Faction Balance

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Warmachine/Hordes Faction Balance[edit]

One of the key things about any tabletop minatures wargame, including Warmachine/Hordes is the faction balance. You don't want to get into a wargame and find that you are playing the jobbers, with an army that goes down to every other army at high level. Whether you play to win or enjoy the aesthetics, losing consistently gets boring. Fortunately Warmachine/Hordes has the CID cycle with dynamic errata for most factions (starting with overhauling the entire Skorne faction in January 2017) to try and avoid this.

And as a guidance for new players Battle College would be missing something if we did not try and at least produce some information on how the factions were balanced. Fortunately faction balance in Warmachine/Hordes is one of its selling points - but metagames shift, and this page (and especially the part below the date stamp below) will be archived and replaced at some point in the future.

January 2018[edit]

The easiest data to find on faction balance can be found from Conflict Chamber's record of team tournaments, most notably the 2018 ATC and Discount Games lists of individual tournament winners currently published to the end of November 2017. Now using team tournament lists is slightly dangerous because some teams are designed to work together and skew differently from normal because you can both duck and force bad matchups on enemies more easily. And sometimes you have everyone in a team all play as the same faction just because it's fun. Further information can be found on the WMH Battle Reporter, but these are self-reported and I take them with a pinch of salt.

The first thing to say is that diversity in Warmachine/Hordes is exceptional. No faction has failed to win a major tournament, no faction fails to be represented at the ATC, and at the ATC, between 300 lists, 116 separate casters (warcasters/warlocks) are being played out of approximately 200. And as will be seen from some of the individual faction breakdowns (most notably the one for the Convergence of Cyriss) these 116 casters do not cover all the competitive casters in Warmachine/Hordes.

The second thing to be said is that the designers have their wish - Warmachine/Hordes Mk3 is a game of Theme Forces. Out of 30 teams at 5 players per team and 2 lists per player (plus a few reserves) for over 300 lists a grand total of 5 lists, or under 2%, were not in some theme or other. Ten or more free points and some other freebies is a powerful incentive.

The third thing to say is that a few factions are underperforming, and we're going to start with those factions and then break down the performing factions by sub-game and count them in alphabetical order.

Underperforming Factions[edit]

The underperforming factions are pretty obvious as of Jan 2018 in Mk3. Three very clear ones and one borderline faction. (Mercenaries are merely not amazingly popular - although they were in the bottom five at the team tournament they put in two top 3 places in the four tournament top 3s for November 2017, the most recent month on Discount Games).

The four underperforming factions starting with the least problematic are:

Convergence of Cyriss - Effective, just not that popular[edit]

The Convergence of Cyriss stick out like a sore thumb. Only four players playing Convergence at the ATC, and all four of them pairing Father Lucant, Divinity Architect with another warcaster, both in the Destruction Initiative theme for lots and lots of stompy and very tough robots. However this is more of an issue about the number of players playing the first of the mini-factions rather than one of the tournament success; Convergence had two top 3s in August, two in September, one in October, and one in November - which is as strong a record of tournament success as most main factions show.

Also Destruction Initiative was taken exclusively to the WTC, but the two most recent individual winning lists have paired Destruction Initiative with Clockwork Legions, the Convergence's other theme force - and Clockwork Legions didn't exist before September. Destruction Initiative is probably the stronger list but the Convergence can play with both their infantry and their warjack lists, and have placed in the top three with all five then existing casters between August and November, with three or four of the Convergence players at the ATC bringing the new caster.

In short although if treated as a main faction the Convergence are underperforming, all their casters are viable as are both their theme lists. The Destruction Initiative list is considered stronger, Lucant the strongest caster, and the Transfinite Emergence Projector is considered one of the best in-faction models while the Clockwork legions use all four legal Enigma Foundries and mostly small based infantry. The whole faction is strong and viable - there just aren't that many options to it.

