First son of the Motherland, Vladimir Tzepesci is the last of an ancient bloodline sworn to serve the nation of Khador. Known as the Dark Prince, sinister rumors surround the Umbrian and his affairs. At best, Vladimir is considered a patriotic defender of his people; at worst he is condemned as a relic of a bygone era, tainted by infernal sorcery and doomed to fall to darkness.
Though noble by blood, Vladimir's place is not in court, but on the battlefield. Here, he excels in the art of war, and few can match his martial prowess. As a leader of men, he is second only to Supreme Kommandant Irusk. To his enemies, he is a terror, and to the people of Khador a dark sentinel, always watching over the Motherland.
Vladimir Tzepesci, Dark Prince of Umbrey, also known simply as "Vlad" or "pVlad" is one of the three original Khadoran Warcasters presented in Warmachine: Prime. In keeping with the reputation of 'casters that made their debut in this book, Vlad is a powerhouse. Aggressive play suits him well, and what he lacks in subtlety he more than makes up for in depth and power.
Play-Style & Theme
Like most Khadoran 'casters, Vlad works best with an infantry-heavy force. Thematically, Vlad can best be described as one who leads by inspiration and example. He can significantly enhance the performance of every faction model in his army.
Vlad is much more than a support-caster, though; he is also quite capable of getting the job done himself. The common witticism is that when one faces Vlad, one must fight two armies - the main force, and Vlad himself
Statline, Spells & Feat
Vlad's basic statline is uniformly strong. He lacks a ranged weapon, but makes up for this by having two initial melee attacks. Of course, Vlad's basic stats are almost an academic curiosity, as whenever it matters he should be under the effect of Blood of Kings.
Vlad has two incredible spells, two very good spells and one decent spell. Blood of Kings and Signs & Portents are excellent, if costly. Vlad should be casting one or the other every turn of the game. Typically, Vlad will be casting Signs & Portents every turn until the turn after he Feats. If the Feat Turn is not the "win" turn, then Vlad will commence casting Blood of Kings.
Windwall and Boundless Charge are great utility spells. Windwall is a huge boon when facing a ranged-heavy force, however one must be mindful that this spell does not deflect spells or magical attacks, nor does it prevent blast damage. Windwall is dominant against the Trollblood Burrower list, but not so great when facing Gun Mages or Kara Sloan.
Boundless Charge helps get Vlad's 'jacks into the fray but it is a deceptively expensive spell. It overlaps with Vlad's feat to the extent that it permits a free charge, and it also overlaps with Drago's inherent ability to charge for free (and Vlad loves to take Drago). This means that ultimately, you are paying 2 Focus for an additional 2" of charge movement and Pathfinder. This is a great value IF you need both of these buffs, but if you're casting Boundless Charge solely for the extra distance or just for Pathfinder, it loses some lustre. One nice thing about Boundless Charge is that Vlad can cast it on himself. Combined with Blood of Kings it gives him a 12.5" threat range. Of course, it leaves him with a paltry 1 Focus, but if you need to finish something off (preferably a Warcaster/Warlock), sometimes that's all you need.
Razor Wind provides a situationally useful magic attack, but should not be relied upon to fill this niche in a Khador army. Razor Wind is perhaps best when cast for free as a result of Blood Boon.
Vlad's Feat, Forced March, is not as flashy or overtly powerful as some, but it is quite strong. It affords Vlad one turn of high-performance from the warjacks in his battlegroup by doubling their base speed and allowing a charge or slam without the need to spend Focus. This mitigates the weaknesses of Khador 'jacks, namely their ponderous gait and hungry cortexes. When used correctly, can be employed in an assassination run, or to preemptively capture objectives in scenario play.
Vlad's primary strength lies in his incredible buff spells. Signs & Portents increases accuracy and damage output for Vlad's entire army, provided they are within his generous Control Area. Several Khadoran models can get a great deal of mileage out of this spell. Units with Spray attacks such as Greylords and Winterguard (with Officer & Standard Unit Attachment) gain the benefit for every target under the template. The same goes for models with AOE attacks; the Spriggan's explosive grenades become legitimately dangerous and the Winterguard Mortar becomes downright terrifying. Perhaps best of all, as a non-targeted CTRL area effect, Signs & Portents can effect models with spell ward, such as Doomreavers and Fenris.
