This topic comes along every couple of weeks, so we might as well deal with it. The Winter Guard Death Star (WGDS) is a major problem for many factions, but not for us (mostly). If you’re not ready for it though… bad things will happen to your doods.
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts)
– Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard
– Winter Guard Infantry Rocketeer (3)
Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich
That’s a lot of models (16) for thirteen points, which is something you need to keep in mind. The WGDS needs to be dealt with, and you need to do it without spending half your list doing it.
Where do you find the WGDS?
Nine out of ten times you’ll find them with a caster that has access to Iron Flesh. This means pButcher, eSorscha, pIrusk, and Old Witch. They can find their way into other lists, but they’re a lot more manageable without Iron Flesh.
What does the WGDS do?
They become DEF 17, Tough, and Fearless. Then when you fail to kill them, they gain boosted attack rolls, and every one of them has a spray attack, which means that you can kiss your precious infantry goodbye.
- Defense: Bob & Weave (UA) + Iron Flesh (Warcaster) + Courage of the Forefathers (Jozef).
This is the normal setup. Bob & Weave is an order that allows a full advance and gives +2 DEF. This increases their DEF from 12 to 14, which is still pretty easy to hit. Then the Warcaster adds Iron Flesh (+3 DEF) and it becomes damn near impossible for normal units to hit them. Finally Kovnik ‘Joe’ adds Tough and Fearless, turning them into a monster of a unit.
- pIrusk can add another layer with 4+ Tough and Immunity to Knockdown.
- eSorscha has Desperate Pace, allowing them even more threat on their spray attacks.
Finally it’s a problem that Kovnik Joe can Sacrificial Pawn to friendly WG models, making it very hard to kill him (remember that he cannot pawn away spells). Joe also gets the effects of whatever Patriotic Speech he gives the WGDS, and I’ve lost some key models when I forgot that. The WG Officer (UA) has no such protection, and should be killed the second you can draw a line to him, preventing Bob & Weave in future rounds.
- Offense: Grape Shot (UA) + For the Motherland (Jozef) + Rockets.
This means, that the otherwise puny RAT 5 models, suddenly all hit DEF 14-15 on average dice, with an 8″ spray. Thank you, come again. In addition there’s the three rocketeers, and they’ve got a massive 14″ range in addition to walking, and they also get boosted attack rolls. If you let this unit shoot you, you’ll be eating 7-10 sprays, and 2-3 rockets, depending on the setup/placement, and that’s going to hurt.
The upside is, that a unit can only have one Patriotic Speech per round, so if he’s hitting you that means he’s not fearless and tough.
If you run in something that causes Terror/Abomination, he’ll have to check when his turn comes around and they stop being Fearless. If they fail, he’ll have to lose his offensive boosts in order to get them back in line (it’s not much, but it helps). (my bad)
- pIrusk can auto-rally them, and give them Tough + Fearless with his feat. This means that he can have a round of boosted attack rolls AND stupid defense, making these guys insanely dangerous.
- pButcher has a feat that allows them a round with both boosted attacks and an additional die on damage. This works on their sprays as well, making them exceptionally destructive on that round. Finally pButcher has Fury, which combined with Jozefs third speech (+3 STR) takes their damage potential above Bane Thralls in melee (yes that’s silly).
This insane offense can be mostly negated with Icy Grip (Scaverous), Crippling Grasp (pDeneghra), and The Withering (pDeneghra) as the Grape Shot option is a special attack, and those three effects block special attacks. Be careful about upkeep removal allowing them to spray anyway!
Dealing with the WGDS
You’re faced with the WGDS, so the first thing to do is to look through your list and see if you have an obvious answer. Obvious answers are what I call the solutions that are mostly rules-based rather than play based. If he has no upkeep removal then Icy Grip and Crippling Grasp are obvious solutions, and if not then it’s down to pDeneghra (another reason to have her as one of your casters in a tournament).
Kill the officer
Assuming you don’t have an obvious solution, you can look at what makes the WG work. The first and most obvious is the stupid high defense. The first part of that defense boost is a squishy Officer, but getting to him and removing Bob & Weave is easier said than done since he’s always hiding down back. If you have a Kraken/Leviathan or something else with a lot of range and the ability to boost, it’s worth taking a shot at him.
