Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Warmachine 101 – The Factions: Cryx

Hello everyone!

After much hooplah and generally crossed wires in the grand communications tool that is the internets, we've finally gotten the next installment of the Warmachine 101 series ready to go, written by long-time commenter / first-time contributor, Von! Despite the capricious machinations of gravity and fragile technology, Von put together an amazing look at the evil zombie pirates of Warmachine, the Cryx! So, without further ado...

(Author's Note: this is actually the second time I've written this article, the first one being eaten in an embarrassing accident involving a portable hard drive that apparently couldn't stand up to a four inch drop onto a soft carpet. The delay in replacing it is entirely down to my current obsession with actually gaming instead of blogging about it, but I've managed to guilt-trip myself into a rewrite. Here goes nothing...)


They think they have our measure. For centuries, they have feared us, but have known us only as raiders, shadows in the night. No more. We have undermined their armies and plundered their secrets, ravaged their navies and embedded ourselves in the heart of their lands - yet this is not our goal. We unleash total war against the truly living, a war that will see all things united in blight and death - yet this is not our goal. When all the world is Cryx, save for the treacherous progeny of our Dragonfather, we shall help him hunt them down and become the god he once was, reigning over a world reformed in his dark image – a world of torment eternal, and death defied!

The bad guy's bad guys, Cryx are a strange pile-up of 'evil steampunk' concepts: soul-powered death robots, cyborg zombies (frequently full of corrosive gunk and inclined to spray it hither and yon), huge lumbering mutants and ladies with whips, horns and high heels, united beneath a dragon-god so old and evil that the very land is distorted by his continued presence upon it. Oh yeah, and they're all pirates. It probably doesn't make sense if you think about it; more than any other Warmachine faction, Cryx operates on the Rule of Cool.


Thanks to ResurrectioN of the PP forums!
Cryxian tactics are best exemplified by what I like to call the Necromancy Triangle, and operate on three principles: reduce the capacity of the opponent to effectively defeat you; reuse the same abilities, spells and models to devastating effect; and reanimate the fallen of both sides to serve again in death.

Reduction comes in the form of Cryx's arsenal of debuffs and positioning tricks, which are still feared and loathed by Warmachine players across the community. Cryx have more ways to reduce the ARM and DEF stats of enemy pieces than any other faction, and some especially cruel techniques for limiting the options those pieces have available during their own activations (whether that be through raw debuffing of SPD, MAT and RAT, effects which deny movement or action and cannot be Shaken in the same way as Knockdown or Stun, or making their pieces immune to free strikes or non-magical attacks).

Reuse involves taking advantage of the low cost of many Cryx pieces, while acknowledging their status as priority targets. A Cryxian army is unlikely to field a single Brute Thrall, but it may field three; a single arc node can be shut down, but four provides sufficient redundancy for one or two to be lost or sacrificed. Cryx also have an exceptional ability to 'spam' the same ability over and over again, thanks to the low cost of many Cryxian offensive spells, the presence of numerous models which accumulate soul tokens and turn them into focus for more casts or attacks, and some excellent support solos which duplicate the effects found in their warcaster's spell lists.

Reanimation, meanwhile, revolves around collecting the bodies of the fallen instead of their souls. Many Cryxian units have access to Death Toll and can turn casualties inflicted on single-wound units into fresh (well, fresh-ish) members of their own ranks. The Necrosurgeon goes a step further and can hoard friendly corpses for future reanimation into Cryxian line infantry, then switch to collecting those of the enemy when the distance is closed. Finally, Cryx have several models which interact with destroyed enemy warjacks – stealing their weapons at the point of destruction, consuming them to repair damage, or rebuilding them as autonomous Cryx 'jacks or explosive Scrap Thralls.

The faction also has an affinity for Corrosion, with many Cryxian attacks and spells either delivering the continuous effect (and thus spelling death to single wound infantry sixty-six per cent of the time) or being classified as the damage type (which can lead to interesting 'trump' situations as Immunities become more common). You can't fit that on the triangle, though... maybe it should have a big green blob in the middle?

