Looking into the Tactics: Earth Caste

June 12, 2017 Community  No comments

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Dragyri’s latest caste, the Earth Caste, has been making waves since the first few boxes were released. Now, we’ve updated the Faction Downloads with their full stat card list. But with all the new goodness to look over, you might be wondering how to put it all together on the battlefield. Well, that’s where Aaron Bohm has you covered. He’s written up his thoughts on the best way to put this new force onto the table.

The feedback I gave Dark Age game-runner Bryan Steele when he asked me about the most recent Dragyri updates, which included new models for the upcoming Earth Caste, was that I was surprised and pleased with how different each Caste felt to play. The Air Caste plays as mobile and hard to hit as the wind, Ice Caste is as straightforward and immovable as a glacier. There are equal parts unpredictability, volatility and power within the Fire Caste and Shadow Caste… wait, they were here just a minute ago…

The Earth Caste is yet another exciting addition to Dark Age and, like all factions in the game, lends their own unique challenges and opportunities for creating a competitive tournament list. Having read through the 2017 Master Rules and taking a close look at some of the new Earth Caste cards, I jotted down my notes on what Earth can do to maximize their chances at winning a Dark Age MtI Tournament. Of course the ultimate goal is to be able to design a list which will lead down the path to become one of the game’s elite, a Dark Age Immortal.

At A Glance

Big, tough and slow; those are the characteristics that stand out as I first view the cards. At a glance Earth Caste doesn’t appear to have been blessed with 4” movement or 4 AP stats, and they share the standard high-defense, high-armor trait as do many of the other bruisers in the game. That is, easy to hit, hard to wound.

The main abilities that jump out are that they almost all have Reach melee, Knockdown or Knockback effects, and the impressive new Special Ability Stoneskin making them that much more durable. But they are also short on ranged attacks and have no opportunities to heal (as is common among all Dragyri).

So there are two main problems basic Earth Caste presents me with as a player. First, I need to figure out how I am going to deal with ranged threats. Second, since a lot of my models have innate Knockback, how do I leverage this to its full potential without putting myself at a disadvantage by knocking targets out of melee range?

The Pieces

Basic Troops:
Slave models help define the flavor of each Caste they belong to and Earth is no exception. Each Earth Caste Slave has access to the Knockdown Weapon Ability. While I know that a roll-to ability isn’t as powerful as immediate effects like Immobilize and Stun on paper, for combos and group synergy its worth keeping in the back of my mind.

Now, two Dragyri troops I wouldn’t normally use stand out for the Earth Caste. The first is the Soul Warden. Their secondary weapon also has a SP Knockdown, just in case it wasn’t already obvious that Earth wants their opponents to spend most of the game on their asses. But I’ll talk about him more when it comes to Psychogenics. The other model is the Shard Slave. Make a quick mental note: Shard Fields placed by this model count as “Terrain Features;” this is VERY important.

Earth Trueborn:
Now, it is also important to understand that every player has preferences – right, wrong, or ugly – and I am no exception. Mentally, I list the following Earth Caste models from my least favorite to most.

Fissure: A little underwhelming to me initially, every model nonetheless has its place. Knowing ranged attacks may be Earth’s Achillies’ heel, models like Fissure with Deflection becomes that much more important. Also, RN 4 Knockback has the potential for being a lot of fun. But something more subtle I realized lay within the Survivalist trait. In a faction that has few movement options, it is worth noting that a model that receives a free On Hold token can also move for free when targeted by range.

Earth Caste Fissure

Quake: At 100 points there is no discount in picking up a Quake model. Still, he’s similar to others like him with Guard + high armor. Quake is another answer to range; simply redirect the attack and have Quake roll the save. He has the additional bonus of Stoneskin, so he can even negate damage on a failed save.

Quake

Ghrakun: Ghrakun’s ONLY attack has Knockback. So, if he is the first to engage, there is a good chance the model he’s attacking will be pushed out of range. But he also has Commander. Looking at him as a cleanup model shifts this disadvantage into a potentially huge advantage.

Ghrakun

Pillar: No reason to beat around the bush, Pillar is my favorite new model in Earth Caste. He has Deflection and Knockdown (instead of Knockback), he’s tough and he hits hard. Initially I didn’t think much about the Center of Gravity ability – admittedly I still don’t think this psychogenic should be used a lot. However, I feel Gravity best showcases what Earth is all about and, in a way, it’s going to be the lynchpin of what I’m going to build around.

