The Cryxian Death Ponies probably won’t impress you on paper, and like so many other interesting options they’re often sidelined by Banes and Satyxis. I initially dismissed Soulhunters because of their piss poor stats, but suddenly something clicked and I began seeing their statline as ‘malleable’ instead of poor. The Battlecollege article is full of mistakes and flawed ideas, so don’t go there.
Among the most powerful thralls ever created, a Soulhunter is an unholy vision of terror incarnate. Its menacing mass of plating, piping, gears, furnace, and flesh is an amalgamation designed for swift ferocity. It boasts slick skin cured by dark alchemy and inscribed with runes of thrall magic as well as a riveted carapace handcrafted by Necrotechs.
It’s steam-enchanced flesh and musculature is fused with the powerful body of a Scharde-bred charger. The hungry necrotite furnace within its equine ribcage burns with a baleful corpse-fire, venting choking black smoke from the ominous flues running along its reinforced spine.
The Death Ponies are lightning fast and difficult to hit, but every other stat is somewhat disappointing, and that’s not something you really want in an elite cavalry unit. This is why I initially discounted them, but the thing about being average at everything is, that when you begin messing with their stats you can change the entire way the unit works.
- Add a damage increase and they suddenly threaten heavies.
- Add some defensive tech and they become very difficult to remove.
- Add some precision and they become infantry blenders.
Sure other units can do one or two of those things, and often better than the Soulhunters, but the thing about Soulhunters is that they have the malleability to use almost every kind of buff/debuff to change the way they perform, and combined with their incredible speed that gives you some real freedom as a player.
The Death Ponies have a lot of rules even though their card looks fairly empty, and like all finesse units they’re only really worth their points if you remember to use them all. The first thing we should take a look at it the light cavalry rules, since this is where most people screw up (yes, I still regularly forget them, and it sucks).
- Tall in the saddle: Ignore small or medium bases when making melee attacks.
- Cavalry charge: Ignore medium and small bases for LoS purposes when declaring charges.
- Charge bonus: +2 to attack rolls on the charge attack.
- Light Cavalry Move: Look here for an explanation.
- Kick people with the horse: Self explanatory.
These are some solid rules, but in themselves they’re still mostly gimmicks. The real power comes when we begin adding the Soulhunters own rules on top of them, and of course Darragh Wrathe, because I’ll just tell you right now that Soulhunters come with a four point solo.
- Leadership [Soulhunters] – Soulhunters activating in his command range gain Incorporeal for that activation. This ability belongs to Darragh Wrathe, but it’s so essential for Soulhunters that I feel it belongs here. I have never found a good reason to include Soulhunters in a list that didn’t feature Darragh Wrathe, but I guess that theoretically one could exist.
This combines very well with ‘Tall in the saddle‘ and ‘Cavalry charge‘, allowing the Soulhunters to pass through enemy lines while charging, and with a thirteen inch threat range it’s pretty easy to get at the juicy parts. Here I feel compelled to mention Darragh Wrathes ability ‘Death Ride‘ which can add another inch to their threat range, making them rival Satyxis Raiders.
We also have several casters with access to Ghost Walk, which makes Incorporeal Soulhunters ignore everything on the table, and small or medium based enemy models are basically just annoying patches on the table where you can’t stop. Ghost Walk also has great synergy with Light Cavalry Move, because being immune to free strikes helps immensely when you’re no longer incorporeal after attacking.
- Body Count – Each time a Soulhunter kills a living enemy warrior model it gets a soul token and can have three tokens on it at any given time. These can be used to boost attack and damage rolls.
This ability has great synergy with the cavalry charge bonus, which helps limit the issues with their average MAT. The charge attack is at MAT 8, and the soul you gain from the charge attack can be used to boost the sickle attack, which sadly cannot in turn be used to plant a hoof in someones face, since mount attacks cannot be boosted (thanks Sheer_Falacy). This still makes them more accurate than you would think, but the Soulhunters really love something that increases accuracy anyway.
Do you even pony?
Let’s have a look at how this all ties together then. The thing I’ve hoped to convey is, that the ponies behave differently depending on the support and spells you have available, so let’s walk through the casters one by one.
- Iron Lich Asphyxious
They have serious issues staying alive here, but on the other hand they’re super destructive with Asphyxious1 due to the massive damage buffs. Scything Touch is also not a STR boost so it affects the horse as well, which means that one Soulhunter can dish out some impressive damage to anything it can hit. I still feel they’re problematic with him, and will be replaced by Bane Riders anyway. (not recommended).
Sanctjud feels differently, because of what the Soulhunters give Asphyxious (terrain navigation, large bases, and speed). Edit: After having tested it thoroughly, I’ll agree with Sanctjud here and change my recommendation. Soulhunters do work with Asphyxious1, though Bane Riders vastly outperform them in most cases.
