triangle, and then they will use one set of Shifting Stones to teleport a stone from the second unit into position, and then suddenly the beast IS inside the second triangle. This has less range than a double teleport, but if you fell for it you’re to close anyway.
These two tricks can be combined of course, which makes it a nightmare to figure out where the attack will come from. When I face a Circle list with OoA movement and Shifting Stones I simply assume that every beast can be shot the maximum distance from the front most set of stones. Here I need to mention eKrueger again, because he can use Telekinesis to move the Shifting Stones as well, adding two inches of range if he really dedicates himself to the attempt. This requires him to have Megalith or a Woldwarden in the list but that’s standard operation procedure anyway.
Dealing with Shifty Stones
Kill two of them. If you kill a Shifting Stone from each unit you completely negate his teleportation game and many lists rely on those tricks to finish the game. It’s easier said than done with one unit being stealth and the other unit being far back on the field, but some lists can do it. If you can’t do it at range it’s often worth sacrificing something to get them anyway.
The usual way to deal with them is to stay away from a teleport assassination until the lines close and you can get them with melee attacks. This has worked well enough for me, and it has worked several times against me. I find it really hard to keep the entire set alive after the lines close, and really hard to get down good opponents before that happens.
The other thing you can do is negate the teleportation issue by filling up the space around your caster with models than won’t simply die. Most Circle lists have pathetic ranged capacities and they have serious trouble clearing out a spot for the teleporting wolf to land.
- Stay away (that means 17-18″ away in some cases)
- Kill a Stone (which can be neigh impossible)
- Deny him a place to land (be careful with eKrueger and Telekinesis)
This is the only hard thing to figure out when playing against Circle. It also sounds a lot harder than it is, but understanding how the Shifting Stones work and how to negate them is the key to beating Circle. If you don’t understand it you suddenly have a MAT 9 & PS 21 Ghetorix on your caster, with four Fury available and boosted attack rolls from Wild Aggression.
Hit & Run lists
Kromac, pKrueger, Mohsar, Grayle, pKaya, and eKaya. Circle has a lot of nifty tricks, but for every trick they have an even greater problem, and beating Circle is all about exploiting these problems. In every H&R list you will find two sets of Shifting Stones and at least one Warpwolf Stalker, and these are very potent linchpins.
- Lightning Strike
Every H&R list depends on the Lightning Strike Animus found on the Warpwolf Stalker, and even eKaya who can teleport her entire Battlegroup will have one. Will Pagani wrote this about using the Warpwolf Stalker in his Kromac list.
This is the linchpin of this army. He is what makes it work. Inclusion is mandatory. The Stalker’s animus, Lightning Strike, is what ties the entire army together. The fact he also has high POW on his weapons, Reach, Pathfinder, excellent choices for Controlled Warping give him huge variety (…)
If you can pull the Warpwolf Stalker down a Circle H&R list will be incredibly inconvenienced. This is mainly because the Warpwolf Stalker is ten points so redundancy is rare, and when the Lightning Strike Animus disappears so does his H&R game.
I cannot really stress this enough, but killing the Stalker means turning the game into a grind and Circle simply cannot win a grind unless specifically built for it. Knowing how important this is, we can get around to figuring out how to get him.
- Denial: Lightning Strike requires a kill to trigger the effect, and denying him that kill will strand his Warpwolf in front of your entire list. This can be done with Tough though it’s really unreliable, but abilities such as Admonition, Enliven, Self-Sacrifice, Bump, Poltergeist, and many others completely shut down Lightning Strike.
- Push Scenario: Sprinting away is counterproductive in most scenario games so it’s pretty easy to force situations where he will have to gamble with his Warpwolves. This will usually force him into a denied flank approach, where he will hit you and shift all his wolves to one flank trying to overload your capacity to deal with them.
A friend I played with a H&R list once said something that I feel hits the nail on the head. He won the first turn, ran up his entire army at full speed and said: Hit & Run as much as you like mate, and I’ll just stay here in the zones and score.
If you have the tools for denial he’s toast anyway, but if you try pushing for scenario there’s one really important thing you need to know… Warpwolves cannot usually solo an enemy heavy unless they have buffs, which leads me to the Animi conundrum.
The Animi conundrum
The answer most Circle players come up with is Primal. Primal grants any Circle Warpwolf the power and accuracy needed to solo a heavy when combined with a damage or accuracy buff from their Warlock, but it cannot be combined with Wraith Bane (both are Animi), and it cannot be combined with Lightning Strike (also an Animi) either.
Where other factions have spells to fix these issues almost every Circle answer to something is an Animi, and with exception of eKaya the Circle casters cannot push a Warbeast high enough to solo an enemy heavy with defensive buffs while extracting it at the same time, and bringing down a tank beast/jack is out of the question.
We can take an Earthborn Dire Troll as an example. The EBDT has a base DEF of 12 and a base ARM of 18 which is easily destroyed by Feral Warpwolf without help. Then we increase the ARM score to 20 due to a nearby Krielstone and the Feral fails on average. Then we increase the ARM to 22 due to Elemental Communion and the Feral has no shot at doing it alone so it needs help.
The Warpwolf Suicide
If we add Primal to the mix it might work, but it’s still going to be cutting it very close, there’s no extracting the Feral after the deed is done (eKaya being the exception), and it will automatically Frenzy the following round. If it didn’t bring down the EBDT it will now be ripped apart, and if it did kill the EBDT something silly will happen.
The Trollblood player will look at the Feral and go ‘I think I’ll deal with you later‘ and feed him a grunt. The following round the Feral will eat the grunt, or fail due to Tough, and that’s all it’s going to do. This allows the Trollblood player to line up all kinds of nasties to take down the Feral in peace, because it’s not going anywhere (again eKaya being the exception).
