Age of Sigmar Tactics: Beastclaw Raiders, part 1
If you followed my blog back in my Warhammer Fantasy days, it would come to no surprise that in Age of Sigmar, the Ogor factions have seized my attention. The Beastclaw Raiders in particular, large in part due to having a sexy, up-to-date Battletome, are providing a fantastic platform for conversion work, and a modest number of models to paint and get on the table. Originally, I had planned on writing out a single article to cover the basics of the faction, but as I got started, I quickly realized that this was totally unfeasible, thanks to having a solid number of Warscrolls, special rules, allegiance traits and magic items. To get the journey started, I'll first be talking about the basic units of the army, their function, and how to use them most effectively.
Beastclaw Raider Warscrolls
Stonehorn Beast Riders
The Stonehorn Beast Rider is a terrifying sight on the table, and in Beastclaw Raiders, they're Battleline (and NOT Behemoth*)! Stonehorns are incredibly resilient, and rightfully feared by many players. Coming to the table with 12 wounds and a 4+ save, the Stonehorn's Stone Skeleton halves the amount of damage and mortal wounds received by the model, calculated after all the attacks for the unit have finished! At range, the Stonehorn brings two ranged weapons, first a Harpoon Launcher, with decent stats (12"/1/4+/3+/-/3) and either a Chain Trap (12"/1/4+/3+/-/3) or a Blood Vulture, which can be used if you run, as it is not classified as a shooting attack (pick an enemy unit within 30", enemy also picks one of their own units in range, roll a D6: 1-3 does a mortal wound to the unit your enemy picked, 4+ mortal wound to the unit you picked)...
None of it's ranged choices are mind blowing (though you should always go for the Blood Vulture), but lets face it, you took this thing to batter face in combat. This monster moves 12" a turn (lower with damage), can run and charge, and after it completes it's charge, causes D6 mortal wounds to a unit within 1". Once in the fight, it has a pile of high damage attacks: Beast Rider (1"/6/4+/4+/-/1), Stonehorn's Horns (2"/6/4+/3+/-2/3), Stonehorn's Hooves (1"/D6/3+/2+/-1/D3), assuming it's unharmed. For those that don't want to do the math, here's what that looks like on the charge, against a 4+ save unit:
That's an expected output of 6-12 wounds, causing 9+ wounds about half of the time, and when it gets hit back, you're halving the entire damage pool caused by your opponent. If you're fighting a 5+ save unit, that's going to jump to about 8-15 wounds in a single round. Avoid getting them bogged down in units with high numbers of models or are immune to Battleshock, whenever possible, Zombies can be a massive paint to chew through, and keep coming back. The Stonehorn is an ideal unit for crushing medium sized units and enemy monsters, and definitely worth it to fill a Battleline requirement.
*The General's Handbook says that they become Battleline, not "Battleline, Behemoth" as they do in every other instance of Leaders on Behemoths where they explicitly say they become "Leader, Behemoth." Additionally, GW Customer Support on Facebook backs up that interpretation. The final nail in the argument is that the Azyr army builder in the official AOS app does not count them towards your Behemoth limit. I'd figure that if it was just the GW customer service and the General's Handbook, I'd say it was a typo and a mistake by customer service, but all 3 points is enough to convince me.
Thundertusk Beast Riders
The Thundertusk Beast Rider are your "entry level" Thundertusk option, and chief artillery unit, similar to the Stonehorn, it is taken as a Battleline choice, not Behemoth*. It's riders are armed for ranged combat the same as the Stonehorn, the main feature of the Thundertusk is it's Frost-wreathed Ice missile weapon, which causes a hefty 6 Mortal Wounds to an enemy unit in range (18") on a 2+. The tricky thing however is that it's damage quickly drops off after suffering a few wounds itself, going down to D6 after suffering 3 wounds, and D3 after suffering 5. In combat, it's nowhere near it's cousin, only having the Beast Rider attacks, and it's own Crushing Blows (2"/4/3+/2+/-1/D3), meaning it shouldn't be in combat unsupported, except against very weak/small units. Since most of it's damage will come from it's Frost-wreathed Ice attack, the Thundertusk is well suited as an alpha strike unit, causing crippling damage on an enemy behemoth, before it has the chance to close in on your lines.
