Primal Baldur, No More Tiers!
by Anthony Ferraiolo
I have never considered writing a Warmachine strategy/tactics article, as I believed they were strictly reserved for only those accomplished players whose opinions and strategies others would want to read. Thanks to some convincing from my friend Omnus, this will be my first go at a tactics guide; I thank you in advance for reading, and welcome any questions you may have.
Since GenCon, the list that has generated the most PM questions on the Forums is my pBaldur non-tier build. I have given much feedback on the forums regarding that list; however this is not going to be an article about that particular build, but instead an article about the Stonecleaver himself and playing him outside of his tier.
Of Earth and Stone
Primal Baldur is one of the original three Circle Warlocks released with origins of Hordes itself. On the surface he is fairly straightforward to play, which is one of his strengths; however, unlocking him is about finding the subtle tweaks that really raise him to the next level.
He is capable in melee, at a reliable MAT 7 with Weight of Stone to ensure accuracy on future swings. He can ‘anchor’ a list, which a lot of players like; with the POW 14 base and a ST buff (Stone Skin) that can be Geomanced onto him from an outside source. Additionally he also has a longer than expected threat range thanks to Forest Walk, all which help him close a game out if need be. That said, you shouldn’t find yourself with him mixing it up too much as he really is best when supporting his list, it’s just good to know he can, if he needs to, close a game out. One thing that does seem to be an annoyance is his SPD 5 which comes up inconveniently when you’re used to SPD 6+ on the rest of your Circle Warlocks.
He has a utility spell list that does a number of useful things. Stone Skin is arguably the best ST buff in faction; it can be rotated, up kept, and also adds to ARM which many use to augment the arsenal of Wolds available to a Baldur list. While stacking armor on Wolds is obviously good, using it on a high DEF Warpwolf making their ARM 19,20, or 21 w/ no KD is… well disheartening to a lot of opposition. It also can go on units as well as individual models which lead to some interesting uses throughout the faction. Downside is that the speed takes a minus meaning they can’t charge, and can’t run as far. This is not quite the issue out of Tier that it is in Tier (in my opinion), however it is a detriment that you need to remember. While this is probably Baldur’s most ‘popular’ spell, certainly among your opponents, it’s just the beginning of what’s in his tool bag. It’s obviously good on heavies, but to me becomes brilliant on units. Most notably the Bloodtrackers; I also like it on Skinwalkers for offensive and defensive potential.
Solid Ground is, to me, his signature spell, even though it does exist elsewhere in the game; in Circle it’s something that really takes advantage of the high DEF non construct models, and part of the reason why I like to play pBaldur with the living parts of the faction (Furries, Druids, BTs, etc.); also what ultimately lead me to playing him with the Woldwrath. This spell should be up in every game, and if your opponent wants to bring resources within range to take the upkeep off of him, you should be in a situation to take advantage of their proximity to a great degree. Don’t let Purification bother you, that means your opponents lock/caster has gotten very close to some of your other (very dangerous) pieces making this a very tricky proposition for the opposing ‘caster/’lock if your positioning is right.
Earth Spikes is one of the better magic missiles in the game, ignoring Cover and Elevation with high POW and a Crit KD on an AOE 3 base. This synergizes well with a lot of what Baldur does. Solid Ground prevents this spell from affecting your own models, he can Forest Walk to a spot to get an angle, he can cast it on a Stone or a Gallows Grove, he can use 4D6 to cast it with Druid’s Wrath from the Woldwrath to raise the likelihood of a Crit exponentially. It can be spammed by Geomancers for a better chance at the Crit, or for an unsuspecting assassination on a damaged caster/lock. All that said, you’re obviously not doing all that every turn or every game and you likely won’t often find yourself casting it in any kind of regular manner; however, unlike many magic missiles in the game, this one has a lot of potential besides just damage and I don’t hear many Baldur players proclaiming its position on his spell card. I found it situationally brilliant and leveraged it to a great degree in a number of games.