Minions - half a faction[edit]

At the ATC there are sixteen lists, fifteen of them using the five warcasters allowed in The Blindwater Congregation (Barnabas2 not being out yet) and only one of them being a Farrow warlock - Dr. Arkadius. This is why I call Minions half a faction; with all five Gator warlocks having at least two players (Rask of course being the most popular) the Blindwater half is performing - but the Farrow aren't. The individual tournament results show something similar; the successful lists have historically been "Who do we pair with Rask?" (with the answers being either Dr. A or any Blindwater caster but Jaga-Jaga) - but this all predates the Blindwater Dynamic Update, and errata has improved Jaga-Jaga, the Death Charmer, Maelok the Dreadbound and made sideways improvements to the rest of the Blindwater Congregation.

Unfortunately with the single exception of Dr. Arkadius the Farrow casters all struggle badly for one reason or another. If they carried their weight and a similar number of players to the Blindwater then Minions would be competitive in both results and number of players with the main factions.

In terms of what works within the faction, the Blackhide Wrastler appears in every Gatorman list without a Dracodile, while the Dracodile, the Ironback Spitter, the Blind Walker, the Swamp Horror, and the Bull Snapper all make regular appearances (leaving the Boneswarm to sulk alone). Of the Blindwater units the Gatorman Posse is far the most popular, followed by the Croak Raiders (who are definitely back even if not what they were in Mk2). The Bog Trog Ambushers and the Gatorman Bokor & Bog Trog Swamp Shamblers show up once each - or less than Cylena Raefyll & Nyss Hunters - but that means that every single minion unit allowed to the Blindwater Congregation shows up. Greygore Boomhowler & Co. do not however show up at all in Will Work For Food. And of the Blindwater solos, most appear but not Raluk Moorclaw or the Bog Trog Trawler

Legion of Everblight - all about the warbeasts[edit]

There were fewer Legion players than Minion players at the ATC, which is pretty spectacular. Five out of seven of them were playing Fyanna, Torment of Everblight - but more importantly ten of the fourteen lists were Oracles of Annihilation, the Legion warbeast theme. Legion's tournament wins also come to an end in September 2017 when Ravens of War stopped removing Advance Deployment and all other factions got their themes.

This leaves the Legion with effective warbeasts that are squishy for their cost - but little to pair it with. Fynna2 is excellent for Legion beasts as she can handle infantry (via Field Marshal: Overtake) and armour (via Fury). The second most popular warlock after Fyanna2 was Absylonia, Daughter of Everblight - another warbeast warlock who goes for speed. It's a slightly different list to Fyanna. In third was Thagrosh, Prophet of Everblight running the Children of the Dragon theme force. And no one else showed up more than once.

Trollbloods - Are whelps clones of the original trolls?[edit]

Trollbloods might have the single biggest problem of any faction in WarmaHordes. No Trollblood players have placed in any tournament recorded by Discount Games since May 2017 and only three placed in the whole of 2017 - when it comes to being competitive Trolls have a major problem, second only to the Skorne pre-Great Skorne Errata. There has, of course, been a recent major Trollbloods errata in October 2017 after the Northkin CID.

And of the 11 players playing Trollbloods at the ATC, 9 are using Madrak Ironhide, Thornwood Chieftain who was entirely reworked by the Northkin CID in October 2017 and 5 are using Kolgrima Stonetruth, Winter Witch who was developed in the Northkin CID and released in November 2017. In equal third place with two players was the other warlock largely reworked by the Northkin CID, Borka, Vengeance of the Rimeshaws. Pretty clearly the Northkin CID contained at least some of the buffs the Trolls desperately need - but equally clearly it hasn't been enough.

Part of this is due to two fundamental problems the Trollbloods have:

  • The Dire Trolls are all on the same SPD 5 DEF 12 ARM 18, no shield chassis. There just isn't the same variation in Trollblood heavies as there is for other factions.
  • A big part of the trollblood identity is around no-selling what the enemy is doing to the trolls - and things just not working isn't terribly fun for the other side of the table.

But if you do want to play Trollbloods right now, some things appear to work well. The Trollkin Champions are hard hitting and really obnoxious to try to kill, especially with Madrak, the Trollkin Fennblades (with CA) provide excellent speed especially if you can damage buff them, the Northkin Battle Bears were used at a rate of more than one set per Storm of the North list the support solos and models are very good, and the Troll Bouncer, Dire Troll Mauler, upgraded Mulg the Ancient, , and Troll Axer are all very good performers.

