The Meta Boogeyman – “The Ghost Fleet”

There’s been a lot of chit-chat in various places on Ghost Fleet recently.  Between Tom Guan tearing up a bunch of Steamrollers, Tim Banky smashing the South Ontario Open and MuseOn Con, as well as strong finishes in European tournaments, it’s the latest boogeyman everyone’s talking about.

The quality of theorymachine and suggestions on offer vary hugely.  Some of the suggestions are, to be frank, unrealistic.  Honestly, out of all the lists I’ve played with and against in Mk3, Ghost Fleet has the biggest gap between expectation and reality.  I guarantee, if you haven’t played against it yet, the game will more than likely not play out the way you expect.  If you get the chance, get someone to play it for you, you’ll have a better understanding of how the game will actually play out and can approach your theorymachine with a more realistic perspective.

If you want some aural pleasure from the renowned Tim Banky, he covers a lot of Ghost Fleet in Fully Boosted Episode 42 – Fully Boosted, Episode 42

The purpose of this blog post is to manage people’s expectations so they can go into the match-up knowing a little more, as well as catering for people who don’t / won’t listen to podcasts.

In big handfuls we’ll detail:

  • The kinds of list ‘templates’ you might see
  • Strengths of different ‘casters who might run The Ghost Fleet
  • Things that are bad into Ghost Fleet
  • Things that are good into Ghost Fleet

List Templates

So, first things first, the perks of playing Ghost Fleet:

  • +1 Starting roll
  • +1 Deathbound rolls
  • Free stuff

The kicker is the additional Deathbound.  Revenant Crew were bringing back D3 dudes a turn anyways, the D3+1 soon adds up, believe me.  The free points are afforded for taking units of Revenants, and a Wraith Engine is 15pts, so Cryx players are looking for exactly 60pts of Revenants, leaving us with 3 templates (as far as I know… let me know if there’s some other combination of Revenants to hit 60pts exactly!):

  • Min Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Min Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Min Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Min Blackbanes
  • Revenant Cannon Crew
  • Rengrave (Free)
  • Hellslinger Phantom (Free)
  • Pistol Wraith (Free)

 

  • Min Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Min Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Min Revenant Crew + 2 Rifles
  • Max Blackbanes
  • Rengrave (Free)
  • Hellslinger Phantom (Free)
  • Pistol Wraith (Free)

 

  • Max Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Max Revenant Crew + 3 Rifles
  • Min Blackbanes
  • Rengrave
  • Hellslinger Phantom (Free)
  • Pistol Wraith (Free)
  • Pistol Wraith (Free)

Subtle differences which I won’t go into, as they don’t hugely affect the way the game plays out.  There’s more variation if you decide not to include a Wraith Engine, but, the Wraith Engine is pretty sweet at the moment and only getting better via CID, so expect to see it some!

Between the Hellslinger Phantom, Pistol Wraith, Blackbanes and Wraith Engine, there’s a fair chunk of Incorporeal.  Between the Rifles, Hellslinger Phantom & Pistol Wraith(s) there’s a fair chunk of quality shooting.

On top of this there’s also the battlegroup, but honestly, games with Ghost Fleet are carried by the Revenant Crew, so the battlegroup matters much less than you might think.

 

Casters

Deneghra1

Denny1 is pretty much the undisputed Queen of the Ghost Fleet.  She brings a lot of strengths to the list, debuffs galore between The Withering, Crippling Grasp and Parasite mean those Revenants are suddenly hitting like trucks.  Any expectations of hitting power and durability go out the window when you’re suddenly -7 ARM.

You can get cute with Dark Seduction (“I see you have Gorman, wouldn’t it be a shame if he Rust Bombed your colossal”), and Venom is neat spot removal for Stealth solos / units, so there’s nearly always something for her to do.

Generally she’ll Feat deep, gut what she can of your army, reprisals are limited due to the debuffs from The Withering (no-one gets as much work done on Denny’s Feat turn as they expect), and then she’ll debuff what she can the turn after and get the hell out of dodge.  Feat turn is generally when she’s at highest risk, but also probably when your odds of killing her are iffy.  Make no mistake, she’s the weakest link in her list and assassination is generally how she loses.  She is however, Stealth, which can make killing her off easier said than done.

In an ideal world, you need to offer up enough to get Denny to Feat, keep enough back to ride through the post-Feat turn, and ensure you have enough left after that to win.  Oh, and not lose on scenario whilst this is going on.

