Welcome back one final time, Losties, to The Machine Stops special three-part special on Axis: The Harmonic Enforcer! We have been undertaking an exhaustive look at this hammer-wielding menace, in no small part because he’s been in vogue for a while in my local meta at the moment! But it’s worth getting a close look at these casters, if for no other reason but that they are unusually integral to the Convergence strategy!This week we take a close look at Axis’ vicious theme force, Sustained Attack. Let’s hop to it.
His Theme Force: Sustained Attack
Axis’ theme force is the reason for his recent popularity in our local meta. I think in part it was his relatively early release and the critical model, the Enigma Foundry’s relatively *late* release that meant players weren’t experimenting with it until later, and dissatisfaction with Axis had already set in. So let’s take a look at it.
Axis’ list is restrictive. He may field any vector *without a ranged weapon*. Considering the combined arms nature of Convergence Vectors, this limits him dramatically. The vectors he can take are the Galvanizer, the Corollary, The Inverter and the Conservator. While most Convergence players scoff at his low RAT and claim that this means little to him, it means he cannot take advantage of the Cypher’s servipod mortar to lay down difficult terrain templates or flares to improve his MAT and negotiate certain peaks of DEF that are otherwise untouchable beyond boosts, and he can’t use their blast damage to eliminate swarms of light infantry. None of these attacks rely particularly on RAT at all, much less high RAT. Likewise he cannot take the Diffuser to amplify his speed, which, under the effects of Flare, aiming, boosting, and Luck, he stands a fair chance of accomplishing! All that said, the advantages of this list may be worth the trade-off.
He can also only take small-based units. This means he does not have access to any of the three remarkably powerful heavy infantry options available to Convergence, instead relying on the Optifex Directive, the Clockwork Angels, the Obstructors, and the Reductors (as well as the Transverse Enumerator UA). This is, however, part of his game plan in the first place, and part of why allowing him to include Reciprocators alone would be devastating. Finally, the *only* solos he is allowed are the Enigma Foundries. This cuts off his access to broad swathes of the support staff available to Convergence. He cannot take Steelsoul Protectors, any of the Servitors, or the Algorithmic Dispersion Optifex. This means beyond boosts and MAT 7 on his battlegroup, he has no way to negotiate high DEF. This also means he can’t take advantage of Reflex Servitors to layer his defenses, nor can he protect himself from ranged fire with Steelsouls. This last, I will argue, is a particular weak point of his. Finally, he is unable to take the Transfinite Emergence Projector. All told, a very limited selection indeed!
The advantages, however, are dramatic. Tier 1 doubles the FA on Enigma Foundries. This is enormous. Being able to field four of these incredible support pieces means the recursion mechaninc improves exponentially, and is the primary reason for fielding this highly skewed theme force. Tier 2 amplifies this, requiring two or more Foundries in exchange for their cost being reduced to 3. Wow. You start to see why the list will not allow heavy infantry or Steelsoul Protectors. Either would make this list incredibly hard to deal with–which is to say, harder than it is already! Tier 3 requires three or more Clockwork Vessel units. This is fairly costly, but with little enough already to benefit from the Foundries, it becomes rather standard fare. Four units is not unreasonable, considering their affordable points costs. In exchange, all Clockwork Vessel units gain Advance Deploy. This amplifies the function of his army considerably, allowing them to take the initiative and occupy zones very quickly, and allows them to more quickly assume the shield wall formation that the Obstructors are known for, shielding the combat vectors and providing that level of defense in spades, particularly considering their voluminous recursion capacity. Finally, Tier 4 requires at least two heavy vectors, and for each heavy vector in his army, allows the Convergence player to place a large-based wreck marker in play no more than 20″ from the board edge. At first blush, this ability seems minor, but recall that without access to Steelsouls, the ranged defenses Axis can muster in this list are few–limited largely to the Conservator’s Shield Guard ability instead–considerably more expensive compared to the solos, and on flimsy enough a chassis that some additional defense is warranted–in this case, by convenient cover.