Finally Rapid Growth is what I found to be his work horse spell. Surprised? Don’t be. Blocking LOS in this game is one of the most powerful, and difficult, things to do. This spell, especially in certain builds, can really create a conundrum for many opposing lists. Once I really got into the groove of playing pBaldur, I found myself casting this spell over 90% of the time on turn 2, and 75% of the time the rest of the game, upkeeping Solid Ground and Stone Skin, and then putting this 4” Forest AOE where needed the rest of the time while camping two. In conjunction with Swamp Gobbers I can wall off 9” of LOS on the board, add in a Woldwrath you can wall off nearly 14” of board; or, said another way, more than 25% of the table can’t be seen. That’s nearly the same if you have a Woldwarden’s animus available in your list as well. Additionally it triggers Prowl on Stalkers and Gallows Groves and everything else in the faction that benefits from it. It allows Baldur to jump from his current spot in the middle of the board to a piece of forest anywhere (within range) on the board, or vice versa, with Forest Walk. That doesn’t necessarily have to be for assassination, it could be just for repositioning to safety or stronger scenario position (which may be the more powerful use of the spell/ability combo). I found this spell to be invaluable to a lot of the way I played him, and really what unlocked him for me. In a faction where guerrilla warfare is the basis of how we want to play, this spell, combined with the Feat means we can have multiple turns where you are preventing retaliation from your opponent. Once I became comfortable leveraging this spell for greatest value, I really started to dominate games with Baldur; when you get comfortable using this spell you will as well.
A Warlock’s Feat is obviously part of what separates the good from the great. What makes Baldur a strong; yet straight forward ‘lock is the simple application of the Feat, which is almost always good even if not applied optimally, in conjunction with a tight spell list. Baldur’s Feat is in the conversation for best in Faction, and while many of you might disagree with cries of eKrueger or our new belle eMorvahna; hear me out on this. Baldur’s feat stops movement on all but a few things: Flight, Incorporeal, and Ghostly come to mind first. Yes there are place effects, but by and large those first three are what you have to worry about; of those three only Flight is a real concern, as in my experience Incorporeal and Ghostly are really only associated, in any kind of broad fashion, with Cryx. Good news is that’s not a matchup I plan on putting Baldur into, which leaves only Flight to be concerned with. Legion is the first faction that comes to mind (while not the only faction), however I’m fine with that because the other half of the Feat is extremely useful against Everblight which is that it grants all your friendlies in CNTL area Cover.
In Circle, a melee oriented faction, +4 DEF vs ranged and magic is a huge deal when combined with immunity to blast damage (from Solid Ground) especially when you’re playing the non-Tier high DEF style list. The Feat not only allows you to take board position, but it also typically buys you the alpha which ultimately puts you ahead in the attrition game. The Feat is purely defensive, which I understand many players do not like; however, in my opinion, this allows the Feat to be played well more consistently. What I mean by that is there is no temptation to try to ‘hold’ the Feat for an optimal offensive turn like some players may want to do with a Feat that has both offensive and defensive potential. The Feat normally can be applied early to create the leverage to take an early advantage in the game. Most players figure this out in the first few games
Most often I find myself Feating on turn 2, after I have had one turn of ranged/magic engagement, then I hold my opponent in place, with the goal of scoring a CP on their turn if at all possible, or scoring very easily the next time I have the dice. Additionally the post Feat turn usually is the first full on engagement opportunity which creates a jam effect that, often, on their own follow up turn they have trouble being able to contest my position; which again creates the opportunity to score CP on my opponents turn. That strategy creates an ‘offensive’ feel to the Feat, where I’m forcing board position and leaning hard on scenario. Meanwhile, if I have a list conducive to this strategy, I should also be up by at least ten, or more, points on attrition. In my opinion the non-Tier list has an advantage using this strategy in conjunction with the Feat due to the higher DEF making it difficult, in many cases, for your opponent to deal with what is in front of his engagement line as well as the continued higher SPD models affecting the whole of the game and not just the first turn (as allowed by the tier for slower Wold models).
Learning to use any Feat in an optimal manner is always key to being able to play a Warlock or Warcaster well; the beauty of Baldur in this regard, as was said earlier, is that this is not as difficult to learn with him as it is with other Warlocks/Warcasters.