Blood of Kings allows Vlad to function as a super-solo, upping his stats to stratospheric levels. Under the effects of this spell, Vlad can easily hit and significantly damage most anything in the game. Additionally, his increased DEF and ARM make him very hard to hit, let alone hurt, allowing Vlad to take risks that would be suicidal for other battlegroup controllers. A word of caution, though; it is all to easy to get cocky with Blood of Kings. Vlad is still vulnerable to high-power attacks, such as those from Warjacks/Warbeasts, and if he can be knocked down, he will be hit automatically. A favored tactic against Vlad is to slam a model into/though him, knocking him down, then proceeding to beat him to death.
Vlad's Feat is somewhat underwhelming. While it is almost always able to be used to good advantage, it's a far cry from Strakhov's over-the-top Feat, and lacks the brutal impact of a Feat like the Butcher's or Karchev. Vlad is not a warcaster who is defined by his Feat.
A lack of inherent crowd-control is Vlad's main legitimate weakness. He has no tools for dealing with swarms of infantry on his own. He will rely on the rest of his army for this task, and if they fail at it, Vlad will be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
Warjacks with reach, namely Beast-09 and the Spriggan, are solid choices for Vlad. They have the greatest threat-range under his feat. Beast-09 benefits from Signs & Portents as it increases the chance of a critical hit, while the Spriggan's Bulldoze ability can clear a mighty swath on Vlad's feat turn.
Drago is also a good choice with Vlad. He's relatively cheap, has a good MAT, and has built in Signs & Portents in the form of his Affinity with Vlad (which also prevents Drago from blowing up if you don't want him to). Drago can be fun and especially effective if you want to run Vlad up closer to the front of the fray. On his Feat turn, Vlad can cast Blood of Kings and Boundless charge on himself and charge in right alongside Drago.
When selecting units for a Vlad army, a key consideration is maximizing the potential of Signs & Portents. While it's great to give Kayazy that extra little edge, they're already MAT 9, P+S 12 while benefiting from Gang. Units that generate multiple attack and/or damage rolls per model get a lot more mileage out of Signs & Portents.
Iron Fang Pikemen are a good choice, as they provide a solid meat-shield for Vlad to advance behind and have a potent melee attack of their own. They benefit from Signs & Portents by having an increased chance to hit without needing to combine their melee attacks, and additionally they have a better chance to trigger the Critical Knock-Down effect of their pikes.
Greylord Ternion are another wonderful choice as their Spray attacks can affect multiple models at once. That little extra bit of insurance when casting Ice Cage is a boon as well, helping stack the odds in favor of scoring hits by all three members of the Ternion, resulting in the target becoming stationary.
Winterguard Mortar Crew benefit from Signs & Portents by being able to score direct hits more often, but moreover, the effect of Signs & Portents on the already respectable blast-damage from the mortar makes it threaten higher ARM models that would usually shrug off a POW 8.
The Koldun Lord benefits from Signs & Portents in the same way as his Ternion brethren, but his real value to Vlad is the ability to provide Focus to 'jacks via the Power Booster ability. Since any given turn, Vlad will only have 3 Focus to play with, and will likely want to cast Boundless Charge (or camp to boost his ARM), the Koldun Lord helps lighten the burden.
Signs & Portents helps make the Man-o-War Drakhun closer to the terror he once was by upping his damage output and increasing the chance for a crit on his impact attacks. Moreover, though, Boundless Charge is a great utility for this slower-than-average cavalry model, and the granted Pathfinder opens up a lot of threat vectors for this potent solo.
The Warjack alpha-strike is Vlad's go-to tactic, and really, there's not much the enemy can do about it save for preemptively Feating themselves. Beast-09 or a Spriggan with Boundless Charge under Vlad's Feat has a threat range of 15", among the highest in the game. The only thing to be careful with when launching this long-range tac-nuke is to make sure the charging 'jack doesn't end up outside of Vlad's control area, as it won't benefit from Signs & Portents if it strays too far.
Alternatively, Vlad can load up on ranged options, such as the Destroyer, the Behemoth, Widowmakers, Winterguard Rifle Corps and Mortars, sit back and run a gunline. This will chew apart an enemy force as it closes.
Regardless of which approach you take, it is important to keep some models between Vlad and the enemy to block LOS. Even with Blood of Kings up, there are several warcasters who can still easily hit him with spells (Witch Coven, Harbinger, Epic Haley w/Squire), and unless Vlad's also cast Windwall, he'll be vulnerable to CRAs.
1. Vlad, Surrounded by Doomreavers, casting Wind Wall.
I call this one the Ring of Denial. Basically, you create a grouping of models that cannot be targeted by spells and against whom ranged attacks automatically miss.