The Units

Cryxian units come in two basic varieties. You have the undead ones, who are Fearless, don't give away Soul Tokens, pack decent-to-terrifying damage potential, and often restore their numbers through the principles of reanimation, but who rejoice in slightly-below-par MAT and CMD scores, and tend to die easily on account of their single wounds and mediocre-to-decent DEF or ARM. Living Cryxian infantry tend to have more variety (medium bases, ranged attacks, greater speed) and be slightly to significantly tougher and more capable warriors (better stats and/or more wounds), but trade off a bit in the damage department (less Weapon Masters and Dark Shrouds and more situational or one-off abilities like Power Swell). All Cryxian infantry are fairly fragile; even the ones with decent DEF and ARM don't have access to things like Defender's Ward or Shield Wall to keep them going, instead relying on 'tricksy' solutions like immunity to particular damage types or deterrents such as Vengeance.

Unit of Note: Mechanithralls

The basic, ordinary Cryxian infantry; their MAT is poor, their DEF and ARM are average, and they only have melee attacks. What's so scary about them? For starters, they pack a wallop – with two P+S11 attacks or one P+S15 attack available, they'll make the opponent take notice when they do take a hit. For the main course, they're cheap – abhorrently cheap, in fact, at five points for a unit of ten, and that main course comes with all the trimmings in the form of a boss-hard unit attachment (a big, multi-wound, harder-hitting version in the form of the Brute Thrall) and a support unit that ensures their casualties don't stay down and their Brutes don't stay wounded (the Necrosurgeon) at a bargain total cost of ten points. For pudding – delicious, blighted, evil pudding, like radioactive Christmas cake – they inhabit a faction which has so many ways to help them bypass terrain (Ghost Walk) or enemy models they don't want to fight (Curse of Shadows) and debuff their preferred target's statistics to the point where they can actually hit the high DEF and damage the high ARM (Crippling Grasp, Parasite, Black Spot, Curse of Shadows again...). Bargain. I love 'em.

Unit to Avoid (at first): Cephalyx Mind Slaver and Drudges

At first glance, Drudges look like a decent alternative to the Mechanithralls – instead of the Mechanithralls' flexibility of attacks, they have one P+S13 with Reach, and instead of the Mechanithrall's Undead status, they have Tough and ordinary Fearless. The full unit and the support unit set you back ten points. They're single wound melee infantry that pack a wallop, especially with the plethora of debuffs available, they reanimate themselves through Death Toll and their support unit of choice, the Cephalyx Overlords even bring a nasty spray attack with Eyeless Sight to go. “So what's wrong with them, Von?” I hear you cry, and the answer is “the counter-intuitive floaty freak in charge of them.” The Mind Slaver unit leader isn't especially tough, and if he dies, the unit's CMD drops to 4, taking with it their formation radius, tabletop footprint and threat range. He has Sacrificial Pawn to keep him alive, so if you keep him back in the unit he might survive for a while – but no, he has Death Toll on his melee attacks, so you'll want to stick him right into combat if you want to reanimate anyone, and he lacks any way to look after himself when he's in there. Alternatively, you could always put the Overlords into combat and make more Drudges, but then you're passing on that superb spray and the control options afforded by Influence. Adding insult to injury, they have to reach melee in order to bring back any casualties; the Necrosurgeon's ability to scoop up Mechanithralls who get shot down on the way in and put them back on their feet tips her and her Thrall party pack over the edge and into clear superiority. You can get Death Toll on better units than these without the opportunity cost of fighting melee with Overlords, and they're outclassed as chaff. One for the niche market.

The Solos

I love Cryx solos. The faction is spoiled for choice, especially when it comes to excellent two point options. I can break these down into three categories. The first is the Scary Character From Unit X – a souped-up member of a particular unit type who affords an excellent buff or two to that unit type and is a scary combatant in their own right. Bane Lord Tartarus is a classic – able to increase the threat range and attack rolls of friendly Banes, and a Weapon Master with Thresher in his own right (oh, and he has Death Toll, just to add insult to injury).