Kill Kovnik ‘Joe’
This is hard, but Joe cannot Sac Pawn spells, and we do have a lot of spells. I’ve thrown away Arc Nodes, WSC members, Warwitch Sirens, and many other models (got him with Orin Midwinter once) to get him, but in most games opponents are to clever to allow such an easy way to gimp the unit. If you manage the kill, the unit goes from absurdly scary to plain old good, as they suddenly have to make due with RAT 5 and cannot become tough/fearless.
Remove Iron Flesh
Then there is Iron Flesh, but as an upkeep spell it can be removed. The main choice is of course the Withershadow Combine, since they don’t actually need to hit the WG in order to remove Iron Flesh. I usually bring the WSC in a list with Madelyn and Darragh Wrathe, in order to increase the range of her unbinding. Without those two (or some other form of help like eSkarres feat), Admonia will have to survive a turn in range of the sprays, and I guarantee you that she won’t.
The second choice is Blood Witches + Hag, and the Hag also shuts down tough while she’s at it. The problem is her really short range, but again the fair maid Madelyn can lend a hand. Without Madelyn the Blood hag can dispel within 8.5″, and with Madelyn it’s 11.5″, which is a huge difference. This all becomes a lot easier if your opponent has no real way of dealing with an Incorporeal/Stealth Hag, in which case you ‘just’ need to hit DEF 17 with her MAT 7 (9 with gang)… so help her out if you can (with knockdown or debuffs).
The final way is Hex Blast if you have it, but hitting DEF 17 is pretty far from a sure thing with a FOCUS 7 caster, and you usually only get one shot at it. I’ve never extensively played a caster with Hex Blast, but as far as I know it has to be a direct hit in order to remove Iron Flesh, which is bad news, because if you miss you’re in a lot of trouble.
Decrease their threat range
The WGDS has an 8″ spray, which means that eDeneghra can lock them down with her feat, and simply stay outside their range with her troops. Then the following round you can deal with them, kill Joe (should be possible to set up when he can’t move), or move a dispel piece into place. The same effect can be achieved with buffers, like Caustic Mists.
Bile Thralls, Bloat Thralls, Kraken, or anything else with blast templates or effects that don’t roll to hit. If you run in something easily hit and use Hellmouth they’ll die, and an eAsphyxious/Scaverous Excarnate purge will take care of your problems as well. A lot of our casters have solutions to WGDS, as long as you’re not simply trying to power through them with brute force.
Let’s have a look at the individual casters, since almost everyone has a way of dealing with the WGDS, and almost always a way that requires very little in terms of list tailoring.
- Asphyxious1: If you can land a parasite on the unit, his feat will go a long way towards removing the unit. If you can run in a Blood Hag first you can expect roughly half the unit to go away, and his Breath of Corruption spell is perfect for wiping out the WGDS as well.
- Asphyxious2: Caustic Mists are great at slowing the WGDS down, and Excarnate powered 19″ threat purges should do the rest. Asphyxious2 also tends to bring the WSC and Darragh Wrathe, making it an option to dispel Iron Flesh and taking him down with Bane Knights + Curse.
- Asphyxious3: Blood Witches with Carnage and gang can actually hit those DEF 17 models on 7+, and if you can get in that dispel it’s all gravy. Asphyxious3 also has Hex Blast, and could possibly manage two attempts in one round if he has some souls available.
- Deneghra1: The Withering and Crippling Grasp will neuter a WGDS. They will not be able to spray, they’ll move very slowly and do not ignore stealth with their normal shots, and DEF 17 becomes DEF 13 even if you don’t manage a dispel of some sorts. WGDS do not like pDeneghra.
- Deneghra2: With their short range the WGDS do not like being stuck on feat round. This should allow you to set up kills on Joe/UA, and get WSC/Hag in range to do something about the Iron Flesh. Hellmouth also offers a viable solution to the problem, as the WGDS tend to bunch up, giving you a lot of kills if you can hit (or run something of your own in to act as ‘beacon’)
- Goreshade1: Though he has Hex Blast pGoreshade is in trouble. He has just enough Focus to pop Shadowmancer and a boosted Hex Blast, but then he’s dry on Focus. He also rarely brings Arc Nodes, making him end uncomfortably close to the action without any camped Focus. The Deathwalker can help by running in and making the Hex Blast more likely to land, and can of course do the same for a Blood Hag.
