10 Point Games
The first expansion from your Battlegroup takes you from 0 to 10 points. Your choices must be part of Xekaar's battlegroup, which means warbeasts, probably light warbeasts. My recommendations at this stage are either a Cyclops Shaman or a Cyclops Brute.
Cyclops Shaman - The Shaman has a lot of synergy with Xekaar and the battlegroup you start with. Stat-wise, it's worse than other cyclopes due to not wearing armor. It has a Battle Spear, which is an ok melee weapon. It has Rng 2 and Magic Weapon, so it has some flexibility, but overall, it's not amazing. It also has an Evil Eye, which is a great ranged weapon. Rng 10 Pow 12 is nothing to write home about, but Ghost Shot certainly is. The only way to hide from the Evil Eye is Stealth. It's even magical, so being Incorporeal is no defense. Pow 12 may not seem like much, but against a model Xekaar has cast Mortality on, it's plenty strong enough. The Shaman's Animus is Spirit Blade, which is good against any enemy upkeeps that go on your models. You probably won't into that many at this stage, but after the 50pt level, you'll have a much larger set of enemy 'casters to worry about.
The Shaman has a couple other abilities that work well with Xekaar. The first is Craft Talisman. It's a *Action, so you can't shoot or make melee attacks if you use it. It adds 2" to the Rng of Xekaar's spells. This is a pretty big deal for Xekaar. Being able to cast all those offensive spells he relies on from 2" further away is often the difference between being in your opponent's charge range and being safely out of it. Next up is Primal Magic, which is the Shaman's best ability. With Primal Magic, the Shaman can cast the Animus of any of your beasts in its Cmd. This is a great way to hand out more than one Rush, or put Prescience on something the Cyclops Savage is too far away to reach. At first, you'll probably use it to cast Far Strike the most. With Far Strike, the Shaman is a second sniping beast with the same Rng as your Raider, and together they can make a great team, wearing down other enemies for one of your melee models to kill.
All in all, the Shaman lets you expand Xekaar's ranged game, and adds a lot of flexibility in terms of placing Xekaar and casting all your Animi. It's best played in your back lines along with the Raider and Xekaar. You'll get a lot of use out of it, especially if you stick with Xekaar for the whole league. It's a soft target though. Def 13 Arm 14 is not going to save it if the opponent wants it gone.
Cyclops Brute - Where the Cyclops Savage brought you melee offense, the Brute brings defense. It has the standard cyclops Arm bolstered by a Shield, which gives it an extra +2 Arm against most things that aren't attacking it from behind. The Brute also has a Rng 2 halberd for a main melee weapon. Its Animus is Safeguard, which prevents the caster from being knocked down or made stationary for a round, and reduces the distance it's slammed. If Xekaar was getting knocked down and killed a lot being so far forward, this might be the beast for you. It's also great on the Brute itself.
The Brute has three other fantastic abilities. Intuition can force your opponent to reroll an attack that hit the Brute. This can be great, and it's often worth maxing the Brute out with this ability if it gets charged. It's also a great way to turn a critical hit into a regular hit or a miss. Set Defense is amazing, and makes the Brute a very solid front line beast. Charge, slam, and impact attacks suffer -2 to hit the Brute. Combined with Intuition, and Xekaar's Feat, this makes the Brute an amazingly durable model for a low cost. Finally, the Brute has Shield Guard. It is hard to overstate the importance of Shield Guard in Warmachine and Hordes right now. It is one of the most effective and consistent ways to protect yourself from your opponent's ranged attacks. If the Brute is near your other models, you can guarantee that it takes a hit at higher armor than anything else except a heavy beast.
The Brute is a very sturdy front line model, and is excellent when you're up against faster armies, or those with a lot of good ways to assassinate Xekaar. It usually takes your opponent's heavy to kill the Brute at the 10pt level, and on Xekaar's Feat turn, it's almost impossible to deal with. It doesn't have a whole lot of offensive power, but Mortality is a good fix for that. You'll probably also use it in more lists than the Shaman overall. Its abilities are simply too good to ignore with many, many of our Warlocks.
25 Point Games
At 25pts, you can start to add non-battlegroup models, which opens up the whole Skorne range. At this point level, the first thing I recommend at least a 4-strong unit of Paingiver Beast Handlers. If you have the points with your other choices, you could take the full 6-strong unit. I'm not going to bring up alternatives to Beast Handlers. They're an amazing support unit, and you will use them a lot in just about all of your games.
