At the dawn of MKIII every faction was dished out a new Warcaster whose purpose was to be easy to learn and help new players be introduced to the game. Cryx unfortunately was gifted the ever unimpressive Agathia. While she has some interesting mechanics she’s ultimately confused in what she wants to do and what she’s good at doing. Then shortly after, Cryx got their next Warcaster, Captain Aiakos! While he has some interesting mechanics he was ultimately confused in what he wants to do and what he was good at doing….
As a Cryx player I have to admit when Captain Aiakos came out I was furious. I felt as though I was given a caster with an amazing feat and spell list, but with no reasonable application for any of it. He has an amazing set of friendly and offensive spells, but cannot hope to possibly implement them in a way that would effectively turn the tide of the game. His feat would be unbelievably good in a half-dozen other factions, but in Cryx it just feels like a faster way to deliver your jacks to their deaths.
Captain Aiakos is unplayable trash.
….at least that’s what I thought before playing him. Captain Aiakos really embodies the idea of a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ mentality. He wants to do a million different things and wants to have so many different pieces and models that you could well go into a 100pt list and still feel like you needed to add more. The trick to making a Captain Aiakos list that works is to focus it to one aspect of his kit, and in my opinion that focus comes in the form of Kharybdis.
I have many thoughts on Kharybdis, most of which are about how garbage he is for being a 19pt character jack that literally hits you with wet noodles, but there is only one thing that matters to me; he threats 17″ with Captain Aiakos. Now in terms of Warmachine jargon “threats 17 inches” may just kind of seem like a lot, but I feel it’s important to put it into perspective. If you go first and Kharybdis runs his full 10 inches, then your opponent need only step a measly 4″ out of their deployment to be in his threat range. The assassination potential of this combo cannot be overstated; Captain Aiakos was designed to send Kharybdis into your opponent and assassinate their caster.
With this focus on Kharybdis, the previously seen flaws in Aiakos’ kit then begin to become more clear in their purpose or intent. You aren’t here to try and trade jacks so you use Stranglehold to ignore their big baddies. You need to make sure you can get a line on their caster and so you have White Squall to toss anything intervening aside, or more preferably into said caster. His feat also grants a way for Kharybdis to assault which lets him spray away any pesky intervening models. On occasion it’s also necessary to charge something you have LOS to, spray it away and clear up LOS to their caster, then redirect your charge attack onto their now exposed caster. Pro strats.
I have been playing Captain Aiakos almost exclusively for about a month now because of how much fun he is to play, and he’s fun because he plays a different game than Cryx are used to. He isn’t playing the normal game of trading pieces or trying to dominate a zone to win on CP’s, he’s trying exclusively to murder your face off. In my experience games with Captain Aiakos don’t last more than 2 or 3 turns, because by then you’ve won or you’ve died trying, and that is an exhilarating process. My win ratio with the Captain is about 60% and I’m making tweaks to my list to improve my play into bad match ups. The rest of this article will be about my thoughts going into a game and strategy throughout.
So first of all in list construction there’s a few things to consider: 1) your caster is a piss poor mage and will not be very effective in getting his spells to land or damage, 2) as long as your game plan is to get Kharybdis into the enemy caster you need to keep him safe, 3) Captain Aiakos does almost nothing to help infantry, and 4) he is pretty frail himself. As I stated earlier in this article Aiakos wants to take a whole host of models to help him remedy the weaknesses inherent in his kit, but you’ll find you run out of points very quickly and are left staring at only a handful of models.
I find that the Infernal Machines theme is an ideal catalyst for the lists Captain Aiakos wants to run. It lets you take all of the necessary support pieces, gives you yet ANOTHER threat extender on your jacks, and helps lessen the amount of points you spend via free models. The meat and potatoes of your list needs to be Kharybdis and the Withershadow Combine as they’ll help our Captain with his use of spells. I also personally really like taking Death Jack as he is safer to go up the field and cast spells, has a higher Magic Ability than our caster, and uses his own focus to cast them. Also people seem to be very scared of a DJ that can threat 15 inches. I’m not sure why…
The rest of your list is pretty inconsequential in my opinion. I usually take two Stalkers because they threat 16″ under feat and I’d take more if I could fit them in my list. They are ideal targets for Scything Touch as they can either lay the hurt on a jack/caster themselves or get into a position to up the damage of Kharybdis or DJ. Like I said before I believe Infernal Machines is ideal for Captain Aiakos and while I AM playing around with different builds I always run a min squad of Mechanithralls with three Brute Thralls to catch any shot against my jacks that I don’t want them taking.