The second is the cheap support piece, who usually increases the efficiency of the Cryx army by either re-using a signature spell of the warcaster's, often for reduced or nonexistent cost, or by duplicating spell effects in other ways, amounting to the same thing. The Skarlock, for instance, allows you to re-use Ghost Walk to move two units through terrain, or re-use Scything Touch to make two units hit harder in melee, or re-use... you get the idea.

The third is the gun on legs; Pistol Wraiths and Bloat Thralls are the classic example, and I'm putting the Revenant Cannon in this category even if it's technically a unit, since it fulfils the same sort of role. Most of your shooting will be lurking in this category – and by the way, don't think that a preponderance of melee attacks on your troops and excellent access to power attacks on your 'jacks means you can get away without guns. Too many Cryx armies fall down when their spellcasting is denied to them and the field is controlled too well for them to reach melee; your hard counter to that comes in the excellent and tricky mid-range shooting afforded by your solos, many of whom don't need such extensive debuffing to do their job as might be thought. Plenty of factions outrange the Cryx, but the right build makes it very hard to outshoot them.

Solo of Note: Warwitch Siren

Oh dear sweet Toruk, the Siren. She does it all. She's fast, she's Stealthy, she casts Venom (re-use!), she assigns focus to friendly 'jacks (that one focus point to send an arc node running forward can make the difference between two Venoms and three from its controlling warcaster), she has Seduction (turn a hard target around for shots in the back), and in a pinch she can smack you with her sword to debuff your DEF and root you in place for a turn with no Shake Effect possible. Two points of gorgeous shadowy brilliance.

Solo to Avoid (at first): Captain Rengrave

It makes me sad, because his model's cool and he does have some nice abilities; a hand cannon with Ghost Shot, a buff to Revenant Crew models that mean they might actually be able to hit things as long as they can see the Cap'n's trying too, and of course he has Death Toll (mmm, Death Toll). Really, he's out for the same reason the Drudges are out; he's just a bit counter-intuitive, since when the Revenants are in melee (the area where they really need the help) their line of sight to him will be limited. Unlike the other Scary Character From Unit X solos, he doesn't make a normally effective unit terrifying – he makes a unit whose primary strength is being a bit of a nuisance to kill into one that might accomplish something else in a slightly sub-optimal way. I do think there's a place for him, in a build that tries to make the most of the various Revenant units, but that's not something I'd recommend to the Cryxian novices out there.

The Warjacks

Cryxian warjacks are an oddity. The slowest of them move at the same pace as heavies from other factions, they tend to have better-than-average MAT and competent RAT, and they rejoice in average-at-worst-and-amazing-at-best DEF scores. However, and this is a big however, the absolute toughest of the lot is still lighter in the ARM department than a base-line Khadoran heavy, and most of the rest are either average for their size or worse. This is compounded not only by the limited access to ARM buffs, but also by a generally appalling set of damage grids. Cryx warjacks are the original glass cannons of Warmachine – they avoid destruction not by being tough, but by cheating, whether that's through Stealth, going Ghostly and hiding in terrain, burrowing under the battlefield or using extra moves to dodge out of enemies' threat range.

The bonejacks – that's 'light warjack' to people who don't feel the need to give everything a more evil name on principle – come in two varieties. There's the Deathripper chassis, or 'arc node' as they're often called (a misnomer; the Defiler has a decent gun, and the Ripjaw has a very nice and flexible melee weapon with a couple of good uses), and then there's the weird ones like the Stalker, Helldiver and Cankerworm which are all tricksy melee pieces which either set up or execute attack runs against a single key target.

