On Episode 29 of Iron Agenda I gave my initial impressions of Epic Thagrosh, along with the rest of the new models the Legion of Everblight received in Hordes: Metamorphosis. Ever since I saw the sculpt I knew that I wanted to be able to play the Messiah with confidence, and that meant a lot of practice to get a good feel for him and what he can do to overcome his weaknesses.
My experience with the Messiah has confirmed many of my earlier opinions regarding some of his deficiencies, but with a few tournaments (including an official Hardcore) utilizing him under my belt, I feel confident enough to talk about him in more depth.
I had been waiting for Hordes: Metamorphosis ever since Hordes: Evolution was first released, primarily to see how an event as epic as Everblight consuming Pyromalfic’s athanc would be handled while maintaining balance on the game table. We’ve always known that some personalities in the Iron Kingdoms defy tabletop rules. Was Thagrosh to be elevated to those ranks, already occupied by the likes of Voyl, Toruk, and Vinter? Fortunately for Legion of Everblight players and modelers the answer was a resounding no.
Privateer Press did an excellent job with the character of Thagrosh, the Messiah. It wasn’t until Evolution that the relationship between the ogrun that was Thagrosh and Everblight was spelled out in black and white. During Thagrosh and Goreshade’s meeting we got a glimpse of how even as Everblight’s host Thagrosh was still allowed to maintain his sense of self and make decisions on his own. It also said a fair bit about Everblight himself – that he was willing to sit back and trust the mental compulsions he placed in his warlocks that accompanied their blighting to work towards his ultimate goals.
With Metamorphosis, the Thagrosh/Everblight relationship shifted. After consuming Pyromalfic, Everblight has taken a more dominant role in their braided existence. Now we almost pity Thagrosh as he fights just to retain his individuality. Meanwhile Everblight’s ego has swelled to draconic levels. Given how he attracted Toruk’s attention the last time he raged out of control, it’s no surprise that even Everblight’s warlocks sense the danger in his unchecked aggression.
Metamorphosis presents the reader with a sympathetic view of Thagrosh’s struggle. The reactions of his warlocks show us how terrible Everblight’s hubris is. The summons they all experience at the end of Metamorphosis highlights just how dangerous Everblight has become to his warlocks as well as himself. All of which makes for a very interesting character to follow in the fluff.
Although perhaps not obvious at first glance, Epic Thagrosh very nicely fits the Glass Cannon motif that the Legion has become known for. He and his warbeasts bring an overwhelming force to the table but the Messiah himself is deceptively easy to defeat. It will require a balancing act from the Legion player to maximize Epic Thagrosh’s destructive capabilities without overexposing him, but woe be it to his enemies if that balance is maintained.
The Messiah has two main strengths on the battlefield. First is his personal melee capability. With the POW of his weapon, Rapture, and the strength increase Epic Thagrosh received in his epic form, he can deal a massive P+S 18 with reach. Aided by True Strike, the Harrier’s animus, he’s able to hit even the highest DEF warcasters/warlocks without issue. This impressive melee output is complemented by Rapture’s Eruption of Ash (a carryover from his non-epic form) and his Claw, which hits for a respectable P+S 14 itself.
With Wings Epic Thagrosh gains freedom of movement similar to many Legion beasts. Although tempered by Hubris and a Warmonger-SPD, it still allows Epic Thagrosh to ignore models and terrain when repositioning on the battlefield – a great boon when you consider some of his weaknesses.
On the other side of the stat line, we see Epic Thagrosh’s role as a warbeast-support warlock – a role at which he excels. With Dragon Storm, a feat which grants his beasts extra movement and an attack, and Glory of Everblight, which amounts to Signs and Portents for Epic Thagrosh and beasts within his control area, it’s clear that his beasts are going to be bringing some serious pain on the tabletop. Even Unnatural Aggression can be upkept on a beast to grant it even greater movement. With the superior mobility of most Legion warbeasts, anything that lets them get around the table faster and/or easier compounds that strength. Finally Flesh Eater allows Epic Thagrosh to remove a target from play while simultaneously healing himself or a warbeast – a nice little two-fer even if it is a tad on the expensive side to cast.
Although a beast-warlock at heart, Epic Thagrosh can support his troops in one minor way. Dragon Blood grants a respectable ARM boost to an entire unit as well as the potential of damaging any model that destroys them in melee. It’s not the most impressive troop-buff in the game but it can be handy if Epic Thagrosh decides to bring a melee or screening unit to the table.
Ah, and here we are. Every silver lining has a cloud, Epic Thagrosh has big fat cumulonimbus hanging ominously overhead.
First is Epic Thagrosh’s personal defenses. Nemo and Severius, the old men of Warmachine, have higher DEF scores than the Messiah. Even offset with a respectable Butcher-level amount of health, his lower DEF combined with a large-sized base means Epic Thagrosh is particularly vulnerable to being hit with ranged/magic debuffs or just straigt assassination. One would expect clouds and Epic Thagrosh’s Wings to mitigate these difficulties, but there is more for the Legion player to consider.