To Tier, or Not to Tier
So as stated at the onset of the article, this is an article about playing him outside of Tier. The history of the success of the Tier pBaldur build is certainly well documented. However, there is a lot of upside to playing him o’natural, if you will. Let’s discuss the Tier advantages and how non Tier options have their own features and benefits.
In Tier, players like to take advantage of the huge deployment zone, and advanced position their pieces take on the table from the beginning. The non-Tier can take a similar advantage by being much faster up the table, the base SPD of the living troops and Warpwolves is simply higher. Additionally this SPD advantage lasts the whole game and not just the opening turn. The other major benefit of the Tier build is the extra point gained on heavies. This is hard to make up, however, the gained versatility of the living heavies over the constructs is enough of an offset to make the non-Tier build just as viable.
Some players may feel the Wolds make Baldur more Fury efficient and the fact that he can heal the Wolds is a huge advantage; they wouldn’t be wrong. However, it’s worth noting that the Warpwolves have Regeneration which saves Baldur Fury on many important key turns, and with their Warp Effects they are often more self-sufficient than the Wolds. Additionally, the extra Fury to push the furries (4 on them versus 3 on most heavy Wolds) means they can do that much more when they have to; this is situationally huge when it does come up.
The biggest benefit outside of Tier, in my opinion, is the access to the full array of Circle infantry. Stone Skin is such a sweet buff and the best targets for the spell are not really listed in the tier. Bloodtrackers are obviously greatly enhanced, and of course they were hugely important to my own personal build. Some of the same benefits can be garnered with the Wolf Riders. I also really like it on Skinwalkers, and don’t overlook it on Ravagers. I would encourage Baldur players to try Stone Skin on all types of units and models to see how it affects them uniquely.
Additionally access to non-Tier characters, currently (and specifically) Ghetorix, to me is worth noting. I personally loved him in the Baldur build. While this isn’t a huge deal in and of itself, being able to take our hardest hitting heavy to max hitting power is not to be overlooked. The fact that Baldur can do that, and make G-Rex more survivable in the same build is over the top good.
Along the same train of thought, all the living heavies are interestingly good with Stone Skin, especially as trade pieces. I already noted this, but it’s worth mentioning again. The math on taking out a heavy Warpwolf is tricky for an opponent to manage. Stacking ARM on the Wolds is one thing, but dealing with a DEF 13 ARM 19/20 no KD heavy is just ball bustlingly good. Especially when they have Regeneration stock to get them going again w/o having to use Baldur’s Fury.
The greatest advantage of the non-Tier is the versatility of options and increased hitting power of the Warpwolves. Primal Baldur in general has a predisposed weakness toward infantry spam, and Wolds generally have a hard a time cracking high ARM. Stoneskin does help with the latter a bit, not being able to get above POW 19 in the list can leave you wanting on two fronts (vs high ARM and infantry spam), which in Warmachine leaves you with a difficult task; which ultimately lead me away from the Tier. Going non Tier means you can dial most any Warpwolf to POW 20 or higher as well as access to our best anti-infantry tech. To me the full range of Circle’s beast and unit arsenal allow us to take advantage of his greatest strengths while shoring up his weaknesses.
The Chosen of Stone
There are a lot of options that work well with Primal Baldur. We are focusing on non-Tier in this discussion, and while I may include options that are eligible for the Tier we will discuss them from the perspective of how they fit into a non-Tier build. I’m not going to review all the options but will cover some of my favorites.
Starting with my favorite non Tier option and favorite target for Stone Skin is Bloodtrackers. I’m not breaking new ground with this, but it’s certainly worth noting as an amazing option. With Prey and Stone Skin they become RAT 8 POW 13 Weapon Masters on throws. They chew up heavy infantry and heavies alike. My favorite Prey target for BT’s is Angelius. They eat up Gatorman Posse as well, and can get crazy threat ranges moving 9” and throwing another 7” threatening 16” (or 15” if under Stone Skin). Baldur has ranged KD options from a variety Power Attacks as well as Spells. They can often swoop in and kill ‘casters or ‘locks to death with POW 11 not even needing the Prey target. No Feat allows them to often be able to have two turns of throws before engaging. They can handle a lot of Baldur’s weakness versus infantry with little help, and go a long way to facilitating the jam when given Tough and Undead from the Witch Doc and no KD from Solid Ground. This unit is arguably the best reason to play pBaldur non Tier.