Earth Caste Pillar

Psychogenics:
While BL(2) Knockdown and placing 2 Immobilize Counters on an enemy are powerful, I am only going to talk about 3 of the Psychogenics: Sandblast, Ferrous Pulse and Center of Gravity.

Any Dark Age army will be most effective at a particular distance; long range, mid range or close range. With a 5 1/2” SP template that has Blind, Sandblast alone helps limit the effectiveness of close and mid range opponents.

Ferrous Pulse is bar-none the strongest positioning tool in the game. Picking a point of terrain, EVERY model is moved away, pushing enemies out of cover or away from point-scoring objectives like Foxholes or the Wagon. Not only that, but someone pointed out to me that this also works for pushing your non-Earth models forward. So if the goal is to surprise the opposing player and if other faction models have been included via the Grand Arbiter Commands, this can also be a good option for an otherwise slow Earth Caste.

Ferrous Pulse

This all assumes a lot of careful planning and positioning but as a reminder, Shard Slaves can lay down Terrain Features exactly where they are needed. And it may seem daunting that these psychogenics that push, pull, disable and hold need to work together in a very specific and precise way for optimal results. Which is why having a Psychogenic “gunboat” like the Soul Warden has never been as important as it is in Earth Caste.

Lastly, Center of Gravity. It is very important to understand exactly what this does. Not only can this be turned on to prevent models currently within 2” from leaving, but it can also “catch” models that are moving by for any reason. In other words, Gravity can be turned on and then enemies can be knocked back towards them, causing the enemy to stick there in Gravity’s bubble. It can also be used to hold a model, effectively holding it there while a Knockback model beats on it.

Center of Gravity

The Puzzle

So how do I win? Unlike Air Caste and other highly mobile lists I won’t be able to dance around engagements, choosing the optimal times to strike and when to score. Unlike lists like Fire Caste, C.O.R.E. and other lists with high raw damage output I won’’t be able to expect to go toe to toe and win out.

Earth Caste shares some similarities with Ice Caste; both have the ability to control an area and take a lot of punishment. However Ice Caste is also one of the best at diving in, initializing an engagement and striking first. If Earth tries this it would be a disaster. Instead, there is something else they do particularly well.

Earth may be one of the best counter-striking lists in the game. Against range this means letting the opponent set up, then disrupting their gun line. Keep in mind that with the new rules a range model now takes -2 AS for being prone. Against melee Earth can allow a faction to close in, only to break up the next round’s squadlink by knocking away a few key models.

A particular favorite idea of mine is activating Pillars as a squad with Ghrakun, having the Pillars engage first, knocking enemies down and activating Gravity where appropriate. Then having Ghrak come in to clean up, knocking away some of the enemies and killing others outright.

Earth may be very difficult to play but it does seem that they will be the penultimate positioning army in Dark Age. It will take a lot of practice to make sure they’re at exactly the right place at the right time. Shard Fields can be placed as focal points either to move models away from or knock models into. Enemies can be bounced from objectives or captured by a Pillar. Fissure could have a whole turn picking ranged targets to throw back and any incoming ranged attacks can be deflected, absorbed by Stoneskin models or redirected to Quake.

Putting It All Together

So, into the build. I know I am going to Arbiter the full 150 points and the obvious choice is ranged or Smoke models. Whispers, Pyres or the Spirit Lord of Fire are my favorite Dragyri picks for range, and Strega often gets a utility spot for Smoke but there is also the dark horse Soul Splitter to consider which has both.

I am building around Pillars, so those will be included. I initially looked at 3 but the Ghrakun squadlink seems pretty strong and I need spare points so 2 will do. Quake gives me some additional options at redirecting range while Fissure may give me more mobility. For my base list I’ll play it safe and leave mobility for my sideboard.

Filling in the rest is pretty easy. The Soul Warden can be backline Psychogenic support and squadlink with the slaves. While my opponent may attempt to kill him first and move in closer to do so this actually favors my strategy (plus I really want to play a Green Space Pope!) A Shard Slave will be important to place terrain where needed so I took two for redundancy. Lastly the Taskmaster, which is pound for pound one of the strongest slave options in any list, and a Sling Slave to fill in.

750 Earth Caste Tournament List:
1 Ghrakan (150)
2 Pillar (2×75)
1 Quake (100)
1 Soul Warden (75)
1 Pyre (75)
1 Soul Splitter (75)
1 Taskmaster (50)
2 Shard Slave (2×25)
1 Sling Slave (25)

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