Performing factions - Warmachine[edit]

Note that the Crucible Guard are not out yet.

Cryx - awaiting the nerfbat[edit]

Cryx are, as of the time of writing, awaiting the CID for the hitherto conquering Black Fleet theme force. Of the nine (!) top three list combinations between September and November 2017 at major tournaments eight contained The Ghost Fleet theme force (of which two used two Ghost Fleet lists) and seven contained Warwitch Deneghra. Six times they were used together. In the November 2011 CID Privateer Press indicated that both Deneghra1's feat and the Revenant Crew of the Atramentous that make up the main infantry unit for The Ghost Fleet were going to be nerfed. Although the nerf hasn't happened yet, the ATC hasn't happened either and it appears that at least some Cryx players shied away from both Deneghra1 and The Ghost Fleet just in case the Dynamic Update comes out before the tournament takes place.

And with nerfs forthcoming to both Cryx's dominant warcaster and their dominant theme force it is difficult to work out where Cryx is currently balance wise. It is however notable that no one is playing Infernal Machines - the Thrall theme, and no one is yet playing Slaughter Fleet Raiders, the theme that is due to be improved by the playtesting from the November 2017 CID. And that at the WTC the most popular theme is Dark Host, the Bane theme with Ghost Fleet, Black Industries, and Scourge of the Broken Coast being about equally popular. The popular casters other than Deneghra1 appear to be Pirate Queen Skarre, the Witch Coven of Garlghast & the Egregore, Iron Lich Asphyxious, and Asphyxious the Hellbringer & Vociferon. Lich Lord Terminus, Goreshade the Bastard & Deathwalker, Lich Lord Asphyxious, and Lich Lord Venethrax also show up at the ATC with Bane Witch Agathia having been one of the warcasters paired with a Deneghra1/Ghost Fleet combination and Goreshade the Cursed turning up at another recent team tournament. 11 decent warcasters is a pretty decent spread, and even after nerfs Warwitch Deneghra will still be powerful.

The three themes behave about as would be expected - the Scourge of the Broken Coast starts always with two maximum units of Satyxis Raiders and their Sea Witch with other support Satyxis, with Blood Witches and Gunslingers being fairly playable. The Dark Host uses all the Banes, with the Bane Warriors with the attachment being the most popular - but Bane Knights and Bane Riders are both good. And support solos turn up all over the place.

Among the warjacks, cheap appears to be the order of the day. The Slayer, the Stalker, and the Deathripper are that most common for this with the Seether and Inflictor showing up alongside character jacks with their owner and lights to fill up the points. Jacks beyond half a heavy beyond the free jack points appear to only show up in the Black Industries warjack theme.

With the sheer dominance of Ghost Fleet and Warwitch Deneghra it is entirely possible that Cryx are indeed a troubled faction who, once you remove the crutch perform badly. Or it's possible that their performance will still be strong with the other themes (including the new Slaughter Fleet Raiders) and other warcasters getting their day in the sun rather than overshadowed by the one overpowered theme and caster. What is likely is that they are in an unbalanced place like that of the Legion of Everblight, in their case with infantry that is more than strong enough but weak warjacks.

Cygnar - more popular than good[edit]

Cygnar are probably the most played faction in Warmachine/Hordes, and certainly the most played faction at the ATC. However they have only had two top three places between September and November.

There are two major lists at the ATC for Cygnar - each played by almost exactly half of all players and each twice as popular at the ATC as the next caster down. The first is Major Prime Victoria Haley in the Gravediggers theme with Trencher Infantry to produce a rolling cloud wall, and the second is Artificer General Nemo & Storm Chaser Adept Caitlin Finch in either Heavy Metal or Storm Division with a pair of Storm Striders, a Firefly or two (possibly three), and in seven out of eight cases Dynamo. Both lists are immensely fun - but the Haley3 list has never won a major tournament. Haley3 lists with Trencher Infantry have, but every single one of these lists has had either Storm Lances or Stormblade Infantry to shatter armour - and the only armour cracking in Gravediggers comes from warjacks. This might of course be an artifact of the team championship format, with the Haley3 Gravediggers list being a specialist list against soft targets. Variations on the Nemo3 list have won tournaments, of course.