Skinwalkers are a unit that I feel is often overlooked with him. Stone Skin is where I’m going to go with this, however, a few things to consider. Before you tell me about the problem you have with SPD 4, remember, it doesn’t have to be put on them before they engage, and the Feat allows them to get there relatively untouched and to also have the alpha. Once there, then throwing Stone Skin on them they get to be ARM 20 no KD (meaning they can’t lose Unyielding), 8 hit box, POW 15, two attack monsters that can hold or contest a zone forever. Even better, they are likely to take damage once engaged, and move 6” with reach thanks to Relentless Advance. I really like this unit w/ pBaldur.
Shifting Stone, while an obvious choice, are still worth noting. I take them in my lists for a lot of reasons that don’t necessarily need be explained. One thing that is interesting to do is when you are desperate for contesting a zone to help pull a game late is to throw Stone Skin on them to gain the ARM buff, makes killing a 5 box stealth model hard to get rid of in a pinch. Obviously not optimal, but situationally brilliant. Ultimately they are super important to a pBaldur build due to Stone Skin being a SPD debuff; so they are crucial at helping models keep a threat range without being able to charge.
Wolf Riders I mentioned before, and while this may seem like another odd choice, your still talking about SPD 8 POW 11 or 13 weapon masters on thrown weapons when buffed with Stone Skin; SPD 10 if they get in range of their Prey target. On the Feat they can creep uncomfortably close at DEF 18 ARM 16 vs ranged and magic. Another ancillary benefit of having Stone Skin on them is that opponents can be lulled to sleep by thinking they won’t be assaulting from way downtown, and the opportunity can present itself to drop the buff and pull the 14” Assault. All in all a sneaky good choice with Baldur.
Ravagers have grown on me a lot over the past few months thanks to my success with them in another list (which you may have heard about :D). It’s made me consider them in a lot of other builds, like pBaldur for example. The Feat means they are DEF 17 on the way in, and now extremely likely to get the alpha; immunity to blast damage means they are extremely survivable. The problem for the Ravagers has always been delivering them; pBaldur is somebody who can actually do that effectively. Once engaged, throwing Stone Skin on them at that point means they are now ARM 16 in melee and POW 15 swinging at MAT 7 with 8 boxes each. That is a stout unit that Baldur can effectively deliver. Same rules apply about buffing them once engaged as with the Skinwalkers. Moreover, this unit has the ability to set the line of engagement way up the board, really allow the Feat to dominate the board making it very difficult for your opponent to get into the scenario game before it’s over quickly.
You can make a similar argument for the Bloodpack, however, I don’t think Stone Skin works as well for them as it does for Bloodtrackers or Ravagers. The Bloodpack ‘feel’ like a cross between to the two units, and what I do like about them is that Feat can allow this unit to shoot from a good position, then take the next turn to Assault and Battery into the opposing lines. Once engaged dropping Stone Skin on them to hold the line as previously discussed.
Druids are part of his Tier and a good inclusion for versatility sake. I personally don’t find them useful in my build; and I don’t think Baldur does a ton for them but that doesn’t mean they don’t add value. They can get already themselves to DEF 18 on their own with Summon Vortex and Camouflage which means they can use Baldur’s Feat turn to put themselves in really good position by running. The immunity to blast damage from Solid Ground is definitely a boon, but beyond that they are Druids doing what Druids do in the list. They add more LOS blocking which I already discussed Baldur takes great advantage of maximizing. If you plan to play a Woldwrath in the list (as I like to do), then the Druids do benefit from Druid’s Wrath adding more KD potential to the list; and the Overseer can extend Baldurs ability to push beasts which can keep him safe thanks to the oft overlooked Beast Master ability. Also the elemental immunity is annoyingly good versus Legion who I like to drop Baldur against. All-in-all, the unit has merit in the non-tier build.