The only Ogor in the army that can be seen on foot, and for that matter, the cheapest Hero in the army, weighing in at a mere 160 points. The Hunter is really a mixed bag of equipment, packing a decent punch in combat (1"/4/4+/3+/-/2), and also bringing a pair of ranged weapons: the Hunter's Crossbow (12"/1/4+/3+/-/D3) and the Great Throwing Spear (9"/4+/3+/-1/D3). The Great Throwing Spear has a fun little rule doubling the range and increasing the damage to D6 if you run first, but this then means you cannot shoot the Crossbow, so it's helpfulness is going to be situational at best. The last ranged attack the Icebrow Hunter can make is his Icy Breath, with a 6" range causing D3 mortal wounds on a 4+.
What the hunter is best known for though is his Master of Ambush ability, which lets you set him to the side when deploying, and instead may set him up in any if your Hero Phases, more than 9" from the enemy (not in spear range). Consider keeping him held back until the second turn, once your enemy battle line has broken up a bit, letting you deploy him near a key character and take a pot shot with the Crossbow, then attempt a charge (27.78% chance of success). If you're using the generic Destruction Allegiance, you can then move him up D6" with Rampaging Destroyers, shoot with both weapons, and then charge with now a 74.07% chance of success, making him a very effective tool for taking out enemy Totems, spell casters and other non-monstrous characters.
Frostlord on Stonehorn
Because regular Stonehorn Beast Riders didn't beat enough face, they made the Frostlord on Stonehorn. Potentially one of the most damage dealing monsters in the game, on top of being one of the most resilient. To fit his status of leader of an Alfrostun, the Frostlord gains an additional wound and point of save over a regular Stonehorn, beefing him up to 13 wounds with a 3+ save, and still halving all damage he receives. The Frostlord forgoes any form of ranged attacks, not pretending to be a missile weapon platform, he trades it all for the deadly Frost Spear (2"/4/3+/3+/-1/3). Being a hero, the Frostlord has access to Battle Brew, which makes almost every one of the attacks he and his mount cause hit and wound on a 2+ (except the horns hitting on a 3+)... As you can imagine, this does horrendous things to his damage, and the enemy.
Without any buffs vs 4+ save:
With +1 to-hit (i.e. Bellowing Tyrant) vs 4+ save:
With +1 to-hit and to-wound (i.e. Battle Brew) vs 4+ save:
As you can see, unaided the Frostlord is causing 7-17 wounds most of the time, but when fully buffed with a single swig of Battle Brew, now we're talking 13-24 wounds, in a single round. Let that sink in for a minute... Done? Yeah, that's pretty much wrecking anything you can expect to face in the game, in a single round of combat. If you're charging you're still dealing an additional D6 mortal wounds (because why not), and you're almost certain going to cause your opponent to have a sour face.
So we get it, the Frostlord on Stonehorn is an unstoppable force of nature, incredibly resilient and will kill many plastic men, but what else can he do? The Frostlord (on Thundertusk or Stonehorn) has the distinction of being the only unit in the army with a Command Ability. Since many of the units in the army are small in count or single model units, so Inspiring Presence is less important than in other armies, to remedy this the Frostlord has his Bellowing Voice. A straight forward ability, this allows all Beastclaw Raider units within 14" to re-roll failed charges, which is pretty great since being in combat is exactly where nearly everything in this army wants to be.
Overall, the Frostlord on Stonehorn is a very expensive character, but he packs an amazing punch, is naturally very difficult to kill, and has a very helpful command ability. He may not have a place in every list, but you'll rarely regret taking him.
Frostlord on Thundertusk
Unfortunately, not as exciting as the Frostlord on Stonehorn. The Frostlord on Thundertusk gives you a Thundertusk that is slightly more resilient (extra wound and save), and a bit more effective in combat thanks to his enhanced Kicks and Blows and Frost Spear. Like the regular Thundertusk, his primary means of dealing ranged damage is through the Frost-wreathed Ice attacks, dealing up to 6 mortal wounds at 18". Normally, the Thundertusk isn't that formidable in melee, though with the improved attacks the Frostlord brings, you'll probably want to get him up close and personal, where he can benefit from the Numbing Chill, giving the enemy -1 to hit him.