Once you drop these two casters and their specialist lists that make up nearly half the Cygnar WTC lists, Heavy Metal is the most popular theme force with Gravediggers and Storm Division as fairly popular and Sons of the Tempest as not unknown. Cygnar also plays out of theme - indeed both at the ATC and among the top tournament lists in recent months there's a non-theme Cygnaran list. Interestingly, and especially when we ignore Haley3, double Heavy Metal lists or Heavy Metal lists combined with Storm Division lists with either two Storm Striders (which are effectively heavies) or two units of Arcane Shielded Storm Lances are a popular combination.

With the two previously mentioned warcasters in the first tier, there appear to be a further ten of the remaining nineteen warcasters in the second tier, with some (notably Captain Jeremiah Kraye and Colonel Markus ‘Siege’ Brisbane) almost entirely played in obvious theme forces. Major Victoria Haley has suffered from her feat being deservedly nerfed, but is still highly playable. Commander Coleman Stryker plays his bricks, and Lord Commander Stryker has his assassinations. Caine's Hellslingers shoot all the stuff as does Captain Kara Sloan, while Captain Allister Caine can be played but is a little outside the metagame and still reeling from his nerf. Major Beth Maddox is a solid all-rounder, and Major Markus ‘Siege’ Brisbane remains his toolbox self.

Like most battle engines the Storm Strider is popular, moreso than any warjack save the synergistic Firefly - with the Charger being the Journeyman Warcaster's best friend (and the Journeyman being very popular), the Ironclad being far the most popular heavy with the Centurion in second and Dynamo in third. The Grenadier is good in theme and the Hunter is considered very useful. Far the most popular mercs are Ragman and Lady Aiyana & Master Holt with Captain Jonas Murdoch to make them friendly faction. Long gunners don't appear without being Trencher Long Gunners. Arcane Tempest Gun Mages are almost always played in theme. And post-nerf Storm Lances may not be what they once were but are certainly playable.

Other than almost half of Cygnar's warcasters not making the grade (which still gives Cygnar a pretty long list) the main things not to use from Cygnar appear to be light artillery, Stormsmith Grenadiers, Long Gunners, Stormguard and the only marginally better Silver Line Stormguard. And various heavies; the Avenger, the Cyclone, and the Defender.

Khador - Balanced Casters, Middle of the Pack, some poor choices[edit]

Khador seem to be a middle of the pack faction at present, exactly in the middle of WMH Battle Reporter, exactly middle of the pack in the number of players at the ATC, and with three tournament placings on the Discount Games major tournament list. Or in short about as close to the middle of the pack as it is possible to be overall.

There is no consensus at all on which caster to use for Khador - with 11 casters used at the ATC, and none of them used more than four times, and a twelfth having a top three place at a major tournament, there may be some consensus that some warcasters, that's 12/20 casters actively in use with two more having placed highly in tournaments in August. There is of course a little consensus on the bad ones; Koldun Kommander Aleksandra Zerkova is in desperate need of an arc node, Kommander Orsus Zoktavir is great for beer and pretzels games but too unreliable, The Old Witch of Khador & Scrapjack is too much of an anti-infantry caster, and Orsus Zoktavir, The Butcher of Khardov may hit hard but is too straightfoward for high level play and entirely lacking in ability to make his models reach the enemy.

But that's just the casters. The theme forces are almost half Jaws of the Wolf, the warjack theme (a warjack list with an infantry list is a very common all comers combination). The infantry lists meanwhile are about half Winter Guard Kommand with a quarter each of Legion of Steel (Iron Fangs) and Wolves of Winter (Doom Reavers and Greylords). Armored Korps may as well not exist, which is why the Man-O-War models have already been declared as going into CID for further playtesting next year. The Shocktroopers are just about OK but the other two units are terrible. So far so good.