If you’re relying on Magical Sprays (e.g. Blackclads, Ternion etc) their life expectancy is lower than you think.  You can’t use Magic Attacks if affected by The Withering, and that’s assuming they didn’t get shot by Rifle Ghost Shot CRA’s before Denny Feated.  If they didn’t die before Denny Feated, or when she Feated, they may well die the turn after she Feated before you’ve got work out of them.

Her assassination run is dangerous in its own right, which is where some “Anti Ghost Fleet” lists fall down.  If you aren’t some combination of Steady / Spell Ward / Stealth, there’s a good chance Denny can kill your ‘caster out of the gate.  Between Scourge, Parasite and Feat, you can be taking anything up to 11 Ghost Shots to the face whilst Knocked Down and at -5 ARM.  If you can get the Wraith Engine in, -7 ARM.  With their ‘caster under Feat, they can’t run away so you can potentially follow-up and deal the killing blow the turn after even if you don’t kill them that turn.  Even someone like Butcher3 camping 6 isn’t fond of this.

Asphyxious1

Lich1 brings some things Denny1 doesn’t.  Spectral Leech is situational, but incredible when you get to use it, dropping the Krielstone Aura so ‘beasts aren’t covered by it, or dropping Makeda2’s Fury some so she can’t Stay Death as often.  Or just dropping a ‘caster’s camp right before shooting them in the face with Revenant Rifles.

The Feat is deceptively decent at randomly removing a unit from the table, something like MHSF, throw a boosted Parasite to apply -3 ARM and suddenly the Feat is auto-hitting POW 8, killing very reliably.

A -5 ARM swing all game is nice to have.  Breath of Corruption is infantry management in the mirror, along with Hellfire to have a punt at the Ghost Fleet mirror.

Aside from this, Lich1 gets decent work done himself late game.  Sustained Attack with a P&S 15 melee weapons is incredible, and Teleport to keep him safe from reprisals.

Biggest weakness of Lich1, compared to Denny1, is he’s not Stealth and is therefore susceptible to shooting if you can’t protect him somehow (a balancing act when you want to get work out of him late game!).

Goreshade3

Goreshade3 goes in a different direction to Denny1 and Lich1.  He doesn’t bring the incredible ARM debuffs (and indeed caps at only -2 ARM, even with a Wraith Engine as Scything Touch is now Dark Shroud, sad trombone), but he does bring the tools to offer a very good assassination threat (Stationary, and Siphon Bolt to lower camp) as well as being equally good into high DEF models, freezing them and then applying pirates.  SPD 8 with Reposition 3 also affords him the ability to move around a lot to score zones safely.

Really though, the reason to play Goreshade3 Ghost Fleet is for Mockery of Life.  Mockery is additional recursion on top of Deathbound, and very useful for shoring up the units suffering bigger losses (either due to getting shot more, or poor Deathbound rolls).  Granted, they can’t attack when returned via Mockery, but it’s still recursion your opponent has to kill again.

Much like Lich1, Goreshade3 can also get good work done personally late game.  Occultation keeps him safe too, so I wouldn’t rely on assassinating him unless you ignore Stealth!

Witch Coven

Why play Witch Coven Ghost Fleet?  Well, pirates are dangerous up close, so you want to shoot them from a distance.  For starters, Nightfall (Feat) turns off a turn of shooting, so you’ve one less turn of shooting pirates than you might have expected.

In addition to this, their spell list affords a broad set of tools, between pseudo hit-buffs (if you don’t mind fishing for Crit Blinds), an ARM debuff in Curse of Shadows, as well as movement tools in Ghost Walk / Veil of Mists / Curse of Shadows / Infernal Machines to apply Stalkers where you really don’t want Stalkers.

Egregore can also Stealth the Wraith Engine / Pistol Wraith(s) / Hellslinger, making a select handful of models harder to deal with even before/after the Coven have Feated.

Personally, I haven’t explored Witch Coven Ghost Fleet, but having played them in other lists, I can definitely see potential.

Terminus

So, pirates are pretty good at dying and then coming back again.  Wouldn’t it be annoying if some you intended to kill randomly didn’t die?  Well, that’s half the reason to play Terminus.  Making a 10” bubble of pirates Tough anchors the recursion game.  Additionally, he can Sac Pawn to them, so Big T is difficult to assassinate from range.