The helljacks – I'm sorry, they try too hard sometimes, it's not as if the Iron Kingdoms even have a Hell – are similarly split down the middle. One chassis comprises the mighty Deathjack and its various imitators, most of which sport at least one Open Fist and which tend to enjoy using them. The other is the Leviathan or 'crab' chassis, an oddity for Cryx in that it has the same SPD, DEF and ARM stats as another faction's heavy, and tends to be more the 'prowl around at range and shoot things' type. Neither variant is any slouch in combat, mind, but since you've paid for their guns, you might as well concentrate on them.

Warjack of Note: Reaper

Resisting the urge to talk about any of the character' jacks here – for those who've read the Skorne 101 post, the Deathjack is the Molik Karn of Warmachine, in that many Cryx players saw it was the best, bought it straight away and now don't know how to use anything else and are likely to call you a moron if you try it yourself. Instead, I'm going to bang on about an under-appreciated gem called the Reaper. I love the Reaper, both as a poster child for the benefits Mark II has brought to warjacks and as a vicious control and assassination piece. You see, what the Reaper does is prang a target with its harpoon, haul that target into melee range, and then proceed to whack it repeatedly with P+S16 auto-hits until it falls down dead. As well as hauling 'jacks and 'beasts out of their controller's control zones, it can also pull things out of areas they need to occupy to win scenarios, and if you can wedge it deep enough into your enemy's army, you might even get to drag and kill a 'caster. The only problem with it, really, is that it has to hit and damage its target with the harpoon in order to drag it, and it still needs to pay for its extra attacks. While that can be focus well spent, you need to keep an eye on the opportunity costs and the scenario goals before you load up with three points and go to town.

Warjack to Avoid (at first): Corruptor

The Corruptor is the other Slayer variant that has a gun, and the thing is, there's nothing exactly wrong with it. It's Corrosion-proof, which means you can happily bung some of your own spells and shots at it, knowing that it won't be damaged but the enemies surrounding it will. Its weapons are entirely adequate, and it has three nifty little special abilities to choose from – making an enemy explode, turning them into a sort of temporary arc node (assuming that that enemy model has line of sight to anything good and is within your warcaster's control range, which can be a bit dicey) and then killing them at the end of the turn, or restoring lost damage. It's not bad. It's just a bit expensive, a bit strange, and much less straightforward in its applications than any of the other options. Stick some magnets in your plastic Slayer kit, learn with the simple pieces, and if you want to try the Corruptor later on, go nuts; you'll have the parts.

The Warcasters

We come to it at last – the moustache-twirling supervillains of the Iron Kingdoms (not that any of them have moustaches, but that's a trifling detail). Most of them have a weighty and well-endowed FOC7 to play around with – honourable exceptions to combat mincing machines Skarre and Terminus at 6 and spellslingers the Witch Coven at 9. Most are fairly well defended, with either solid-if-unspectacular DEF and ARM, some nice defensive abilities like Stealth, Admonition, Sacrificial Pawn and in one case Incorporeal on every second turn, or both. Their spells, as I hope you've gathered by now, tend towards either offensive (direct damage and debuffs) or support (movement advantages with the occasional extra attack or damage buff thrown in). Defensive buffs are frankly rare, and tend to appear as part of another effect (with an appropriate jack-up in cost) rather than as cheap, self-contained entities. Most of the feats are extensions of signature abilities that cover larger areas to enable carnage on a grand scale, as is the case with many warcasters, although three of them are notable for their reanimation of Cryx models (well, two of them are; one of them just plonks six free Bane Thralls on the board, which can break a small game wide open).

