Let's take a look at what the battlegroup gives us:
- Beast Master Xekaar
- Titan Gladiator
- Cyclops Raider
- Cyclops Savage
Beast Master Xekaar - In terms of raw stats, he's not amazing. His speed is very good, but everything else is average or below for a Warlock. What this means in terms of using him is: be careful! He doesn't have the Def or Arm to withstand much enemy attention, and doesn't have the Mat or P+S on his weapons to do much damage on the front lines either. Those weapons do have two very nice qualities in Rng 2 and Weapon Master. They serve to make Xekaar a little more respectable in melee, but still not so impressive that sending him in is a good idea. Try to keep him relatively far away from enemy models, and especially, try to make sure that one or more of your models is between him and the enemy at the end of your turn. This is good advice for any Warlock, but it applies to Xekaar more because of his overall worse Def and Arm.
Xekaar also has 3 abilities. Maltreatment is a key one, and is a great way to get an extra point of Fury on Xekaar, or take some Fury off your beasts so they don't Frenzy. You'll probably use Maltreatment every turn after turn 1. Enrage is another great ability, and lets your Warbeasts fight that much harder. Keep in mind that the Strength bonus from Enrage applies to Throw Power Attacks as well as increasing damage. Also keep in mind that since Enrage is a *Action, you won't be able to make any melee attacks on the turn you use it, although you can still cast offensive spells. Finally, Xekaar's whips have Witch Mark, which lets Xekaar automatically hit an opponent with a spell if he hits it with a melee attack. This ability is very tricky to use. It's powerful, because it's much easier to boost a melee attack or two, and then automatically hit with Mortality than it is to boost your attack roll with Mortality, only to have it miss. However, it's dangerous, because as I said before, Xekaar is fragile. In general, the smaller the game you're playing, the safer this ability is to use, because you'll be able to use the rest of your battlegroup to get between Xekaar and any other threats on the table.
The real measure of a 'caster though, is spells and Feat, and I'm happy to report that Xekaar's spell list and Feat are excellent... with one little catch. Let's look at spells.
- Deadweight - This is Xekaar's damage spell. It has average power and short range. If it destroys a living or undead enemy model, then another model within 2" of the destroyed one must forfeit its Normal Move or Combat Action during its next activation. This is very powerful. If your opponent puts a model with just a couple of health left near one of their Warbeasts, kill that model with Deadweight, and take the 'beast out of the fight for a turn. This is most effective on one-wound infantry (which there won't be any of until week 3 at the earliest). It also requires that Xekaar get within 8" of an enemy model.
- Mortality - An incredible spell. This lowers the target's Def and Arm by 2, makes them lose Tough, and prevents them from removing damage. What that means is that any aspects or systems taken out on the target will stay taken out for a round. It also makes things much easier for your army to straight-up kill the target. Like Deadweight, it's an offensive spell, although it has a slightly longer range of 10.
- Psycho Surgery - If anyone in your battlegroup is hurt, it's often worth it to cast this spell. It'll be especially powerful once you start combining it with the Medicate actions of Paingiver Beast Handlers in week 3 and onward. Casting Psycho Surgery is always better than spending Fury to heal unless you're just healing 1 point of damage.
- Pursuit - A deceptively powerful spell. You cast it on an enemy, and then if that model advances during its activation, any model in Xekaar's battlegroup can immediately make a full advance. This is a great spell for backing Xekaar up out of harms way, opening up new lanes of attack, and engaging in all kinds of fun shenanigans. Of Xekaar's spells, this is the one that rewards cunning and creativity the most. Once it's on an enemy model, you can upkeep it until that model dies. However, like Deadweight, it's got a range of just 8 inches.
On to the rest of the box.
Titan Gladiator - The Gladiator is a very solid heavy Warbeast with a lot of offensive power, and a great set of special abilities. It's slow, and easy to hit, but strong and heavily armored. It also has 3 melee weapons and Fury 4, meaning it can make up to 7 melee attacks. That will be more than enough to take out most models in the game, especially if you combine it with Enrage and Mortality from Beast Master Xekaar. There are two other points to take into account. First, the Gladiator's War Gauntlets both have the Open Fist advantage, meaning it has access to Throws as well as Slams, Tramples, and Headbutts. Second, the Gladiator's Tusks have Hard Head, which lets them do full damage on a Headbutt or Slam.
The Gladiator's Animus is Rush, which is a fantastic spell. It helps make up for the Gladiator's crummy Speed, and makes both Cyclops models really fast. It also gives affected models Pathfinder, which helps you deal with rough terrain and obstacles. Any time one of your beasts needs to get through cover, or just needs 2" more movement, put Rush on them. If you're sending your Gladiator into melee, it's often better to have Xekaar cast Rush on the Gladiator, since that means the Gladiator will be able to buy more attacks.
It has three other abilities, all involved with Slam power attacks. Bullheaded means that if the Gladiator would frenzy and charge a model, it will slam that model instead. This is great if the frenzy target is an enemy model, but really, really bad if it's one of your own, since the slammed model is going to be knocked down (usually) and suffer all kinds of penalties as a result. Grand Slam has two main effects. You don't need to Force the Gladiator to make a Slam power attack, which is really neat, and the model slammed is moved 2" further, usually d6+2. That makes slamming one model over another much more reliable, as even a roll of 1 will get you a 3" slam.
Follow Up is the most interesting of the Gladiator's abilities, and means that if the model you slammed survives the experience, the Gladiator can move an equal distance directly toward it. If that move gets the Gladiator to its original target, it can start using it's Fury to buy melee attacks, which will automatically hit if the target is knocked down. A slammed model also has a tendency to knock down everything in its path, meaning that when the Gladiator follows up, it might not get all the way to the model it originally slammed. Far from being a bad thing, this opens up new models to automatically hitting melee attacks. If you can manage to slam a Warjack or Warbeast across your opponent's 'caster, your Gladiator can follow up to the knocked down 'caster, and usually finish the game. This is usually pretty hard to set up, since opponents will tend to see it coming. However, if you have Pursuit on an enemy model, you can use it to move your Gladiator into a better position to slam.
