Friday, October 7, 2011

Spotlight: The Withershadow Combine

I've been avoiding this spotlight for quite some time, because it will be exceptionally difficult to write, and will probably end up being a tedious wall of text anyway, but I'll do my best to spice it up with a few pictures and quotes. In case you're unsure about the mentioned abilities, there's a fine writeup to be found here.

The Withershadow Combine is a five point unit, with so many abilities and possible applications, that they usually end up underperforming. It's a sad truth, but the combine suffers from multiple assignment disorder, which downgrades them to: one of the best units in the game.
Cloaked in darkness, this group of iron liches have stalked western Immoren and ripped its arcane secrets out of the shadows for over five centuries. This trio acts as one of the more subtle and precise instruments in Cryx's arsenal.
Usually I save the point of a spotlight until last, but I think I need to begin with it this time. The main reason The Withershadow Combine will underperform, is because most players are afraid of losing them. The combine isn't like other units, and if even one of them dies, you lose access to a vast amount of utility and threat. That's a big problem, because the combine will always underperform when kept safe. To illustrate the point, I've done a little search on the Privateer Press forums, and "borrowed" a few quotes.
The main problem I have with them is my irrational fear of them dying early on. They are DEF 14 and ARM 16 with Stealth....yet I play them like they are a Skarlock who would die to a stiff breeze.
- GaspysInhaler
Only thing that i don't like about them is that they are so valuable to me that i just don't risk losing them as any other part of my army.
- RessurectionN
Playing it safe is not always a bad thing, but it does subtract from the potential they bring. I've found myself doing it as well, but since I began forcing them to the front, I've seen an increase in performance. They sometimes die, and occasionally I lose Admonia at a critical time, but the benefits fully outweigh the potential consequences.
Strength lies not in defense but in attack.
- Marquis de Acerba
I advocate offense with the combine, simply because they need to be there to fully exploit their abilities. The first fifty games I took care of them, shielded them, kept them back, and managed to pull of Dark Industries a couple of times. They discouraged enemy upkeep spells, threw out the occasional Puppet Master, took care of my own upkeep spell, and I was pretty happy with that. Then one day I was facing a Winterguard Deathstar, and thought "why is my combine back here, when I need them up there to get rid of that Iron Flesh?", and the offensive WSC was born.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of an opponent, is for the combine to do nothing.
- Edmund "Lamoron" Burke
The next few weeks were a period of adjustment, but suddenly it all fell into place. Accepting that Dark Industries isn't something that needs to happen, will increase the combines performance to a steady average, instead of being five points worth of passive abilities in eighty percent of your games, and you'll still get to make the occasional Seether.
The combination of professionalism and technology may also result in narrow-minded specialization more suited to a debating society than to an organization whose task it is to cope with, and indeed live in, the dangerous and uncertain environment of war.
- Martin van Crevald
Since accepting that the combine is more than simple support, I've taken down three casters in ten games (two kills with Dark Fire, and one with Maelovus in melee). I've inflicted nine damage to a caster with nothing but unbinding, and taken apart every type of deathstar I've faced. I've had more souls on them in ten games, than in the fifty games before, and they still grant me the free upkeep, and throw me a Puppet Master when needed.
  • Dark Fire: MA 7, RNG 10, POW 12
Cryx is starved for ranged attacks, and you've got three accurate ones hiding behind the lines. In addition to being available ranged attacks, they harvest the souls you need to really kick it up a notch. If you've got a soul on each member, the combine can put out three boosted ranged attacks, and that's enough to seriously threaten a caster. In most of my games they kill two or three models with Dark Fire, and one of them tends to be a solo (since I obviously target them with my POW 12 attacks).
  • Unbinding: All enemy upkeeps within five inches of Admonia expire, and the controlling models take 1d3 damage per upkeep spell removed.
Awesome ability, but only eleven inches of effective range. There are no dice involved in removing the enemy upkeeps, and it's all of them. Why settle for discouraging enemy offensive upkeeps on your models, when you can get in his business and dispel all his friendly upkeeps as well. There are casters out there with three upkeep spells running, and removing them all wrecks his focus economy, and slaps him for 3d3 as a little bonus. I've rolled nine damage once, and the game was basically over right there.
  • Dismantle: An additional die of damage against Warjacks.
Ripping apart a Heavy Warjack is nice. It would be even nicer if we could make a Seether out of it, but taking out a heavy is reward enough. With a soul or two, and a couple of debuffs, even a single combine member can severely damage a Warjack, and two will probably take it out.
  • Soul taker: When a living enemy model is destroyed within two inches, these guys gather up the souls. Each member can hold up to three souls.
While this a rare thing to see, the odds go up significantly when running the combine in offense mode. The combine are quite survivable, and a couple of poor rolls from your opponent will see them swamped in models (happened to me the in game before I wrote this spotlight). A Bile Thrall with the right angles, a nearby spray, or simply an available sweeper unit, can power up the combine to ridiculous levels, and lay waste to multiple heavies in a single turn.

The combine on offense is by far superior to the combine in defense, but there are occasions where you need to keep Admonia safe. If you run a caster like Venethrax or Terminus the free upkeep is to important to lose, and if you're faced up against something with very troublesome offensive upkeep spells, it might be wise to keep her safe to avoid losing to a Crippling Grasp. That doesn't mean the other two have to stick around with her in the back though, and those two models might as well do some good up front.

I'd encourage you to try it a couple of times, but I'd be lying if I told you it's an easy transition to make. It takes a few games to put the unease to rest, and acknowledge the combine as being expendable, but I feel it's an effort worth making.


  1. This sounds like something I'll have to try out very soon, as I have also always played WSC very defensive. They really do have the means to kill and be annoying if you give them the chance. Haven't tried the out the offensive approach, but I've had them hold a flank, killing Fenriz alone. This isn't really a major accomplishment, but it does show that they can kill stuff you wouldn't think of as being their prime match up :)

  2. Do you usually run the WSC in your first turn?

  3. They've got little else to do, unless some AD unit shows up at your doorstep, so I usually try to find them somewhere to nest :)

  4. Might be a good idea for me to try as well. I've been playing the Coven a lot lately but often end up going second, for some reason xD This usually means that I'm actually in range for shooting something with a Stygian Abyss in my first turn. I have a feeling that using Puppet Master on a witch at this point might be responsible for the WSC never actually getting that far onto the table.

  5. Again it depends on how aggressive your opponent is. I see them deployed behind the lines more often than not, and I think that's the real reason they're left behind.

    Put them up front when you deploy, and they're 12" on to the table in round two, reaching +10" with Dark Fire, and that's reaching pretty far onto the table :)

  6. I always try to deploy them at the front, but sometimes it's like everything is supposed to be deployed in the front at the center :) I think I'll try to go first and run, or go second and still run, instead of using Puppet Master :)

  7. Question on Puppet Master: Does this effect an entire unit? Friendly or enemy? If I use this on bane thralls, every model can reroll an attack or dmg roll? Or is it one model of your choosing in the unit?
    Can you cast it on Tremulus, giving it to the whole WSC unit?

  8. Just one model in the affected model/unit. It means you can charge with ten Bane Knights, and then one of them can use up that re-roll where needed.

  9. Ok, Im still learning. Do all of the members of a unit attacks happen simultaneously? Can I wait till we are all done rolling dice, then decide to reroll something? Or should it be right as a roll happens?

  10. You take the attacks one at the time, so you will have to decide when it will be most beneficial to use it.