Paingiver Beast Handlers - They have 3 *Actions, all of which are fantastic. First up, they have Enrage, which should know well from Beast Master Xekaar. It's a great damage buff that will help your army a lot, and take pressure off of Xekaar to always be near a particular beast. Next, they have Condition, which lets them add or remove 1 point of Fury from a friendly Warbeast. This will let all your beasts do more each turn without risking a Frenzy. Finally, they have Medicate, which lets them heal d3 damage from a Warbeast. Combined with Psycho Surgery, you can take a lot of damage off your battlegroup and stay in the fight that much longer. They can also do a couple of neat things with their melee weapons. They have Anatomical Precision, which lets them ignore armor and Tough on living models, and Inflict Pain, which lets them add or remove Fury from a Warbeast they hit. If your opponent is playing Hordes.
Once you've picked up Paingiver Beast Handlers, you should have about 12pts left for other stuff. I'd recommend one of our front line infantry units at this point, especially if you didn't pick a Cyclops Brute when you expanded to 10pts. The infantry I feel will give you the best grounding in Skorne (and be most effective in your list) are either Praetorian Karax or Paingiver Bloodrunners.
Praetorian Karax - The Karax are a staple 10-strong infantry unit. They aren't accurate or hard-hitting, and their base defensive stats are mediocre, but they have a bunch of good abilities, and best of all, they're very, very cheap. Combined Melee Attack gives them a little extra accuracy and hitting power when you need it, but the defensive abilities are what make the Karax shine. Girded gives them and any model base-to-base with them immunity to blast damage. Set Defense gives them a respectable Def score against charge attacks. Finally, Shield Wall gives them a very good Arm score for light infantry at 19. It does slow them down to use it, but it also means that nearly all the tricks opponents use to blast your troops off the table won't work on Karax. They have to be killed one by one. And make no mistake, your Karax will be killed. Their job is to stay alive just long enough to get your harder-hitting models into position to do kill the opponent's most important models.
Paingiver Bloodrunners - The Bloodrunners will perform a similar function to Karax, but they'll do it very differently. Like Karax, they'll stay in front of your valuable models, keeping them safe from enemies who could otherwise hit them first, but Bloodrunners are much faster than Karax, and have much higher offensive output. For speed, Bloodrunners have Advance Deployment, which starts them 6" further up the field than the rest of your list, and Apparition, which gives them 2" extra movement after you leach Fury in your control phase. They also ignore rough terrain thanks to Pathfinder, and have the ability to move an extra 3" after activating on any turn they didn't run or fail a charge thanks to Reposition. All that combined makes them one of the fastest infantry units in the game. For offense, they're very accurate, and have Anatomical Precision, which lets them do one point of damage and ignore Tough. Great for killing off opposing 1-wound infantry. Their main defensive ability is Stealth, which protects against most ranged weapons, but doesn't do a whole lot against AoE's.
Both Karax and Bloodrunners will help your army survive the early turns of getting to grips with your opponent. Which you choose will largely depend on how you want to get to grips. If you want to march up the field methodically, take full advantage of your ranged attacks, and make the enemy come to you before you smash them with your counterattack, you probably want Karax. If you want to blitz into your opponents front lines, slaughter their infantry, and then launch an all-out attack while they're still dealing with your first wave, go for Bloodrunners.
Another consideration for choosing between Karax and Bloodrunners is whether or not you're going to switch Warlocks at the 50pt level.
50 Point Games
At 50pts, you have the opportunity to switch Warlocks, and that is really going to influence what units and beasts you'll be taking, so we'll talk about that first. By now you've had 3 weeks to play around with Beast Master Xekaar. Are you happy with him? Does he give you a fun game just about every time, and does your list basically perform the way you want it to with Xekaar at the helm? If not, one of the following statements may describe your experience:
- Playing Xekaar is super stressful! He's always so close to the action that my opponent finds a way to kill him more often than not. I want a Warlock who can stay near the back of my army and live through a game. If this is you, consider switching to Lord Arbiter Hexeris (Hexeris 2), or Dominar Rasheth (Rasheth 1). Both have a fun variety of offensive spells like Xekaar, but both have some way to channel those spells through other models so they don't have to be so close to the enemy. Rasheth is more focused on reducing enemy stats and denial, while Hexeris has more freedom to cast and channel spells offensively. Both of them like to run beast heavy, so a Titan Cannoneer or Titan Sentry is a good choice. Both also benefit from ranged options, so you can look into the Venator units as well as you flesh out your list.