I’ve had casters walk up to my Feral and punch it in the nose, knowing full well that come my turn it’s going to eat the stupid grunt instead of his caster because it happens to be closer. I quit Circle before getting much practice without Primal, but using Primal is more or less the same thing as suiciding the heavy.
The grand exceptions
eKaya: You might have noticed that it says ‘eKaya being the exception’ several times already, and that’s because of her feat. eKaya can buff damage, use Primal or Wraith Bane, and still extract her heavy hitters after the deed is done. If she can get in Ghetorix with Wraith Bane and Forced Evolution he will be MAT 7 and PS 21 while ignoring spells that add to DEF or ARM.
That’s a level of damage that can almost one-round a Stormwall and she can then extract him with her feat. The problem is, that eKaya is completely screwed against so many other types of lists, and so extremely dependent on getting that Alpha Strike, that outplaying her is easy enough. Actually now that I think about it, I can’t remember ever losing to her.
- Enjoys seeing: A lot of heavies with low defense. Shooting that does not ignore Stealth. Short threat ranges.
- Hates seeing: Anything that denies her the Alpha Strike, massed infantry, most scenarios.
Kromac: Kromac is also an exception because Wild Aggression basically negates high DEF as a valid defense. Kromac can’t punch through heavy armor like eKaya can, but he can certainly punch through high defense, and he can do it without Primal which means he can extract his Warpwolves with Lightning Strike if they kill something.
Kromac is by far the best Circle Warlock (my opinion of course), and while he does have trouble with some matchups and is quite vulnerable to shooting, he doesn’t suffer the same issues with Animi dependence due to his spell list. Kromac still cannot reliably beat a heavy armor list without resorting to Primal, and if he resorts to using Primal he’s suiciding his own beasts.
- Enjoys seeing: High defense but low armor models, melee lists, magic heavy lists.
- Hates seeing: Ranged lists, high armor, denial abilities like tough or self-sacrifice.
Hit & Run lists really don’t work well in Steamroller Scenarios, and I’m slowly beginning to understand that with Legion as well. They only work if you have a core that can hold a zone and a good ranged element to finish of wounded models, and Circle has very little of either. Actually that’s not entirely true, but the Circle options are all so incredibly expensive that a normal Circle list simply cannot fit in all the options they need.
Tying it all together
The typical Hit & Run list will include a Warpwolf Stalker, two sets of Shifting Stones, and a Gorax. This is a core of nineteen points and most of them will include Ghetorix as well because he’s the only Reach beast capable of taking down opposing heavies without Primal, bringing the total to thirty points. Will Pagani created this list which I feel is a fine example of a Hit & Run build, even though I ended up changing it a bit, so let’s pick it apart!
Kromac the Ravenous
– Feral Warpwolf
– Warpwolf Stalker
– Stone keeper
Stoneward and 5 Woldstalkers
Stoneward and 5 Woldstalkers
Swamp Gobber Bellows Crew (Leader and 1 Grunt)
As we talked about the Stalker rarely has redundancy so the obvious place to begin is to see if we can bring down the Stalker. A really good player won’t be caught by Knights Errants, Enliven, Admonition or similar denials of the kill, but neither will the Warpwolves be able to bring down something with that type of defenses. If you kill the Stalker there IS no H&R game, and Will talks a lot about the issues with losing it.
If you can force the Circle player to keep his Stalker safe down behind the lines you’ve bought yourself a real advantage as well, and it’s much like playing a fifty point list against a 40 point list. At some point the Stalker will enter the fray, but at that point it’s often to late. If you can somehow force him to commit the Stalker you’ve gone a long way towards killing it, even if it can retreat nine inches. The Stalker cannot retreat far enough to be safe from fast models with Reach, and often the scenario makes it unlikely that he can avoid you for more than one round.
Taking away the teleportating abilities of at least one set of Shifting Stones is also vital because Kromac is the king of non-linear movement. If you have some way of killing the Woldstalkers the Circle player has real trouble activating Warpath at the right time, and more than one game featured desperate plays on my part trying to activate Warpath without my infantry.
The Fury management of this list is also problematic. The list can and often does run 10-12 Fury every turn on a seven Fury caster that likes to camp one or two. This makes the Shifting Stones really critical, but it also makes the Druid Wilder a really tempting target. If you can’t kill the Warpwolf Stalker you should try for the Druid Wilder, as losing that amount of Fury management and/or a free Lightning Strike can destroy his entire Focus economy.
Gifts you shouldn’t give him
This is a big one. When I was playing Circle H&R I loved people putting infantry by their heavies because it made several plays available. I hope you can figure it out despite my poor skills with Paint.
If you place an easily killed infantry model near your heavy, the Warpwolf will spend an attack killing it and ensuring it’s escape if things look bad for it. In my case I would charge in, and if I missed a couple of attacks I would kill the infantry model and escape anyway.
This can be turned into a trap if you deploy Tough model(s) in that spot, and potentially strand the Warpwolf when it fails the ‘easy kill‘ twice in a row. Against non-reach Warpwolves it’s easy enough to avoid placing infantry where they can provide an easy escape.
Don’t play catiously
There’s nothing Circle likes more than the cautious approach. If there’s a scenario (and there damn well should be) then push it with everything you’ve got. The more you push the scenario the less he can use his many abilities to melt away, and if he cant melt away he’s doomed.
If you have units that can Jam then use them, if you have ranged attacks then shoot the important stuff even if it means losing something in return, because a Circle H&R list really cannot afford losing important models at all. If you don’t allow him to use his H&R abilities, either by denying them or making them impossible due to scenario, a Circle H&R list will lose… badly!