Between Malediction and Dark Shroud you have access to -4 ARM, so there’s a decent degree of ARM cracking in the list.

Also, Hellfire.  Denny1 might be the Queen of the Ghost Fleet, but as far as Ghost Fleet mirrors go, Terminus is the King.  Suck it Denny!  Sac Pawn means he doesn’t die to Denny’s assassination run, and Hellfire RFP’s enemy Revenant Leaders.

Due to the fact that, other than Tough, Terminus doesn’t do a lot for his army, he really wants to either be getting work out of him, or using his presence to bully the board.

 

Things that are bad into Ghost Fleet

So, these things aren’t strictly “bad”, but they’re not going to be as good or relevant as a lot of people are suggesting.  I’m not listing individual things just high level ideas that, frankly, don’t work.

Sprays / AoE’s

8” sprays on SPD 6 models?  Cool.  14” threat.  Probably getting shot by the Revenant Rifles before you can deliver them.  Or if not the Revenant Rifles, the Pistol Wraiths / Hellslinger Phantom to stock up on some juicy souls.

Gunfighter Grapeshot charges from Winterguard Infantry?  15” threat.  Again, probably getting shot before you can deliver enough of them.

AoE’s?  On a hit, you’ll probably kill 1 Pirate.  On a miss, you’ll maybe hit 2 Pirates.  Here’s a shot of a fairly standard unpack in a game with Ghost Fleet, there’s little reason to bunch up until you’re killing heavies, at which point you’re ahead on attrition that losing more pirates (that come back) doesn’t really matter, the damage has already been done:

20170217_121902

Volume of Shots

How many shots do you have and how deep do they threaten?  Super accurate high quality shots in a low quantity simply won’t cut it, sorry.

Ideally you need to be threatening 18”+ (SPD 6, RNG 12 is a good baseline) with a high quantity of accurate shots or it’s simply not going to be enough.  High volume of shots with a poor range is likely getting shot by Revenant Rifles before you get a round of shooting in, your own reprisals are then stymied by The Withering (for example) at which point pirates are charging and it all goes to pot.

Ghost Fleet aside, the biggest reason volume of shots won’t be as good as you think it will is that it often falls down vs off-lists.  Balancing enough shots vs Ghost Fleet without it being dead weight vs off-lists is an art form in its own right.

Limited RFP (Remove From Play) Abilities

If you have limited RFP and are planning on applying it to Revenant Leaders, In order for this to actually be a threat, you need to be able to do it deep.  We’re talking ~24” threat.  Running arc node + Hellfire, that kind of thing.  If Ragman’s Bone Shaker is your single source of RFP, it’s probably not going to cut it, sorry.

You also need to be able to deliver it via worst case conditions, i.e. it  needs to not die to Revenant Rifle CRAs, not be screwed by The Withering etc.  Revenants can potentially advance up and get work done, and then shoot the Leader themselves to Field Promote further back, hence the need to threaten deep with RFP.

From the Cryx perspective, it’s entirely possible to offer up one unit, let the Leader get RFP’ed and then destroy the source of RFP and ride the other 2 units of Revenants to victory.  If you have limited RFP, you need to be able to deliver it either 2+ turns on the bounce, or protect it in between turns.

Massed Magic Weapons

As Tim Banky has alluded to in most of the Faction FB groups, Magic Weapons are not the key to beating Ghost Fleet.  Massed Magic Weapons is unnecessary, especially if they’re being carried around by melee infantry which are often a liability (Doom Reavers just look like more Blackbanes to me).

“Just kill whole units”

Uh, what?  Sorry, but no.  Unless your opponent is asleep at the wheel, this really shouldn’t happen, please don’t plan for it.  If you get the chance to for whatever reason, that’s great, go ahead and do it.  However, the basis of your “Ghost Fleet Plan” really should not be killing off whole units.

Here’s a couple pics from recent games, “insurance models” are miles from the action, and really, they don’t even need to be that close (I like them in CMD for the option of Ghost Walk).

20170525_192742

20170513_110032

ARM Stacking / Box Spam

Much like “just kill whole units”, this suggestion has so much potential to go pear shaped.  Most ARM stacking or Box Spam lists fall down on quantity of attacks, so shouldn’t reasonably get dropped into Ghost Fleet anyways.  Such heavies can casually be dropped by a handful of 1.5pt Pirates, it’s easy for this to go wrong.