- Xekaar is fine and all, but I really like the martial aesthetic of the Skorne tyrants and infantry. I want to play a general who supports a combined army of beasts and infantry. If this is you, I'd recommend either Tyrant Xerxis (Xerxis 1) or Supreme Archdomina Makeda (Makeda 2). Xerxis lets his infantry hit hard, and buffs their Def and Arm, while Makeda makes them accurate, and keeps them alive with her Stay Death ability. Both can do amazing things with a full unit Praetorian Ferox, which will serve you well with many other Warlocks too.
- I like Xekaar's playstyle pretty well, but I don't like relying on offensive spells to be effective. I hate it when I miss with Mortality, or can't even use it because of some defensive trick my opponent has. If this is you, I'd recommend picking up Master Tormentor Morghoul (Morghoul 1) or Master Ascetic Naaresh (Naaresh 1). Morghoul makes his beasts significantly faster than Xekaar, and adds a great denial Feat and a defensive upkeep spell. Naaresh has a Feat that gives you offense as well as defense, and actually wants to be in melee sometimes, unlike Xekaar. Both want a really solid heavy like Tiberion or a Titan Sentry. Naaresh will want more Paingivers - these ones to whip him!
If you're staying with Xekaar, here's what I recommend at 50pts.
Aptimus Marketh - Marketh's Spell Slave *Action is great with Xekaar, and is the main reason you take him. If you have Marketh cast Deadweight or Mortality, you can keep Xekaar further back than you'd normally be able to. Or, you can cast spells with both Marketh and Xekaar, and really do some damage. Marketh has Soul Taker: Gatekeeper, so he collects the souls of fallen Skorne warriors, and can put them to use in a variety of ways. He can boost attack and damage rolls, including magic attack and damage rolls for Mortality and Deadweight. He can also buy melee attacks with his staff, but generally if he's in melee, things aren't going according to plan. His last two abilities are Ghost Shield, which might save him from blast damage or a low-Pow attack, and Soul Tap, which lets Xekaar upkeep Pursuit for a Soul Token instead of a point of Fury. Like with Beast Handlers, I don't really consider Marketh to be optional with Xekaar. The ability to cast more spells - at a higher magic ability - and keep Xekaar safe is too good to leave in the bag.
I also recommend a second heavy. Skorne has some great heavies, and since you have between 19 and 22 points left after Marketh, I'd recommend another heavy warbeast for Xekaar. Heavy beasts get a lot of mileage out of his Feat, and are among our best models to crack enemy heavies. I rarely just want one in Skorne. The two I'd consider at this point are the Titan Sentry and Titan Cannoneer. You could also make the argument for another Gladiator, since it's a great beast with lots of hitting power and an excellent Animus.
Titan Sentry - The Sentry is a little like a heavy version of the Cyclops Brute. Instead of a combination of good defense and decent armor, it focuses on high armor - Arm 21 with its shield. Its melee weapons are almost as good as the Gladiator's, with the Shield being a bit lower Pow and the Halberd having longer Rng. The Sentry only has 3 Fury though, so it ends up doing a lot less damage. Like all Titans, it has Hard Head, which adds to Slam and Headbutt damage rolls. It also has Shield Guard, which lets that high armor score soak up shooting intended for other models. Instead of the Safeguard animus, the Sentry is naturally immune to knockdown thanks to Steady, and is never moved by a slam thanks to Brace for Impact. It can be made Stationary, however. The Sentry's Animus is Ornery, which is fine, but not as good as your other Animi. If it's hit by a melee attack, it can make an attack of its own against the offending model, but Ornery expires after the first Retalliatory Strike. You might as well cast it if you have the Fury to spare, but consider it a bonus rather than something to plan your turn on. It's worth noting that if a model you cast Mortality on survived your last turn, the Def and Arm penalty stays in play for the whole round, so your Retalliatory Strike will benefit. Xekaar can use this ability, but it's almost always better to save that Fury for transferring damage if the opponent is likely to get him in melee.