Like the Frostlord on Stonehorn, the Frostlord on Thundertusk has the Bellowing Tyrant Command Ability (all Beastclaw within 14" re-roll failed charges), but perhaps the most interesting rule for this guy cannot be found on his Warscroll; in Matched Play, if he is your General and you are playing Beastclaw Raiders allegiance, he makes Icefall Yhetees into Battleline, giving you a relatively cheap, but very good, Battleline choice.
Huskard on Stonehorn
We've seen the baseline Stonehorn, and the murder machine that is the Frostlord, but what about something between? The Huskard can carry any of the three ranged weapons that the regular Stonehorn does (but you should still take the bird). He has the same armor save and wounds as a regular Stonehorn Beast Rider, one more bravery, but he has half as many melee attacks (that hit on 3+ instead of 4+). So across the board, he's about the same as a regular Beastrider, but with less attacks, and costs more points, so why take him? First of all, he's able to take an Arcane Artefact, so you can put Battle Brew on this bad boy, he's also scoring in Places of Power. The thing that really makes the Huskard on Stonehorn worth it though is his Line-breakers special rule. After the Huskard on Stonehorn makes his melee attacks in the combat phase, you may immediately pick a unit of Mournfang within 10" and pile-in and attack with them (as long as they have not yet already attacked). If you have the initiative that turn, you're able to attack with two very deadly units, before your opponent has a chance to roll any dice.
The Huskard on Stonehorn is a fantastic addition to your army, but best used if you can give him an artefact, and/or have a good-sized unit of Mournfangs to run along side. If you're not taking many Mournfang, or you don't have a spare magic item for him, then you may want to consider taking a Stonehorn Beast Riders instead.
Huskard on Thundertusk
This guy has a reputation that far precedes him. The Thundertusk mount itself, as we've talked about, is capable of dishing out a devastating 6 mortal wounds with it's Frost-wreathed Ice ability, and another mortal wound from the Blood Vulture. Stat-wise, like the Huskard on Stonehorn, he has half as many attacks which are slightly more accurate, an extra point of bravery, and the same wounds and save, as a standard Thundertusk. The reason you take this guy though is his Blizzard-speaker ability. In each Hero phase you can pick a Beastclaw Raiders unit within 18" and on a 4+ either bless them with re-rolling 1's to wound, or heal a single model in the unit for D3 wounds. On it's own it seems unreliable, but you get +1 to your roll to cast for each other friendly Thundertusk within 18"... So if you are taking a pair, they bless on a 3+, 3 of them go off on a 2+, making that D3 become much more reliable. Now, if you're using those blessings to heal something super resilient, like a Stonehorn, those D3 wounds are going to go very far.
It is a pretty popular trend right now to build a Destruction list around 3 Huskard on Thundertusk. It provides you with an 18 mortal wound alpha strike, virtually guaranteeing that you'll kill an enemy behemoth before it makes it into your lines. On the flip side though, it is not an effective choice if you end up against horde-style armies like Bonesplitterz, at best letting you single out some characters that get too close, at worst killing 3 Savage Orruks, or 2 Boarboys. So if you do want to go this route, just expect that you'll be playing more of a spoiler army, than a well rounded tactical army (which is probably why you don't see the 3-Huskard armies actually winning big events).
The least expensive unit in the Beastclaw Raiders army, at a mere 60 points for two models. They feel a bit on the expensive side for only having two wounds, but they're quite fast (9") and decent in a fight (1"/3/3+/4+/-1/1). They synergize well with Icebrow Hunters, gaining +3" charge and Bravery 7, so long as they are within 16" of an Icebrown Hunter. Due to their cost (still fairly high), speed, and squishiness, they are best left running interference on the board, chasing down weakened small units, artillery, and characters. If you can get them in a position to get to those important units, your enemy is going to have to spend time killing them, instead of further damaging your monsters.
If these big cats are really your bag, then you may be happy to know that they become Battleline in a Beastclaw Raiders army, provided you take an Icebrow Hunter as your general.