The "Ring of Denial" can be fun, though it's not quite as potent as it may first appear. Models affected by Wind Wall can still be targeted by ranged attacks, so they are still vulnerable to deviating AOEs. Beyond that, many models across every faction now possess magical ranged attacks, which also bypass Wind Wall.
If you are aware of these limitations and work to neutralize potential threats before committing the Ring of Denial, it can be dominant. Doomreavers are a potent threat and can make for a scary "Vlad-delivery system."
2. Greylord Focus Efficiency Tricks
Khador 'casters in general do not offer great 'jack support, and Khador 'jacks require a helping hand in order to be effective. Broadly speaking, Khador 'jacks can deliver "one big hit," which can be devastating if it connects.
Various Greylords can help mitigate the meager MAT of Khador 'jacks in a couple of ways. The Greylord Ternion's spell Ice Cage reduces enemy defense, and with three tries per unit, you can often hit with at least one. The Koldun Lord's Power Booster can provide 'jacks with a critical Focus point when you can't spare one from your 'caster.
3. Winter Guard Deathstar
Winter Guard Infantry on their own are mediocre at best, but are redeemed by their cheap point-cost. However, with the appropriate support pieces, these rank-and-file troopers go from being an expendable tar-put to becoming a significant threat. And, standing under the protective blanket of Signs & Portents, they are elevated to the status of holy terrors.
The key elements of the Winter Guard Deathstar are the Winter Guard Infantry, Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard Bearer Unit Attachement and Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich. Winter Guard Rocketeer weapon attachement(s) optional, and a 'caster with Iron Flesh such as the Butcher or Kommander Sorscha helps too.
Essentially, what you get with this is a Fearless unit of up to 15 models sporting DEF 14 and Tough. Throw on Iron Flesh and they go to DEF 17. Throw in some Cloud Effects or Kommander Sorscha's Fog of War and they go to DEF 19 vs. ranged and magic attacks.
The Deathstar is more than just an uber tar-pit though. The defensive bonuses and Tough are ensure that the Winter Guard get into striking range. Once within 8" of the enemy, Winter Guard Infantry can unleash hell. Their POW 12 Blunderbusses can be used in Combined Ranged Attacks to generate multiple, powerful hits, or one massive POW 27 shot ~ enough to ruin just about anyone's day. CRA and Joe's "For the Motherland" patriotic speech greatly improve the WGI's ability to score hits.
In simple 'caster kill games, Vlad shines. His Warjack alpha-strike can cripple an enemy force to the extent that it can't effectively retaliate. Especially when facing support 'casters, Vlad's feat turn can be used to eliminate key models/units before they can bring any threat to bear on Vlad directly. Beast-09 and/or a Spriggan or Drago can carve a bloody hole through just about any infantry unit and with a bit of help, cut most 'jacks in half.
The key here is to be aggressive early-game. It may not be possible to get the charge with both of Vlad's 'jacks, but rather than waiting another turn for a more favorable position, it is often more advantageous to charge in with one 'jack and just run the other into enemy lines to tie up the enemy and force them to deal with an immediate threat. The Spriggan or a Devastator work very well in this capacity, as they can bulldoze enemy models all over the place on their way in and are hardy enough to weather retaliation (especially if Beast-09 has just crushed the enemy's heavy 'jack/beast/infantry).
Strategy: Control Point Scenarios
Vlad is a bit weaker in Scenario play, as he lacks any sort of board control or crowd control. He's not without options though. The basic strategy is to rush and hold objectives, then counterstrike.
Vlad's Feat works well for this, as it facilitates a 16" run from Vlad's 'jacks, which should easily allow them to capture or contest objectives. Khador 'jacks being what they are, they should be able to weather a turn of retaliation, or at worst, command the attention of a significant amount of enemy resources.
The following turn, Vlad's army can retaliate, reinforcing or re-taking objectives.
In conclusion, Vlad is a solid 'caster who can be very fun to play. He lacks subtlety and finesse, but more than makes up for this with pure power. The key to playing Vlad effectively is to identify the moment in the game where Vlad transforms from a support 'caster in the backfield to an aggressive super-solo playing forward. Once you learn to recognize this moment (hint; it usually comes on Vlad's 3rd turn), you'll be well on your way to reaping glory for the Motherland.
What do you guys think of the Dark Prince? Do you still see pVlad on the table in your local group? Is he really all that, Or has time and the ravages of Mk.II put him on the back burner?