Titan Cannoneer - The Cannoneer has close to the same melee potential as the Sentry, but instead of a Shield, it has a cannon. The Siege Gun has a high power, a respectable range, and a 4" AoE, meaning you can kill several troopers with one shot. The Cannoneer doesn't have Rng 2 on any of its melee weapons though, and has significantly less armor and health than the Sentry. The Cannoneer has the Gladiator's Bullheaded rule, and like all Titans, has Hard Head. The Cannoneer's Animus is Far Strike, just like the Cyclops Raider. This lets it shoot targets a massive 16" away with a very powerful gun.
Both the Sentry and the Cannoneer are good choices for your list at this point, even though their roles are very different. If you want a stronger ranged game, take the Cannoneer. The shooting you can lay down between it and the Raider will be impressive, especially bolstered by Mortality. If you want a big, tough front line beast, the Sentry is the way to go. Like the Brute, it will be nearly invincible on Xekaar's Feat turn. It's also a great model to put in front of Xekaar, because it can't be slammed over him. It's also a little cheaper than the Cannoneer, so you'll have more points to spend on other things.
The last thing I'd recommend at 50pts is a solo to provide a little more support. There are 3 options I'd consider: A Paingiver Bloodrunner Master Tormentor, an Extoller Soulward, or a Mortitheurge Willbreaker. All three will be strong with the list you have, but they each have different synergy with the units you've already picked.
Paingiver Bloodrunner Master Tormentor - The Master Tormentor is a fighting solo, who's especially effective against single wound infantry. With Mat 8 and Thresher, it can clear out several infantry models at once, and with Anatomical Precision, it won't need to worry about high Arm or Tough either. Like other Bloodrunners, it's especially fast, with Advance Deploy, Apparition, Pathfinder, and Stealth. Instead of Reposition , it has Sprint. So it only gets the extra movement if it kills something, but it gets to move up to 6" when it does. Finally, it gives all Bloodrunners in its command range +1 to attack rolls, so if you already picked up Bloodrunners, the Master Tormentor is an excellent choice. Even if you didn't, a fast model that's good at taking out clumped up enemy infantry is often a good idea, and the BRMT is very self-sufficient.
Extoller Soulward - The Soulward is mainly a support piece, but it has a nasty gun for enemies who get too close. The Spirit Eye (Skorne is the faction for eye lasers) has Ghost Shot, so it ignores LoS, concealment, and cover. Furthermore, if its target is living or undead, the Extoller add the target's current Str to the damage roll. Against warjacks, the Spirit Eye is pretty forgettable, but against beasts it's one of the most powerful ranged weapons in the game. Like Marketh, it collects Soul Tokens with Soul Taker: Gate Keeper, and it can use these tokens to boost attack and damage rolls. It has two *Actions. Guidance give target model the Eyeless Sight advantage, and its weapons become magical. This lets your ranged models see through cloud effects, and ignore concealment and Stealth. Magic weapons won't come up as much, but it's always good to have them available. Guidance is especially useful if you took a Cannoneer, and want it to be more effective. The other *Action is Spirit Guide, which lets the Soulward move its soul tokens to another model with Soul Taker: Gatekeeper, like Aptimus Marketh.
Mortitheurge Willbreaker - The Willbreaker is a versatile support model who has a little bit to give several model types. It has no weapons, but it does have the Beast Master ability, which lets it force your Warbeasts if Xekaar is too far away, and it has a Magic Ability, letting it cast one of 3 different spells each turn as a *Action. Flesh Hardening gives one of your units Tough, and removes continuous effects from it, which is great for making those Karax or Bloodrunners a little harder to remove while the rest of your army gets into position. Influence can temporarily take control of a warrior model, and have it make one basic attack. It's not usually a good ability, but if your opponent has something really good within range, it can be worth it. Finally, Puppet Master can be used either on friendly or enemy models, though since it has to hit to affect an enemy, it's often better off on friendly models. If allows (or forces) the target to reroll one attack or damage roll. It's main use is probably making Xekaar or Marketh more accurate with spells, but it can help out with anything.
None of the choices for solo is really a bad one, and you'll use all three sometimes depending on what kinds of list you end up liking.
That wraps up my second Journeyman League post. The next one will be the last one. I'll go over the options I think work well to get you to 75pts with Xekaar, and talk about other Warlocks and options to look at as you move forward as a Skorne player. If you have any questions, comments, or disagreements, feel free to let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Update: HERE is a link to the third part of my Journeyman League series: going from 50pts to 75.