The fact that Venethrax is regularly voted as one of our worst casters make me wonder about humanity as a whole, because the man is a total beast, and if he was even slightly interesting to play I would. The real problem with Venethrax is, that playing him feels like licking a dirty litter box, and even when he singlehandedly wrecks entire armies I never feel that ‘spark’ of satisfaction.
I’m really selling him now aren’t I, well that’s the point because Venethrax will disappoint you and return to the shelves, where he will constantly remind you of the vast potential hidden behind his extraordinarily boring exterior. Venethrax is a king on the table, but he’s also downright boring to play, and just making 30+ three inch templates was testing my sanity.
The King of Kamping
If the Klan can do it so can I, so shut it! I first found Venethrax when I retired Terminus after the ETC in 2012, but I had always just assumed he was a slightly worse version of him. In addition to this, I had bought into the talk about his useless feat and poor performance, so it was only because I happened to have him in a box that he got to take the field. The first game I had with Venethrax was against Artificier General Nemo, and if you’re interested you can read the report here.
The second game (here) I began thinking about fielding a fast attack list with him, simply because his Soul Harvester spell needs to be up and running as soon as possible. Then I had eight more games I never bothered writing up (winning them all), and then I quit him because I don’t handle boredom well. This however, does not mean that Venethrax isn’t a god on the table, so I’ll assume you handle boredom well and actually decide to play him.
At first glance his abilities in melee look solid, but a second glance reveals that they’re downright scary against the right targets. Our little Lich Lord hits most enemy caster on average dice, which means he’s very reliably landing hits when he’s boosting. He will usually be rolling at P+S 16 because of Dragon Slayer, and of course he has dismember against Warbeasts, meaning that he can be expected to kill most Warbeasts without breaking much of a sweat.
Threat range is solid at eleven inches, and since he’s Undead we can have Darragh Wrathe help him out. Madelyn Corbeau can lend him an intrigue, and unlike Terminus she can actually hang around him without peeing herself since he only causes Terror. This all means that we can have Venethrax hit an enemy from 11-15 inches away, with MAT 8 and P+S 16, doing eight attacks unless he happens to have some extra Focus to play with, which is almost every round in most cases.
- Spell: Dragon Slayer
This baby is an upkeep spell granting Venethrax +2 STR/ARM, and opponents cannot reave Fury from warbeasts he destroys. This is pretty funny if an enemy Warbeast has been running hot killing something, because whatever Fury was on the Warbeast is instead assigned to Venethrax as Focus. Considering how little Focus it usually takes Venethrax to actually kill an enemy Warbeast, it might end up getting him more Focus than he began with, but usually you’ll be lucky to break even. Still, it makes it damn near impossible for enemies to rush his lines with Warbeasts, which is always nice.
There is however an interaction that most people miss, and it might (probably will) even catch some people unawares. The rules for Dragon Slayer says, that it activates when Venethrax destroys an enemy model (not Warbeast), and there are a few models in the game with Fury on them which aren’t Warbeasts.
- The Forsaken (Legion): These guys often end up fully loaded, and if you happen to be in charge range and on full Focus, you can actually end up camping at ARM 30 just by killing this guy and stealing 5 Focus. Another interesting thing is, that they often hang out near other beasts, making a truly disgusting round possible in some cases.
- Agonizers (Skorne): Also found running around with 4-5 Fury in many cases, and also within the ‘one shot’ category of models. It’s theoretically possible to charge one of them in a Rasheth list, and use the Fury from the first one to cast a fully boosted Hellfire at the second one, killing and reaving that as well.
- Krielstone (Trollbloods): However unlikely due to self-sacrifice, the stone is a valid target if you can clean up around it first.
In addition, there are Lesser Warbeasts (also easily one-shotted on a charge), Lesser Warlocks, and theoretically even Warlocks in a multi-caster game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do this, or even heard about someone doing it, but it’s there and it will probably win you a game if you make it happen.