I’ve played around with a few lists (the core being the aforementioned) that included ambushing Mechanithralls, Soulhunters, or Bloat Thralls. As far as I can tell the ambushing Mechanithralls aren’t particularly viable as they only threat 12″ from the side of the board, and even people who’ve forgotten they were coming managed to stay out of threat usually. You don’t always have to ambush them though; you can deploy them normally and use the extra 3 shield guards, but I find 6 is usually a few too many and they end up clogging your lines. The Soulhunters are interesting, but their large bases tend to get in the way during assassination runs and while they threat a hefty 14″ they’re really quite easy to shoot off the board. As for the Bloat Thralls, I like the idea of them far more than I like the implementation of them. They’re there to clear out any infantry that try to jam, and while I know they’re going to die immediately after shooting (due to retaliation) they only need to be viable for my assassination turn. All in all I think list variance is really just up to your preference.
Alright so now we get into the good stuff; how to play the army. I feel like for a lot of people when you finally get around to putting these models on the table you’ll be intimidated by how few models the army is comprised of. In almost every single game I’ve put Captain Aiakos on the table my opponent has asked where my army was. I’ll admit as a life long Cryx player it’s weird not having droves of cheap garbage to throw at the enemy, but you have to remember that you’re playing a different game. It doesn’t matter that your army is essentially only really comprised of about 4 models, because you’re going to try to win by turn 3 with them. Make no mistake, they can do it.
During set up I always make sure to put Kharybdis down first as he is the most important component of the list. Typically I try to find a nice piece of terrain for him to hide in and get stealth via prowl. Shooting is a real deterrent to the list, but I seldom am crippled by the first volley, especially when taking a Necrotech. If there is no good concealment or if there’s an obstruction in the middle of the board that messes up LOS, Kharybdis has his awful star action cloud that he can make for himself if you need it. If I go second I also try to put Kharybdis across from their caster more or less as that is my only real target.
Aside from Kharybdis’ deployment I try to keep the rest of my models from being in positions that will hinder their mobility, e.g., setting up my Mechanithralls so that they leave lanes for my support pieces to move through, setting up in an area clear of rough terrain so I can move up the board, knowing where best to put my arc node so that it can threaten the opposite side that DJ will when I set him up in AD, and so on. Rough terrain is your biggest issue as far as the board is concerned since Aiakos has no way to give pathfinder, and you should make sure you delegate your models with pathfinder to moving through it. Warmachine 101. When I set up DJ and my two Stalkers during AD I try to have DJ in the middle, slightly offset from Kharybdis, and the Stalkers a little to either side of DJ. From my play experiences it’s almost impossible to move the Stalkers out of control of your caster, and with a threat of a non-linear 16″ they can flank either side of the board and still be in good spots to smack their caster when needed.
Once the game starts there are a few things I try to take into account. I know the Captain is going to be strapped for focus so I try to make sure I have my upkeeps out on turn 1. I also try to keep a Warwitch within 12″ of all of my jacks (for empower). DJ is going to be the forward most model in my army and so I usually try to have all 3 Brute Thralls around him at max 3″ shield guard range, while having one next to Kharybdis and Aiakos. Like I said before I keep the Mechanitralls out of the way of my arc node and especially my Necrotech, as he will try to be 5″ away from either of my heavies and may need to walk to base and repair them. Keep in mind this is all very general, if you are under no threat of ranged damage then these precautions are trivial but it’s good practice.
During the first turn of the game you need to get your upkeeps out (Assail on Kharybdis and Scything Touch on a Stalker), you need to move into position for your next turn, and you need to nullify any threats that you can. Typically you will out-threat everything you come up against, but there are things you may just flat-out not want to have to worry about on your opponent’s next turn. If your opponent goes first and throws a battle engine at you it may be more advantageous to Stranglehold it so that it reverts back to being a paper weight. You can achieve this by moseying up DJ and using his higher focus stat and free spell, or you can run your arc node up and do it. Either way, you need to make sure you aren’t sacrificing anything prematurely. The list is pretty durable however, and can take a hit if it needs to. Not a big hit mind you, but a little scratched paint isn’t anything to worry about.
If you’re playing this list in Infernal Machines, which I highly suggest you do, then you will want to remember that all of your jacks have Hyper Aggressive. People can forget this theme bonus (lord knows I have) and it can either be a blessing or a curse. You could take damage and think it best to move up a free 6″ with DJ, only to put him into charge range of a previously out of range unit. You could think it best to move up each time you take ranged damage only to move out of range of your shield guards and then get blasted by a larger pow weapon. Keep in mind you don’t have to move your max movement and it may be better to just inch up a little when taking damage. I think the Stalkers like the Hyper Aggressive more than the heavies if they only take a little blast damage from something, because all eyes are on the heavies while the Stalkers are in the peripheral. Often times your opponent will activate a squad, move up just out of threat of your Stalkers, then activate another squad who hits you with an AoE, and you get a free move to get into threat range of the first squad.