Hubris is simultaneously the best and worst ability Epic Thagrosh possesses. It fits his fluff so perfectly that it’s hard to complain, but Hubris basically ties Epic Thagrosh in place if he can’t kill all the enemy models in his melee range before he starts moving. The problem can be mitigated with activating other models first (delaying the casting of Glory of Everblight) or Slipstreaming him out of combat, but neither are guarantees and even worse, dictate the Epic Thagrosh player’s order of activation for him. Even a bigger problem are models like the Seneschal and Gudrun the Wanderer who stick around after losing all their health. With Epic Thagrosh’s defensive shortcomings as mentioned above, it may only take one turn of corralling him for an opponent to finish him off.
There’s also the minor issue of Epic Thagrosh being an Abomination. A double-digit CMD score does help with this somewhat but it only takes one bad roll on a Command Check for your Swamp Gobbers to flee, and that might have been the turn you wanted to rely on their smoke cloud to protect yourself. And then there are the Legionnaires – supposedly Thagrosh’s bodyguards and excellent targets for Dragon Blood… if only they weren’t afraid of him. Sure, the chance of their flight is low, but why risk it when you could bring Swordsmen instead? Especially now with the Abbott and Champion unit attachment. Balancing Abominations with non-fearless models is nothing new to Legion players but it’s yet another thing to consider during army construction, deployment, and movement.
As much as I like Epic Thagrosh, I don’t feel that he’s as competitive at the Masters-level events as Saeryn and Epic Lylyth. He brings a number of weapons to the table but his susceptibility to assassination means he’s going to have a hard time with the most optimized lists currently driving the meta.
One of the keys to playing Epic Thagrosh is to keep the pressure on your opponent. Epic Thagrosh’s beasts have to be doing as much damage as possible each round to blunt any potential counter attack. That means both identifying and neutralizing the biggest threats to Epic Thagrosh as well as trying to keep an opponent reeling and unable to launch an optimal counterattack. That’s not a strategy that is unique to Epic Thagrosh but with his large base size and lower defenses the Epic Thagrosh player has to be mindful of how much danger he’s in so he can decide how much to extend from round to round.
With the release of Metamorphosis models, Epic Thagrosh will gain a number of near auto-includes. Typhon is the first worth mentioning, as his animus Excessive Healing and his affinity make the Messiah extremely survivable, to say nothing of how Typhon will benefit from Glory of Everblight. The Nephilim Protector can help protect Epic Thagrosh as well as use its animus to stand him up so that being knocked down doesn’t slow his advance.
That doesn’t mean he only benefits from post-Metamophosis models. Under Glory of Everblight almost any Legion warbeast will be deadly but a Seraph or two will be particularly so. While the Carnivean sports more initial attacks, Dragon Storm can allow an Angelius or two to run or charge over the enemy’s line, then get a second movement and extra attacks after the end of the turn. The Nephilim Soldier’s Massacre animus allows charging without being forced and will allow Epic Thagrosh to send warbeasts in to unleash their full Fury in attacks, all under the effects of Glory.
In fact, combining Slipstream and Massacre on an Angelius or two (who are already Ravenous) will allow the winged terrors to be placed 2″ (Slipstream) before charging 10″. If they kill their charge target, both Massacre and Ravenous trigger, allowing the Angelius to move 5″ and make another attack for free — all before being forced even once. With additional 3″ movements from Ravenous as the Angelius continues to kill and the 7″ move of Dragon Storm, the Angelius can strike from over half a table away. A Shepherd or two to extend Epic Thagrosh’s Control Area for forcing and leeching can help get the most mileage out of this tactic.
Though expensive to cast at over half his FURY stat, Black Chasm can be a make-or-break spell in some games. The short range means Epic Thagrosh can’t cast it safely from the rear but a 4″ AOE of knockdown on enemies damaged by it can clear lanes, drop defenses, and slow advances. Casting it and Glory of Everblight does require all of Epic Thagrosh’s fury; but if he casts Glory first, then Black Chasm will benefit from it. The result is a risky combo that leaves Epic Thagrosh without transfers but can win games if successful.
Between the fantastic sculpt and how much fun Epic Thagrosh can be to play, I see him having a strong presence in the casual environment. There are other warlocks in the Legion army that can run beasts as well as Epic Thagrosh but he is by far the most fluffy warlock and the best looking on the tabletop.
A big huge beatstick warlock to accompany some big huge beatstick Legion warbeasts that run hot off Glory with Forsaken and Shepherds to support them sounds like a lot of fun. Seraphs can provide an excellent crowd control element to the list and combined with a few utility beasts you can have a solid beast-heavy low model-count army.
Another option for Epic Thagrosh is a Shredder-heavy list. Rabid and Pack Mentality can make a handful of Shredders deadly. Add in Glory of Everblight and Dragon Storm, and those little walking mouths can be even more dangerous.
Thagrosh, the Messiah is big, brutal, and can get some amazing mileage out of his warbeasts. Although not the most competitive caster, he certainly has a bag full of trics. With proper applicateion, Epic Thagrosh will be a force to reckon with on the table.