The last ‘unit’ I want to note is the Swamp Gobbers Bellows Crew. They add another 5” cloud AOE to combine with Baldurs Rapid Growth spell which is a combo I love so much. It means you can spread out your cloud effects, or clump them. Additionally they benefit from Baldurs Feat which is very nice, and also benefit from Solid Ground which is just awesome. These buggers are hard to kill, and have been late game pieces that contest and/or take a CP from an unexpecting opponent. Also, I really like the Witch Doc in my list, so these guys are sneaky good Sac Strike targets (closed out a game with it in Masters at GenCon!).
Moving into the discussion on beasts, I really like Ghetorix with him. He trades extremely well with Stone Skin on him. When play testing a Gorax in the build, Ghetorix routinely took out two heavies a turn at POW 23 (often being at dice plus 4 or 5). One rounding a Gargossal means you can trade 11 points for 20, and sometimes whatever they have left cannot deal with DEF 13/ARM 21 no KD which is the best part. If you don’t want to go to POW 23, you can leave him at POW 21, and Lightning Strike him then drop the forest in front of him so they cannot retaliate. Also, I really liked warping Hyper Aggressive with him. The 5” (thanks to Stone Skin) out of activation move meant my he often walked into threat range, into Stones, or into a position to cause unexpected Terror checks on my opponents turn triggering Unyielding and creating lots of problems. Most of my assassinations were enabled by a Hyper Aggressive Ghetorix. I even used Ornery on him a number of times, especially after hot rolling a Primaled G-Rex with a few Fury left, I almost always threw it up. Why? Well, why not? He’s going to Frenzy regardless, and since he’s all dialed up, and I know my opponent is going to throw the kitchen sink at him why not take a free POW 23 swipe at a heavy. You be surprised how many times a plus roll (8,9, or 10) means I just took 14 or so damage off my opposing heavy, wiping a system. Then when he frenzies the following turn (if they didn’t kill him which is likely if they lost a system or spiral), he swings again fully boosted at POW 21. I have on a couple occasions killed opposing heavies this way (yes really, and yes more than once). Really an amazing play with pBaldur, and while Ghetorix is awesome in general, he has a lot of plus side in a non-tier build with this Warlock that I had not seen previously before logging all the games with this combo.
My second favorite beast with him is in fact the Woldwrath. As many of you might know at this point, it’s quite public that the WW is the reason I ended up playing pBaldur to begin with. To me, pBaldur is the optimal pairing for the Gargantuan, while you not agree, it’s just my opinion. The free power attack, the fact that Baldur can heal him, and the benefit that Solid Ground brings to the list means you can swing freely and not have to worry about Earth Shaker. The gun adds an element of infantry control to the table with the 3”AOEs, combined with the other board covering AOE effects I like in a pBaldur build, means the board becomes quite cumbersome to maneuver. I also love the gun for clipping annoying solos who stand too close to another model or objective. The Feat also plays very well for the Woldwrath. This allows him to run first turn, move and fire second turn (usually protected by the Feat), then get the alpha the next turn. That’s a huge deal for any Gargossal; especially one that has KD on melee weapons. The Feat and gun also means they can’t really ‘gum’ him up the way they want to. He’s also a tremendous transfer target for Baldur, and a strong part of the scenario game that Baldur can play. He is included in Baldur’s Tier, however, I really like having a Woldwrath and Ghetorix in the list as G-Rex can trade himself for two heavies, and Woldwrath can often easily take out what has killed G-Rex meaning the big guy may well be likely the only heavy left on the table that is nye unkillable. That same play can be made with a Feral or Stalker as well, though not as effectively. Overall my favorite thing to play with Baldur, for a lot of reasons.
Warpwolf Stalker is a beast that I also like a lot with Balder because of his versatility. He does a lot to help Baldur’s trouble with infantry, and also can be used to dial up to a potential POW 22 if all the way maxed out with Stone Skin and Primal. His Prowl ability is easy to trigger in a Baldur list thanks to Rapid Growth, and I love the interaction of Lightning Strike in a pBaldur build because of Rapid Growth. I can send out the Stalker bring him back then drop a forest in front of him, it’s very powerful. That said Lightning Strike on anything in a Baldur list is good because of the way he can mitigate retaliation so the animus is great to have available to a pBaldur build regardless of style of play.