- Lich Lord Asphyxious
He cannot help them hit, cannot bring them back with his feat, and cannot swing damage enough to offset the other problems. He can help them survive, but it’s not really enough. (not recommended)
- Asphyxious the Hellbringer & Vociferon
Oh yes please. Asphyxious3 can help them stay alive (Ashen Veil), increase their damage output slightly (Scything Touch), and increase their accuracy (Carnage). They also fit neatly in his lists because he often needs Darragh Wrathe anyway, and they help him circumvent terrain issues because he can’t usually do that himself. One of my next projects is double cavalry Asphyxious3 when the Bane Riders arrive. (highly recommended)
- War Witch Deneghra
She can help them with Ghost Walk, which is a bonus, and put both accuracy and damage output through the roof. She cannot help them survive, which makes them less of an automatic choice, and I believe they will be replaced by Bane Riders in most list, but if you like them it’s not bad. (acceptable)
- Wraith Witch Deneghra
Another caster where I believe the Soulhunters will be replaced with Bane Riders, but they actually work well with her. The ability to lock down an entire list, run in the Soulhunters to jam enemy gun lines, and then charge straight through the lines with Incorporeal is pretty neat. Deneghra2 has trouble keeping them alive, but if you can manage they can cause some serious mayhem with her debuffs and abilities. (acceptable)
- Goreshade the Bastard
He can’t protect them, he doesn’t really benefit, and he doesn’t really support them. (not recommended)
- Goreshade the Cursed
Goreshade2 is an entirely different story. He can protect them with Occultation, bring them back with his feat, and he benefits immensely from some fast attack. They do suffer a bit from a lack of accuracy, but Curse of Shadows allows them to threaten heavies (since the list most likely also has Dark Shroud available). (recommended)
- Master Necrotech Mortenebra & Deryliss
Can’t protect them, doesn’t really benefit, and although her feat increases both accuracy and damage output it’s really not worth it. (not recommended)
- Lord Exhumator Scaverous
Death Ward increases their ARM to acceptable levels, while his spell list allows them both accuracy and damage buffs. Scaverous also usually brings Darragh Wrathe anyway, and a unit of Soulhunters is a pretty solid choice with him. (recommended)
- Skarre, the Pirate Queen
If you can manage the timing on this combination, the Soulhunters will make your opponents go ‘whaaaat?’. They help Skarre circumvent terrain problems, Dark Guidance makes them infantry blenders, and her feat makes them absurdly dangerous for a round. Do remember that her feat is a STR increase, and as such the horse attack does not benefit. (highly recommended)
- Skarre, Queen of the Broken Coast
Black Spot increases their accuracy and number of attacks dramatically (and a horse kick can trigger a Scythe attack), while Death Ward can allow them some survivability. As with the other non Ghost Walk casters the added terrain navigation is a bonus, but Skarre2 suffers from a lack of points, and the fact that she’s rarely first in line for Darragh Wrathe either. (recommended)
- Lich Lord Terminus
I can’t really see them with him, though I know some people do. They most certainly won’t see play once Bane Riders are released, and they have a severe lack of synergy, because they grab his souls, and can’t really hurt the things that threaten Terminus anyway. (not recommended)
- Lich Lord Venethrax
Actually yes. While Venethrax does almost nothing for them, they work very well as another fast collecting unit due to high speed and multiple attacks (his feat can keep them reasonably safe for a round). I’ve run a Satyxis/Soulhunter setup a couple of times that worked really well, but it’s vulnerable to non-living match-ups. A thing to note is, that Soul Harvester will overrule Body Count, so anything the Soulhunters kill while affected will go to Venethrax instead. (recommended)
- The Witch Coven of Garlghast
The WCoG keeps them safe(ish) with Occultation, even safer with their feat, while allowing them what they need to thrive (though some of the debuffs are reliant on critical hits or other difficulties). I strongly suspect that they will be dethroned by Bane Riders with the WCoG though, but until then it’s a solid choice. It has been mentioned that Soulhunters do well in the WCoG Theme force, as they begin the game with a soul token.
So what do we do with them? Well it all depends on the caster and the situation, because having a plan and following it leads to dead ponies and lots of frustration. That sounds pretty lame, but it’s also the reason I think ponies can work in so many lists, because with the right casters they can make an impact in pretty much any situation.
This also means that writing an article on ‘how to pony’ is pretty damn hard, because there’s no easy answer to them. Sure they have some brilliant plays, like charging through the lines with Incorporeal, then Light Cavalry moving down behind his lines with Ghost Walk up, but the real power is the ability to turn them into what you need and apply them where you need it.
This requires you to learn them well, abuse the rules, and think way out of the box in some cases. If you’re a new player, or mostly like simple things, then stay away from Soulhunters as a lot of other units will suit you better. If you’re able to see and abuse their rules and interactions, you can get them to shine though, and they really really shine when you do.