Icefall Yhetees aren't actually ogres at all, but abominable snow monsters that follow on the heels of the Beastclaw Raiders. They represent the second cheapest unit in the army, but are incredibly effective for their cost. They are are decently resilient with 4 wounds apiece, and unsurprising from their appearance, their main job is to get into close combat with the enemy and rip them to shreds. In combat their Claws and Ice-encrusted Clubs are very deadly (1"/3/3+/4+/-1/2), able to inflict a serious amount of damage, and any enemies striking back at them will have -1 to hit. Did I mention that they're fast? They're so quick that they will often outpace other cavalry, they move 9" a turn, can run and charge (if within 16" of a Thundertusk), and they can be chosen to pile in and attack if they're within 6" of the enemy, and have a 6" pile in move.
Their pile-in range of 6" creates for some interesting shenanigans. First of all, it means that if they're within 6" of the enemy at the end of their move, they do not need to declare a charge, they just automatically are in combat. It means if your enemy piles-in to another unit and ends up within 6" of your Yhetees, then your opponent has basically done the charge for you. Additionally, and possibly the most interesting, it means that they can Retreat from one combat 9", run another D6" and end in combat with a totally different unit. I'm a huge fan of Yhetees, they're definitely under-appreciated and under-represented on the table top. If you really love them, you can even take them as Battleline if your General is a Frostlord on Thundertusk.
The meat and potatoes of the Beastclaw Raiders, the Mournfang Packs represent the "standard" unit of the army. They are the least expensive proper Ogor unit in the army, but that doesn't mean they're anywhere near being cheap, coming in at 100 points per model. For that steep price point, you are getting a fast moving, resilient, eating machine. They are quick footed, moving 9" a turn, tough with 6 wounds and a 4+ save, and pack a big punch in combat. Their mounts impale opponents with their tusks (1"/4/4+/3+/-1/1), while the riders pick between Gargant Hackers (2"/2/4+/3+/-1/3) and Culling Clubs (1"/3/4+/3+/-/2), additionally the Culling Clubs come with Iron Fists (cause a mortal wound to the enemy on 6+ to save).
To help make the decision between the weapons, I thought I'd break down the math, these charts represent a unit of 4 Mournfang, against a unit of 4+ save enemies. First up Culling Clubs:
So we can see that the 50+ mark is at about 8 wounds, with an average range of 5-11 wounds in a round, definitely impressive, but it should be for 400 points! Now lets take a look at the Gargant Hackers:
You can see that the damage range is roughly similar, though with a slightly higher average damage band, and hitting the 50" mark at about 9 wounds per round. So really, what it comes down to is slightly higher damage and reach, vs a chance to cause mortal wounds when you make armor saves. If you're playing pure Beastclaw Raiders, I would lean towards the Gargant Hackers, since 6's to save only works if you're facing enemies with no Rend*. If you're playing mixed Destruction, then it's a closer call, since you could use Mystic Shield to get +1 save, causing mortal wounds back to the enemy on 5's, though I still value the 2" reach to make sure everyone can fight.
On top of beating face in combat, they have a couple other interesting rules to take note of. Their Mournfang Charge causes a mortal wound on a 4+ to an enemy unit within 1" after you charge (roll 1 dice per Mournfang that ends within 1"), which could be nice for softening up a monster before you hack it down. Their Horn Blower lets them roll 3D6, picking the two highest on the charge, and their Banner Bearer lets you re-roll 6's for Battleshock, and if enemies flee while within 6", on a 6, another model flees as well. Finally, they have a champion called a Skalg who comes armed with a pistol that isn't terribly reliable (12"/1/4+/3+/-1/D3), but can add a couple wounds to the fight.
Overall, they're a solid Battleline choice and the cheapest at 200 points without any requirements on your choice of General. A pair of them is often enough to devastate a unit, while a unit of 4 can trample all but the hardest opponents, and I would totally avoid taking them in larger numbers than that.
*The rules for Rend are often misunderstood, it does not reduce the armor stat of the model, but it is actually a negative modifier to the dice roll, much like -1 to-hit or -1 to-wound. This means abilities that are triggered on 6's to save won't work against enemies with Rend.
So there we have it, the warscrolls of all the Beastclaw Raiders units! As you probably guessed it, they are a brute force army full of monsters and monstrous cavalry. Much like the Imperial Knights in 40k, to win with them means you'll have to get the most out of each model on the table, pick favorable fights, and avoid getting bogged down. The models are all utterly fantastic, especially the plastics, and I can't wait to get my army painted and on the board.