- Spell: Soul Harvest
The other white meat in his spell list, is the ability to make model/units collect souls for him. This is a friendly faction spell, and whatever living enemy models the unit kills go directly in the belly of Venethrax, regardless of proximity (except when Zaal is around). This means that if you can kill a handful of models, the next turn will be violent to the extreme, or Venethrax will be nigh unkillable. I like the following units for gathering purposes.
- Satyxis Raiders; exceptional speed, multiple attacks, Pathfinder.
- Satyxis Blood Witches; high speed, multiple attacks, high MAT with Gang.
- Soulhunters; exceptional speed, multiple attacks, terrain circumvention with Darragh Wrathe.
Venethrax can also hot-swap the spell like everyone else. Upkeep the spell, activate the unit, then apply the spell to another unit with the Skarlock. If you need a third unit with Soul Harvest you can end up casting it with Venethrax himself, but this lowers his ARM significantly, so make sure it’s worth it.
This spell is also the reason most of the Internet should go suck an egg with the whole “Venethrax is only good against Hordes” crap, because Warmachine players often bring a LOT of infantry. In one of my games, I had ARM 30+ from the second round, and until Venethrax finished the game with.
Sanctjud comment: Certainly you want the souls to go on Venny and can drop Soul Harvester if you need the Soul Hunters to have souls, but the issue is, you must choose one destination with the soul.
Neldar comment: Not that you see him often but Testament also shuts down Soul Harvest.
Both comments are valid. Soulhunters often need their souls in order to boost attack or damage on the second attack, so decide wisely where you want those souls to go before you throw/upkeep Soul Harvest on the Soulhunters.
- Spell: Hellfire
Venethrax is a fairly dangerous spell assassin, because he has can cast multiple fully boosted Hellfires after a round of Soul Harvesting. Like with most melee super solo Warcasters, this is not something to strive for but a trick most people won’t see coming. If you get Venethrax an average round, with three souls harvested, you can send out two fully boosted Hellfires the following turn, and should you get eight souls (which is not unlikely in some matches) you can fire off three of them.
The reason you would EVER do this instead of simply butchering everything with sixteen melee attacks is of course threat range, because unaided a spell assassination has sixteen inches of threat where his charge only reaches eleven. I can guarantee you, that if your opponent sees a fifteen focus Venethrax coming, he will not be within charge range if he can avoid it, but staying out of spell assassination range is a lot harder when playing scenarios.
- Spell: Blood Rain
This spell is something of a conundrum. It’s a pretty good spell, and if you have a solid round of harvesting you can really get a lot of them out there, but in most cases I found the additional armor more useful. I did however briefly experiment with a build using Venethrax as a dedicated spell slinger, but I ended up just killing models I should have been harvesting instead. The one redeeming quality is, that it applies corrosion, and since corrosion never fades in his control area, this spell can solve a few of the more problematic units like Temple Flame Guards and Zealots.
Venethrax can camp like a king, but he has more useful abilities than that. He has Terror which is an ability that should never be underestimated, and even though more and more model/units are becoming immune to the effects, a good failed Terror check can really turn a game around. Terror has the added benefit of affecting those annoying Mage Hunter Assassins where Abomination fails, since Terror affects anyone engaging a terror causing target as well.
- Feat: Charnel Flames
The people who tell you that Venethrax has no feat are just plain wrong, buuuut for all it’s power it’s pretty darn annoying. Every time something living/undead in his control area dies, it creates a 3″ cloud that blocks line of sight and causes damage to anyone entering. I think my personal best was 24 templates on the table, which is heavily time consuming and just making them was giving me a headache. The feat itself is pretty darn fantastic though.
- Place models in front of important things, because when they die to open up charge lanes, they block the very same lanes with clouds causing damage. This is like the ultimate reactive buffer spell, applying a cloud exactly where your enemy is trying to create a lane.
- Run in Satyxis Raiders to jam like a madman, because when they die they simply create clouds making sure that no other single wound infantry can advance anywhere useful. This is obviously better against massed infantry, but I’ve blocked several long ranged models with it as well.