- Goreshade2: You better pray that Hex Blast lands. If it does, then Tartarus and the Elite Cadre boys can clean house and spawn a gazillion more banes, but if it doesn’t land you’re in big doodoo. The one thing that might save you is, that Goreshade2 will often run a Kraken, which can allow you to get that UA down and make them a bit easier to hit, but since the effect only comes the round after you kill him… well…
- Mortenebra: Tier Mortenebra runs so many heavies that the WGDS becomes less of a problem in terms of damage output, and more of a problem in terms of board control. The WGDS with tough can really cramp her style and movement, and the light jacks will suffer badly if they get to spraying them. Non-tier Mortenebra should be bringing a Hag, and Harrower + Overrun + Hag should really hurt that unit with Terminal Velocity up (even against DEF 17). That being said, Mortenebra does not like seeing the WGDS.
- Scaverous: Much like Asphyxious2 he can Excarnate purge them to oblivion. Scaverous also has Icy Grip which stops the special action sprays, and on his feat round the Warwitch Sirens can hit that DEF 17 more often than not. Scaverous can also artificially increase dispel range by throwing some boosted Telekinesis spells on the WGDS, and moving one of them in range while turning him around to make him easier to hit (Icy Grip + Back Strike Bonus + Gang makes the Blood Hag hit on 4+).
- Skarre1: Dark Guidance means that they can forget about being impossible to hit. The armor boost from Skarres feat makes most infantry very resistant to POW 10 sprays, and it’s not uncommon at all to see Blood Witches with her either. If you can get Dark Guidance and Gang up, she’ll most likely make that dispel happen.
- Skarre2: The feat can help keep dispel options safe, and Black Spot can counter Bob & Weave. If you get Black Spot up, Iron Flesh down, and a pile of Bane Knights with Tartarus in on the WGDS they’ll go *poof*. The Kraken / Black Spot interaction can allow the Kraken to gun down the entire unit by itself, and Blood Witches are not a rare sight with her.
- Terminus: Terminus has a mixed relationship with the WGDS. On one hand they really bloody hurt his list, but on the other hand they usually end up in his belly with a combination of WSC/Bile Thralls/Ravager Terminus. If he can get a round of shooting up while keeping you away from their juicy souls he’s probably going to win, but it’s pretty hard to do with Khador (Old Witch being the only one likely to make it work).
- Venethrax: Venethrax doesn’t like them. He can keep them at bay for a round with his feat, but he’s not usually one to bring Bile Thralls or Blood Witches. Venethrax is frigging dull and you shouldn’t be playing him anyway, so it’s not a biggie that he can’t really handle them.
- Witch Coven: These girls absolutely loathe the WGDS. They can’t handle them, rarely bring upkeep removal tools, and you only stand a real chance if you brought Bile Thralls. The Coven lists are simply ill equipped to handle the WGDS, and there’s not much to do about it.
Suggested alternative solutions
Hero Zero, suggests Scrap Thralls as a viable solution. With their short threat this would mean running them into the unit, or throwing/slamming them in. This idea is not without merit, but even while running the Scrap Thralls are slow and easy to hit. If you do get them in there you still need to kill them somehow, because they won’t blow up on free strikes and hitting DEF 17 with their MAT 5 is optimistic (even with +2 from the free strike). Running three points of Scrap Thralls (9 models) at them might give them something else to do though, and you force him to spend a round killing them. (Lamoron approved idea)
Hero Zero, suggests Wrong Eye & Snapjaw. These guys have the benefit of being immune to the shooting, and having the ability to boost. I don’t find them much use against the WGDS as they won’t be able to Submerge + boost to hit + leave Fury for transfers, and against DEF 17 they’ll probably kill no more than 2-3 models if they’re to stand any chance of surviving the retaliation, and maybe 4-6 if you kamikaze them completely. (not a good trade)
Lazarus, would like to warn people away from Incorporeal jamming tactics, as most lists will have Aiyana & Holt, which means boosted magical sprays and a lot of dead models with little to show for it. Jamming as a tactic in general is also something that should be considered carefully, as DEF 17 is enough to simply risk the free strikes and wipe out whatever was jamming with massed sprays. Jamming is doable if you have access to debuffs, but make sure you factor in upkeep removal. (good points)
As you can see, you can pick almost any one of our tournament level casters, and they either come with a solution built in, or tend to bring the models that solve the WGDS problem anyway. I remember the first time I faced the WGDS with Circle and got a very rude awakening. Until that point I hadn’t realized what kind of bastard problem that unit was, unless you happen to play a faction designed to annihilate it without breaking a sweat.