Cyclops Raider - The Raider is a decent light beast whose main job is to shoot. Its stats make it fairly resilient, though not amazing, and its weapons let it deal solid damage at range and modest damage in melee. Its Punching Spike has the Open Fist advantage, meaning that it has access to Throws. Often, a Throw or Headbutt is a good use of its Fury if it ends up in melee. Those will knock the target down for your other models to finish off. The Raider also has two abilities with its ranged weapon, the Heavy Reiver. Arcane Precision means that if the Raider aims, it will ignore Stealth. A lot of very powerful solos and several Warcasters have Stealth, which means the Raider is a good model for taking them out at range. The Heavy Reiver also has Burst Fire, which adds to its damage against medium and large based models. The Raider's Animus is Far Strike, which it can use to get 4" of range. It's a great ability, since it lets you hit targets from further away, and makes aiming a lot easier against closer enemies. Xekaar cannot use this Animus, since he doesn't have a ranged weapon.
Cyclops Savage - The Savage is another decent light beast with solid stats. Unlike the Raider, its job is to fight in melee. Its weapon is good for a light Warbeast, with Rng 2 and a mid-range P+S. Rng 2 combined with Spd 6 make the Savage a very fast offensive piece. It's good to use that speed to hit the enemy first, and make them deal with the Savage while Xekaar and your Gladiator set up to finish them off. With Enrage and Mortality, the Savage is capable of killing some of the less armored heavies in the game, and can definitely finish most lights and 'casters. With Xekaar's Feat, the Savage is actually pretty likely to survive the enemy's counterattack. Use your Savage aggressively, and don't be afraid to sacrifice it for the glory of the Empire, but always make sure its backed up by the rest of your list. The Savage has just one ability besides its Animus: Future Sight, which lets it boost attack and damage rolls after rolling. This is a really useful ability that makes the Savage much more efficient. Its Animus, Prescience, grants target model Future Sight. This is fantastic to throw on the Gladiator if it doesn't need Rush to get where it's going, or for Xekaar, who will often be making magic attacks that he'd rather not boost if he doesn't need to.
Using these pieces together is what will make games interesting, and using them together well is what will bring you victory. My general opinion is that the best way to learn all the tricks and pitfalls of WarmaHordes is to play it, as often as you can, against a bunch of different opponents of all factions and skill levels. However, I'll jot down a couple more pointers before I sign off. A lot of it will be stuff I've said before that bears repeating.
1) Keep Xekaar safe. Always know how far away from the opponent you need to be to do what you need to, and put Xekaar right at the furthest from the enemy he can possibly get. This is especially true for the early game, when your opponent has more at their disposal that can hurt Xekaar. Later, it will be ok to send Xekaar in to get his whips dirty, and enemy models will get close to Xekaar no matter what you do, so sometimes you'll have to use his attacks to get him out of a pinch. Block access to Xekaar with your other models, but be aware that a clever opponent will try to Slam and Throw your models into Xekaar to knock him down. A knocked down Xekaar will soon be a dead Xekaar.
2) Mortality will be your first and best tool in many situations. It's often better to put Mortality on something, and then kill it, than it is to use Deadweight or Pursuit. Mortality also has 2" more range than the other spells, which is crucial for keeping him safe. The main situation you'll want deadweight over Mortality is if a model with just a couple hit points left is next to another (generally more important) enemy model, and you don't want to send something in to kill that more important model. If you can kill the lesser model with Deadweight, you can keep the more important model off your back for a turn. The main situation you'll want Pursuit over Mortality is similar. If you can't or don't want to send a model in to kill a particular enemy, tagging that model with Pursuit can help keep your battlegroup from it, or open up other positioning options when it moves.
3) Timing and executing your attack is not always easy, but Xekaar's Feat makes it a lot easier. Your ideal line of attack is probably to put Mortality on your opponent's lead model with Xekaar, have him Enrage your Cyclops Savage, and use his Feat. Then shoot the forward model with the Raider, and kill it off with the Savage. Position the Gladiator so that it has a good chance to hit your opponents most valuable models next turn. If all goes well, your opponent's turn will be a bust, and you'll be able to crush them utterly on your next turn. However, if your opponent is faster than you or won't let you get to them with your Savage first, it's great to use Xekaar's Feat, then run forward with everything to make sure it's all in range to do damage next turn. Your opponent likely won't be able to do much damage (at least, not at the 0pt level), so you can land the first hard hit.
4) Don't forget power attacks! Throws, slams, and headbutts are some of the best and most powerful uses of your Warbeasts attacks that you have. If you knock down your opponent's 'caster, they become that much easier to kill. Your Gladiator has access to the full arsenal of power attacks, and is especially good at slams. The Raider has an open fist, and using throw with it has won me several games. Both light beasts can also do slams and headbutts, and either one of those could win you the game.
5) Have fun, and try not to be frustrated too easily. Warmachine is a complicated game, and more experienced players have a huge advantage over newer players. Some of the synergies, even at the starter level, are difficult to deal with and may take you some time to figure out. You're a Tyrant. Pain and adversity are nothing more than a whetstone for your will to conquer and subjugate all before you!
My next installment will talk about building your army up to 50pts over the course of a journeyman league, and which warlocks make sense to switch to if you want to switch warlocks.
Thanks for reading!
Update: HERE is the link to part 2, Building from the Battlegroup