Now, this list is very difficult to wade through, particularly if the models you’re using to do so are easy to hit or hurt. The infantry can be removed innumerable times, but they continue to come back and in droves. Enigma Foundries are hard models to kill. They pack high ARM stats, and a substantial number of boxes. That said, they are very visible targets, and without much shield guard, they are vulnerable to ranged firepower. But killing them is something of a trap. Consider for a moment the rather optimal situation of fielding a pair of Ravagores as a Legion player. If you want to remove the Foundries, it’s likely that even without Shield Guard, it will take at least a shot from each to kill one, unless you spike the damage roll fairly dramatically. In the process, you will have to avoid getting engaged by the droves of infantry, which Ravagores are perhaps better suited to dealing with than other, dodgier infantry, but are far from optimal. The challenge to this theme force is less about stopping the recursion, because it will take too long and yield too little results. The goal of this force is less about stopping them from killing you, and more about winning in spite of the rabid interference of so much infantry. The heavy vectors will eventually be a problem, but in most of the games I have seen this list fight, it’s greatest strength is to wear down the opponent’s *clock*. It simply takes too long and yeilds too little to grind through the infantry again and again, and the Convergence player wins by outlasting the opponent. Moreover, it plays to Axis’ weakness, preventing the need he has to spend his focus, and instead camps as much as he can to deal with assault. It tends to continue occupying zones as well, thus preventing the enemy from scoring points.
So how do you beat it? There are several glaring weaknesses that need to be exploited. First is area denial. Light infantry are some of the most vulnerable models in the game, and while on the move, Obstructors do not usually benefit from Shield Wall. The careful use of the Caustic Mist spell, Breath of Corruption, Scather templates, Covering Fire templates, Wall of Fire, carefully placed Rock Walls, effective jamming with well defended infantry of your own–anything that can forestall the advance of the cheap reviving clockwork infantry will keep your zones clear and the scenario yours. Even a single damage point will remove them (at least for a while) and keep you clear of danger. If timed correctly, hard denial feats like Krueger2’s, Sorscha1’s, Haley2’s, either Deneghra’s, Baldur1’s, These will stall the advance of the infantry wall enough to dominate a zone and possibly kill an objective, bringing you that much closer to victory. You may notice a trend here–scenario victory is the most widespread way of defeating him.
Another strong tactic to consider is that the recursion mechanic relies upon two things–one is the number of bodies available to the Axis player at the beginning of the game. 30 infantrymen is likely the minimum you will encounter. Second are the souls those bodies contain. This means that two tactics can stop it from functioning without going through the tedious process of trying to actually remove the Foundries one by one. First is Remove From Play mechanics. These deny both the souls and the bodies to return. The Foundries must return destroyed models to their original units, rather than add models to that unit. Meaning that even if they have available souls, removing models from play in a unit will stop them from returning. This means that models with Take Down, like a Scythean, a Reptile Hound, Slaughterhousers, and the like will work. Spell effects or feat effects that remove models from play will also send these infantry packing, like the Hellmouth spell, models under the effect of Carnivore, Troll models making use of Snacking, or any other effect that can accomplish something similar. Second is playing the proximity game with models that take the opponent’s souls. Primarily a Cryx trick, anyone with Soul Collector, Body Count or some other form of soul collection will, if they are closer than the Foundries, take the souls away from them. This doesn’t prevent the model from returning to play through use of souls gathered from another unit, but it reduces the available number of returning models as a whole. Keep in mind, however, that any other models you destroy, like Optifex Directive members will also contribute to the soul count with which other infantrymen can return to play.