Warcaster of Note: Skarre Ravenmane, Queen of the Broken Coast

One of Cryx's premier tournament warcasters, Skarre really does do it all. She's got the DEF debuff and force multiplier (Black Spot), she's got the rare Cryxian ARM buff (Death Ward), she's got the solid defensive stats and a spell to keep her from harm's way (Admonition). She's got the melee power (three weapons, able to achieve four-die damage swings on every attack with her primary weapon, at the bargain price of a focus point and a wound, and a neat little mini-slam on her secondary) and the hand cannon with acceptable RAT. She's got the passive battlegroup ability that improves her efficiency and that of every warjack she controls (boosting after you've seen the initial rolls is huge) and the passive infantry buff (making Satyxis Fearless and removing one of their few weaknesses). She's got FOC7 and an excellent offensive spell (Blood Rain); she's got the opportunity for extra movement (Perdition; just remember that you have to move your warjack directly towards the nearest enemy and don't inadvertently cheat like I've been doing for months). To top it all off, she's got a feat that's a royal pain in the pirate booty, either preventing your models from being targeted or enemy models from doing any targeting (watch out for damage rolls that occur without targeting, like Covering Fire or the Old Witch's feat). She has only two weaknesses. Firstly, she trades wounds for her feat, for upkeep spells and for damage, meaning that she's going to get hurt and can often soften herself up for the enemy's kill if you're not careful. Secondly, she's such a toolbox that it's easy to try and take advantage of everything and end up building a bad list. That's basically it. She's got it all. No wonder she trashed the Khadoran navy.

Warcaster to Avoid (at first): Lich Lord Asphyxious

Which makes me sad, because after Skarre, he's probably my favourite. The thing is, he's both unforgiving and limiting. He only runs at optimum efficiency if he throws his melee weapon away every turn to collect souls with it, which means you need something to screen his medium-based backside with and something else that's guaranteed to kill models under his Soul Reaper template and not either claim them for itself or give them away to closer models like Reclaimers or Ancestral Guardians. He absolutely demands at least ten very hard-hitting melee infantry for his feat (which resurrects them as Incorporeal solos and lets them go for one last turn), but he has no way to help them hit anything, which limits you to choosing the ones who have the MAT to get the job done themselves or access to a Scary Character From Unit X to help them (which basically means Banes or Bloodgorgers, since Satyxis don't pack much punch when they're not in a unit and layered in buffs from their Officers, and nothing else has the hitting power you need to make the feat pay off). Since he won't be getting stuck in himself and likes his focus for spells, he needs a self-sufficient heavy to do his fighting for him; he likes arc nodes, but can't guarantee the focus needed to make use of lots, so it's useful to build that in with another option. Lich Lord Asphyxious lists write themselves, and yet they have too many bad matchups (anyone who can deny him souls and bypass killing his troops, basically). Sad, really.

The Mercs

Something which I haven't always seen Dis and company attempt, but which I think is worthy of a go, since Mercenaries are part and parcel of the Iron Kingdoms, and have been accepted as such in a way which puts certain other player bases to shame.

Cryx are not exactly awash with mercenary options – for some reason people are a bit funny about working alongside an army of undead/mutant monstrosities who are out to destroy everything the rest of the world holds dear for reasons which make only the barest amount of sense – but those they do have bring a lot to the table. They're particularly fond of models which either bring debuffs (again, think about re-use – a cumulative -4 DEF, -5 ARM or forfeiting both movement and action from two different and unshakeable effects is frankly superb) or don't need them (being possessed of sufficient MAT and RAT scores to qualify as self-sufficient). Infantry with guns are particularly prized, since most Cryxian line troops can't shoot for toffee, and I have a certain curiosity regarding the two Minion Warlocks Cryx can field (it may be mostly to do with the image of a gatorman in a Baron Samedi costume, but hush!) as similarly self-sufficient single-point damage deliverers.

Mercenary of Note: Gorman di Wulfe

Long characterised as a Cryx model who happened to work for other factions, Gorman has Stealth and cloud effects to keep him alive, and can operate just as a means of blocking line of sight; but that's really under-valuing him, considering what else he's capable of. He can throw out a -4 ARM debuff, a debuff to just about everything else that also costs the target half its activation, or a Corrosive AOE of respectable POW. Gorman tends to be something of a one-shot, since he's so fragile and has such short range on his grenades that he'll probably get up front, throw one and be immediately squished in reprisal, but if that one grenade takes a key target out of the game, either for one key turn or more or less permanently, he's worth it.