Gorax is a beast I tried very hard to get into my own build, but ultimately couldn’t afford the points. I really, really like him in lists with Warlocks that have ST buffs; I’m just a fan of taking advantages and stretching them as far as they can go. Stone Skin plus Primal means Warpwolves hit unnecessarily hard in this list. I also like the double buff on the Gorax himself. Late game I have caught more than a few opponents with him in a pBaldur build at POW 16 MAT 8 teleporting in for the win. He’s the best light warbeast in the game, in my opinion, and if you can find the points in your build I highly suggest you take him.
Feral Warpwolves and Purebloods I believe are both good plays with pBaldur. The Feral has a lot of the same playability that G-Rex has, just w/o the reach. You will miss the Hyper Aggressive, but as far as trading a really tough heavy, he’s great at being an automatic ARM 20 DEF 13 no KD while still being a scary melee piece. The Pureblood to me is always useful and if you’re not going Tier, you may need access to some extra magic weapons in the list. Plus Wraith Bane means you won’t need Primal in a lot of cases to make up for the benefits which saves you from frenzying the next turn. My favorite part about the Wraith Bane animus is that it can be put on the Woldwrath!!! All in all I think they are both solid choices in a pBaldur build.
Woldwarden, Woldguardian, and Megalith are all good choices and more popular in the tier. They still have a place in non-Tier builds. Just likely not going to spam Wolds unless you want to play the Tier. Mega is always good, and the automatic heal makes him a great transfer target. His animus helps other models hit more accurately; think of effective RAT 10 Bloodtrackers! The Woldguardian is probably the best Wold target for Stone Skin, bringing him to POW 19 and ARM 22. Problem is he absolutely needs the Stones as SPD 3 won’t get you anywhere. He’s not the greatest transfer target either with less boxes than Mega or the Woldwarden. The Warden is a good fit as it gives yet another 4” AOE to cause LOS nightmares and facilitates treewalker that much better.
Way of the Stone
So if you want to play Primal Baldur and looking to try it non Tier, the play style of the list is still mostly the same as the tier version. The Feat is powerful and allows you to dictate board position and gives you a strong opportunity to take advantage of scenario.
Using the whole faction can really unlock some sweet things about Baldur’s full arsenal of abilities. With Solid Ground don’t overlook the value of power attacks, including throwing your own models, especially late game when your opponents guard is down. I have thrown Ghetorix, a Stalker, even a Gorax at my opponent’s casters and heavies for unsuspecting devastation. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Its jank, but effective when done wisely (especially on beasts that regenerate).
Baldur’s playability leads to a lot of subtle combos. I have had a Hyper Aggressive Ghetorix walk forward on the Feat turn, only to allow the Woldwrath to throw him at a caster on the following turn for an assassination. I have targeted Stones with Earth Spikes under Druid’s Wrath to cause a Crit KD on a nearby opposing Warlock to then have the Bloodtrackers finish the game with javelin fire. I have forest walked to get myself into Stones, to be teleported to an opposing zone in order to Dominate that I was originally 20” away from.
Always remember that Baldur is not any more survivable than the other Circle ‘locks and leveraging his ability to block LOS and limit retaliation is his greatest strength. His lists hit hard, and are survivable. He has assassination potential but that’s not something I feel like you should build for, just know how to recognize it.
Learn to use all of his tools, but don’t try to do it all in the same turn. He is applied best to one thing at a time, and his CNTL range is his dominion. Once you get comfortable in that space with his abilities, you will find success.
The non-tier options really broaden his scope and allow him to be played in a more take all comers type of list. I believe the non-tier benefits are that the list can build to take advantage of his strengths and patch his weaknesses. Use those options, and try some of the ideas noted in this article, and don’t be afraid to try some of your own!
Article also Posted here (http://handcannononline.com/blog/2014/01/01/part-i-of-primal-baldur-no-more-tiers/)