Finally, and this applies to battle against most Axis lists, is Assassination. Axis himself is vulnerable, and the entire game for the Axis player will be negotiating how much to risk him personally against the use of his abilities. In the case of the theme force, it will be more a question of how far forward he’s come to use his feat, how much of his focus he’s spent casting his spells and allocating, and through how much must you wade in order to reach him. He will not frequently have access to shield guard, however, and some of the most powerful assassination techniquest in the game are those that can do so at range. What I would argue is one of the best ways to win against Axis is to threaten ranged assassination at all times. His medium base makes it hard to hide him under conventional circumstances, and a pair of heavies blocking him off means they are not in the game doing damage. Generally avoiding getting shot will force him to camp his focus and be conservative with his feat, thus allowing you to put early scenario pressure on his forces, and continue to clear out his infantry and score points. With certain ranged assassination lists, the amount of focus he is camping won’t actually matter. If he has little or no shield guard, and you have Eiryss to support your run, she can strip him of available focus anyway. Some ranged assassinations like that of Kaelyssa or Goreshade3 will drain him of focus, some will bypass it entirely like with Ravyn. Some will just blatantly overcome the focus he’s camping, like Siege, Lylyth2, or Caine2. In any event, Axis does not enjoy a great deal of guns, and is himself very vulnerable under all but the best of circumstances.
The potential for melee assassination comes down to the variety of techniques one has available, but as has been stated many times now, Axis has a lot of potential power, but generally has to come forward to take advantage of them. The most conservative Axis players will be missing out on a great deal of his power and using the forces in his theme force to overwhelm and kill his opponent’s clock, which can be overcome by some canny scenario play while threatening assassination–preferrably at range.
Whew! Well I do feel that we’ve covered most of our bases with Axis, but there are a few things left to keep in mind.
When an Axis force is played very well, it will be playing the long game, putting pressure on both scenario and attrition play. It builds up momentum slowly. Aggressively, it takes position, then bunkers itself using all of the defensive layering Convergence is known for, but at some risk because he contributes very little defensively, but provides for a great deal of scenario pressure. This means you will be forced to commit whether you want to or not, and his tools will push you out of zones when he commits. If you can’t break him on the turn he presents himself, he will commit fully, feat, and hit you hard and fast while you are reeling, and continue to hit you hard on the following turn, breaking your forces and destroying you. It is a force dedicated to momentum, where his power is in his ability to keep pushing you.
There are two ways in which Axis is risky and vulnerable, each of which has been addressed in the above paragraphs. First, he must present himself. On this turn, there will be only two things he can personally contribute to his defensive layering, each of which has a few notable drawbacks and relatively narrow zones of success. These are Counter Charge and Razor Wall. Avoid Counter Charge by playing angles correctly, engaging Counter Chargers, and being out of reach for them. You can build up your engaging models so they are not easy to hit, as the Counter Chargers cannot boost, and armour up so they will not do damage. Above all, if you must suffer it, beware the Macropummeler knockdown effect. Ensure you have Flight or Pathfinder at the ready to bypass or stall the difficult terrain templates the Cyphers can distribute, and find a way to avoid shield guard. Use electro-leap and AOEs to clear out repairing Optifex too close to your lines, and crack him hard on the nose on that turn he makes himself vulnerable. If you can boost strength, get a safe line and kill his heavy hitting elements, the models he has to take advantage of his feat on both his turn and yours diminish considerably, and he crumbles. This requires some heavy firepower on your part, but you should always bring that for Convergence anyway!
Second is the assassination. If you have a way of coming from behind with a powerful assassination that doesn’t rely on charging, or that is far enough back in your lines that he can’t catch you under his feat, it is a valuable strategy. He is always at risk for a ranged assassination, including when your models are caught under his feat, as you have movement to forfeit for aiming! At that point, it comes down to what he sees coming and can defend against. If he has brought his shield guards, disable them first! Your hardest hits will be shunted off to them. Remember how to counter Bulldoze and Counter Charge, deploy well to avoid being caught by Razor Wall, crack him hard and fast given the first opportunity–kill, don’t wound–and put two in his head if he gives you even half a chance! You’ll do just fine.. He’s only number 2 on our list!
SO! That’s it from me this time! Tune in next time as we continue to progress through my ranking of the best and brightest in the Convergence stable–the Warcasters!
Keep the spanners tuned, folks. 🙂