- Place your models so that when you kill your own models later on, your important stuff gains concealment.
- Kill your own models to make clouds exactly where you want them, then move in multi-wound models to protect them from non-reach single wound infantry.
- Kill your own models to make clouds exactly where you want them, then move up Bile Thralls in near perfect safety.
This feat is a round of near unlimited Caustic Mists spells if you have enough surplus models to make it work. It’s also a round where Caustic Mists turn up and shut down almost every available lane your opponent tries making. The clouds are there even for Eyeless Sight creatures, which has the added benefit of making Legion scratch their heads when they suddenly have to actually deal with the rules of the game (they still ignore the concealment you gain in a cloud, so make sure you’re behind it instead of in it).
Venethrax has what is perhaps the greatest trap ability of them all, and you will end up regretting your decision to build a list that takes advantage of Caustic Presence. A trap ability is something that, while occasionally useful, will ruin you if you build a list to exploit it, so let’s have a look.
- Ability: Caustic Presence
Corrosion in his control area never expire, which has led people to poor choices in list construction and even worse choices in play style. I still remember reading the old Battlecollege article recommending Defilers with him, because they had a corrosion spray and allowed him to arc Blood Rains. I don’t mind people playing him that way, and you might feel it’s a competitive build, but in the words of my favorite comic Jim Jeffries “just know that you’re wrong“.
- Spell: Lamentation
I’m not saying that there will never be a reason to cast/upkeep Lamentation, but it will be rare. A lot of caster have Arc Nodes, even more casters have free upkeeps (and can simply back out of your control area before casting), and then there’s a few you simply don’t want to end your turn within 14 inches of when you’re only ARM 22-23. Sure if you cast it on turn one, then upkeep it, and have a great round of harvesting, and THEN run in next to their caster… but realistically I’ll go with Dragon Slayer every time.
I’ve already mentioned the units I feel are optimal for soul Harvest, and these are the core of my Venethrax lists. I did play around with Malice for dragging in juicy targets, but in most hordes lists I found that the targets tend to arrive on their own (and if they don’t it means my troops are rampaging around his lines instead). This is what I’ve dubbed Blitzethrax
Lich Lord Venethrax
Bane Thralls (Leader and 9 Grunts)
– Bane Thrall Officer & Standard
Satyxis Raiders (Leader and 5 Grunts)
– Satyxis Raider Sea Witch
Soulhunters (Leader and 4 Grunts)
The Withershadow Combine
Bane Lord Tartarus
Satyxis Raider Captain
This list has two fast elements and one hammer to back it all up. It’s also full of characters and very unlikely to see tournament play for just that reason, but I never got around to playing anything else due to the aforementioned boredom issue.
How to Venethrax
The only thing remotely interesting about playing Venethrax is watching people scratch their heads when facing him. An opponent can’t really rush him because he will destroy their army and reap a bazillion Focus doing it, allowing Venethrax to take on whatever your opponent has left, almost singlehandedly.
- People cannot rush him with living infantry (and with Blitzethrax you win if they hold back as well)
- People cannot rush him with Warbeasts (because he will spend no resources killing them)
- People will be hard pressed to win with Warjack spam (because of the massive amount of alpha strike infantry)
So that’s what Venethrax does, he skewers lists pretty effectively just by being there. Like all skewer lists this also means that he’s vulnerable to certain things, but because of his immense stamina and ability to finish games on his own he’s less vulnerable than many others.
- Eiryss is a big problem (another reason I invented Blitzethrax was to pressure her away from him).
- Massed low POW gunfire with a heavy hitter behind it (yes that means Cygnar, because they will blow the horde away and step on Venethrax with the Stormwall)
- Buffers kill this list (Caustic Mist, Covering Fire etc. will stop Blitzethrax cold)
When I was playing Venethrax the Bane Riders were unspoiled/unreleased, but I can pretty much guarantee that they have a place with Blitzethrax. They’re fast, they navigate terrain, and they can kill multiple models. They also solve some of his problems with massed low POW shooting, which should make him even more powerful.