The list has an interesting play style and different armies approach it differently. Against Khador there might be a large 16″ no man’s land in the middle of the board as they try to pummel you with AoE’s. Against Trollbloods they might just run at you and ask you to deal with it. Whatever your opponent does/will do should determine how you approach the game. If you’re against a lot of ranged options, play coy and keep them at your 17″ arm’s length. If you’re against a lot of infantry, have options to clear a zone for your heavies to go through. In every situation though you should be looking at how much their caster has spent. If they’re down to 3 or less focus/fury you have a prime assassination available. It is possible for this army to brawl it out a little, but keep in mind it isn’t really designed to do that, it’s designed to go fast and hit with wet noodles.
So at this point in the game you’ve moved up as far as you can, told your opponent your crazy threat range, watched them back away, and you’ve White Squalled/Strangleheld any pesky heavies. Now it’s time to strike. Under feat Captain Aiakos has a pretty good non-linear 15″ melee threat and a 20″ ranged threat. Aiakos isn’t necessarily a beast in melee, but he can put some damage on a caster if he needs to, which he oftentimes will. If Captain Aiakos can help the assassination attempt then that’s great. If not, throw Carnage up, get their caster in it’s range and let Kharybdis take over. Most people you play against will unknowingly put their caster within 17″ of Kharybdis, or they will think they’re being clever and hide behind a forest or something. Little do they know that hiding behind a forest is what makes Kharybdis so dangerous.
Casters are hardly ever alone and most times people will put something next to their caster that can be cleared away easily by Kharybdis. In 3 out of 5 of my games with Captain Aiakos I have won the game by charging a trooper who’s standing next to the forest that their caster is hiding behind, toed the forest to get LoS through the forest to their caster, assault sprayed the trooper, killed it, and then redirected my charge attack to the enemy caster. Five MAT9 pow18 attacks is enough to kill almost any caster camping 3 or less focus/fury. The strength of this list really is in Kharybdis’ 4″ reach. It sets up some really unexpected threat angles and you will catch plenty of people off guard with it. The rest is up to dice and every game is a nail biter in my experience.
Aside from that all I can say is to use your head. If you can get a Stalker on their caster, go for it. If Captain Aiakos isn’t able to get to their caster but Kharybdis is, then maybe White Squall something and hope it hits their caster. Or you could have DJ do it while you cast Carnage. In any situation it’s probably very likely that if you don’t win the turn you try to assassinate, you’ve lost. I can understand how that play style might not be fitting for everyone, but if you’re a thrill seeker then this caster will be oodles of noodles of fun to play.
I had originally thought Captain Aiakos was complete garbage when he came out but it has become rather clear to me that he was designed with Kharybdis in mind. He and Kharybdis feel as though they were more powerful at one point and Privateer Press decided to tone them back, because together they are really quite threatening. I’m pretty sure his feat gives assault solely so that Kharybdis can spray some suckers in the way of him and his intended target. Do I think this is secret Cryx tech that will soon sweep the tournament scene? No. Not really. It’s difficult to pull off and good players might not fall for the trap at all. But that can be said about any list with a gimmick, and I’ve been playing and winning with it non-stop against the players in my meta who aren’t exactly scrubs.
The thing with a list like this is that people are planning for the meta, or whatever the drones on the internet say the meta is, and gimmick lists exist outside of the meta. Gimmick lists are trying to play a different game entirely and they’re often the lists that break down the meta and turn it into something else. Hell, spam lists are technically a gimmick and they’ve been dominating the meta since MKIII came out. The list doesn’t answer any questions posed by the enemy and it doesn’t really pose any questions to your opponent either. The list just is. Can you stay outside of 17″? No? Then I’ll see if I kill you. Did I? No? Good game. Re-rack.
It may not be a perfect composition or strategy, but I will say this about the list: it is fun as all hell to play. There’s no grinding through a 2 hour game listening to your opponent moan and groan like with Ghost Fleet, and there’s no spouts of “That’s bullshit!” like there is with Skarre1/double Wraith Engines. Almost every game I play with Captain Aiakos ends with at least 1 or 2 people watching. It’s exciting and daring. It’s fast and tricksy. It’s just a damn good time.