There is significant variation within the faction, however. Jaws of the Wolf looks fine, but with all the warjacks being SPD 4 and most ARM 20 there is a huge bias towards the cheap Marauder for spam or the cheap Juggernaut if you can allocate focus, with the faster Kodiak a close third. A distant fourth and fifth are the Destroyer for some ranged support and the Devastator for the clamshell. The rest, to put it bluntly, are at best also-rans and at worst not used at all. In Winter Guard Kommand it's pretty obvious that both the Winter Guard Rifle Corps and the Winter Guard Infantry are there almost entirely as a delivery system for their rocketeers, being taken almost exclusively as minimum units with three attached rocketeers (the rifle corps are preferred due to the range but you can shave two points by downgrading to regular infantry). The artillery (especially the mortar) is popular, but no one ever pays points for them (admittedly like most artillery) and the Assault Kommandos might as well not exist. A Greylord Ternion? Zerkova2 only.

But fundamentally Khador is a well balanced and well rounded faction with a lot of play styles and a power level and popularity both that sits squarely within the middle of the pack. They can shoot, they can brawl, they can bring the jacks.

Protectorate of Menoth - A sleeping fire[edit]

Despite only 12 players at the ATC and not being notably popular the rest of the time the Protectorate have four major successes at significant tournaments between September and November 2017. And with 12 casters used at the ATC, and a further one with major tournament success that's more successful caster diversity than shown by Cygnar and far more than shown by Cryx, to name the two biggest factions in Warmachine/Hordes. All four theme forces are used, and all four have come in the top three places in major tournaments (although Guardians of the Temple, the Flameguard theme force is comfortably the least popular).

If there is an area of imbalance within the faction, it's that it's fairly clear that if you want to run a large battlegroup off one single caster you bring High Allegiant Amon Ad-Raza (and not Anson Durst, Rock of the Faith, Feora, Protector of the Flame, High Executioner Servath Reznik, or Sovereign Tristan Durant - although the latter is possibly the best for a ranged jack-line). And the other warcaster that struggles badly is Feora, Priestess of the Flame as there isn't so much need to pan-fry infantry in Mk3. (Feora3 doesn't show up in the list but is playable). Amon's most popular lists normally involve a few Crusaders and a lot of Dervishes and probably a Devout or Vigilant as well as the ubiquitous Choir of Menoth and then a Vassal of Menoth or two and maybe some Vassal Mechaniks.

Of course this doesn't mean that Amon is the only way to play The Creator's Might or a jack-heavy list; the Vessel of Judgment is a very effective model with ARM 20, and Initiate Tristan Durant has focus to spare and can readily run a Redeemer or even two.

The next thing to note is the Testament of Menoth with both a reclaim ability and a feat that grants Incorporeal to everything is considered probably the strongest infantry caster and is almost always played in Exemplar Interdiction with its elite infantry and liking for recursion of battle driven models. Also that Protectorate support is normally first rate.

Far the most popular units after the ubiquitous Choir of Menoth are the Knights Exemplar (normally with the Officer) and the Idrian Skirmishers (who are taken as mercenary models that also count as friendly faction in almost any theme force). Exemplar Errants also are common. Indeed in the so-called Faithful Masses the main unit used are the Idrians; Holy Zealots and Deliverer Skyhammers (even post-buff) are almost never seen although Horgenhold Forge Guard are. The main use of The Faithful Masses appears to be mixing good solos with Idrians, especially if you're using The Harbinger of Menoth to keep those solos alive.

Other than the cheaper infantry in The Faithful Masses and the rivals to Amon the units people are unlikely to use are the medium based infantry - Exemplar Bastions and Exemplar Cinerators. Flameguard Cleansers aren't amazingly popular but do see play. The Crusader, Dervish, and Devout are the most popular jacks, and the non-character jacks people don't use are the Vanquisher, the Purifier, and the Colossals.

Note that by the WMH Battle Reporter the Protectorate is the worst performing caction with only Amon having a positive win record. I believe that this more reflects the disproportionate nature of the Battle Reporter but this is not the only possible reading, and the metagame is too large to say for certain. If it is true that the Protectorate is weak then their performance in major tournaments is outstanding, thus implying that there is a very low skill floor and high skill cap. This may or may not be why the Protectorate is underplayed by comparison to its Warmachine rivals.

Retribution of Scryah[edit]

Mercenaries[edit]

Performing factions - Hordes[edit]

Circle Orboros[edit]

Grymkin - Flavour of the Month[edit]

The Grymkin are the most recent limited release faction, and well designed and flexible.

Skorne[edit]