Mercenary to Avoid: Steelhead Halberdiers

Cryx have a wealth of single wound melee infantry for cheap and these lads aren't anything special. Can't even have their souls harvested any more (stupid Mark II). I wouldn't even bother taking them as a force multiplier for Steelhead Cavalry, since that's an option so expensive that it was basically made for pure Mercenary players. The only Steelheads I want to see on my island are the ones with Combined Ranged Attack, thanks.

Sample Army

Army: eSkarre Sample
Type: Skirmish (1 caster, 35pts)
Points: 35
Skarre, Queen of the Broken Coast
* Ripjaw
* Ripjaw
* Harrower
* Reaper
Mechanithralls (Leader and 9 Grunts)
* 3 Brute Thrall
Necrosurgeon & 3 Stitch Thralls
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist
Warwitch Siren

The goal with this army is to have a Death Warded Harrower move upfield with Perdition and rip chunks out of whatever it can reach, ideally building up a supply of Soul Tokens. As well as providing a platform for Admonition and Black Spot to be arced around, the Ripjaws can also lock down models for the Mechanithralls to deal with, or hold them in place for a turn while the Reaper heads their way to deal with them. The Mechanithralls clutter up the middle of the board, thump anything that comes near them (Black Spot on their target is golden) and screen Skarre, while the Necrosurgeon collects their corpses and also administers her Ministrations to Skarre on the feat turn, restoring the wounds you know Skarre is going to lose. Your assassination threats are Reaper drag-and-drops, Ghost Shots from the Harrower, or a good pummelling from Skarre herself, and Gorman is there either to drop the ARM of something you can't kill, or to temporarily neutralise something you can't hit or kill. He might even live long enough to throw two grenades if Skarre's there to look after him with her feat, which is also a nice get-out-of-jail-free card if it looks like you're going to lose a helljack.

It might go wrong, of course, but you'll have to live with it. Be prepared to suffer in silence as a Cryx player. You're not allowed to grouse after a bad game, or to pass judgment on anyone else's uber-doom special rules, or to point out how limited your mercenary options are, or that you still don't have a 'jack marshal or proper warcaster attachment. Bemoaning your lack of RNG and SPD buffs will likewise fall on deaf ears, as will any mention of your mediocre ARM or insulting damage grids. You see, you play 'that dirty cheating faction', and all the careful checks and balances in the world are not going to reduce your opponent's horror as one Bile Thrall purges an ill-deployed infantry squad off the board or those Incorporeal Soulhunters ride through his army to messily eviscerate the warcaster who thought she was safe behind. Ignore the tears – they say you can't spell 'Cryx' without 'cry' for a reason – and remember, always remember these words.

“You ignored the rules of engagement – in a fair fight I'd kill you!”

“Well, that's not much incentive for me to fight fair, is it?”


Thanks to Von for a great primer on the foul undead of Warmachine! Do you see a lot of Cryxians on the game table in your neck of the woods? Do you shake in your boots at the thought of fighting the shambling, shadowy horde, or scoff at their paltry defenses?


  1. You posted the whole thing! I'm, umm, pleasantly surprised at that. Kudos to anyone who read all that, and I hope you enjoyed the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing.

    Here's to the future. :D

  2. Excellent write up Von! I have always been a little iffy on Cryx but this has helped put them in a more understandable light for me. Thanks!

    I hope the OW and Dis let you write some more articles in the future.

  3. Interesting. I just got into the Cryx (and Warmachine). Thanks for the post!

  4. Also, shouldn't this be in the New Player 101 section up at the top, along with all the others that are already there?

  5. Interesting, I'm new to the game but something in my bones (pun intended) tells me I'll be playing Gaspy in the future. Currently deciding which one but I've a strong feeling that it's gonna be eGaspy.

    Any tips for a newbie who wants to learn how to play the one caster you said to avoid at first? (So far I've gotten a bit of advice from vets in my area and some Battle College reading.)