If you can make it work, more power to you, but there’s better starting points to get a leg-up out of the gate rather than making it unnecessarily hard on yourself!

 

Things that are good into Ghost Fleet

Again, I’m not going to list individual things, just high level ideas as a starting point.

Firstly, there’s a caveat.  With all of this you really can’t / shouldn’t build a silver bullet for Ghost Fleet if the same list can’t at least play a game into common off-lists.  Sure, you could drop Vlad1 with 40 Rifle Corp and shoot a lot of Pirates if you get Ghost Fleet, but what’s the point if you can’t play into Witch Coven, or Lich2 Dark Host as the off-list, for example?  If you can’t drop your “Ghost Fleet tech” into Cryx off-lists, then you really should go back to the drawing board.

Similarly, if your “Ghost Fleet tech” can play into Cryx off-lists, but is poor against the rest of the field leaving you with gaping holes in match-ups, then again, you probably should go back to the drawing board.

RFP (Remove From Play) Abilities

Tip top of the list, the ability to Remove From Play.  Preferably at range.  Tim Banky covers these sorts of things in the podcast referenced above.  Best sources are Hellmouth / Shatterstorm / Explosivo.  If you have access to those in faction, you’re off to a strong start.

Ranged RFP is King.  Melee RFP is still good, if only for the fact it changes the way the game plays out (Ghost Fleet can’t be nearly as aggressive), particularly if your melee RFP can’t be reliably shot by Revenants / Pistol Wraiths etc.

Some Magic Weapons

The flip side of the above remarks re: massed magic weapons, is that access to some magic weapons / Magic Attacks is a benefit.

Key targets you need to be able to kill, basically, are Blackbane and the Wraith Engine.  If you can kill Blackbane, Reanimation goes away.  If you can kill the Wraith Engine, the Wraith Engine goes away.  The Hellslinger / Pistol Wraiths / normal Ghost Pirates all have to attack to have an effect on the game, so give them something juicy to attack, and just kill them the turn after they attack.

Arced Spells are probably enough for Blackbane himself.  Killing the Wraith Engine basically needs something that can kill ARM 18/20 plus boxes.  Heavies with Magic Weapons, whether innate or buffed are probably the easiest source for this (e.g. Ruin, Mulg, Myrmidon guns)

With that said, if you’re relying on support pieces to supply models with Magic Weapons (e.g. Arlan Strangeways), if they’re not Stealthed, they need to stay either >20” away from Revenant Rifles, or if you’re killing them but not Removing From Play, >23” from Revenant Leaders.  Range 14” CRA’s with Ghost Shot are fairly accurate (a lazy RAT 8 with Veteran Leader, RAT 10 if they can aim, and POW 13 before debuffs).

RFP (Remove From Play) Abilities

Did you know RFP abilities are good against lists that are dependent on recursion?  Who knew?

Soul Storm / Scathers / Covering Fire etc

In short, infantry denial pieces, be they AOEs / Wall templates or anything similar.  These kinds of tools don’t necessarily help you win, however, what they do is they buy you time and help delay you losing, which helps.

Absolutely clutch point if you’re using this as part of your plan is to ensure that your own ‘caster isn’t the weak link.  If I can just run a Deathripper through a Scather and Feat / Scourge / Parasite / Rifles on your ‘caster, that’s an easy way out to avoid playing around the infantry denial.

RFP (Remove From Play) Abilities

Finally, RFP.  If you don’t understand by now that RFP is good into Ghost Fleet, there’s no helping you 😉

Caster Resilience

Mentioned above under Denny1, but bears repeating.  It helps massively if your ‘caster is resilient to the kinds of threats Ghost Fleet will throw at you, no use having the tools to beat Ghost Fleet if your ‘caster just dies before you get the chance to win.

Immunity to Stationary or Knockdown helps vs Goreshade3 Feat or Denny1 Scourge.  Similarly, Spell Ward (whether naturally or via Arcane Ward / Devout etc) massively alters the odds of dying to assassination or not.

By far the best defensive tech is Stealth, all the debuffs in the world don’t matter if Ghost Fleet can’t apply attacks to your ‘caster to seal the deal, so as long as you don’t die to 2-3 Venoms then Stealth will help save your arse.

 

Thoughts / Ideas?

Anybody got anything to add?

Happy to field questions, and maybe generate a follow-up piece if there’s enough additional suggestions / ideas / comments (maybe an FAQ?) to warrant a follow-up 🙂

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