Craftworlds Codex Review: HQs: Warlock Conclave/Skyrunner Conclave

One Warlock, two Warlock,

Red Warlock, blue Warlock

This Warlock is a rambunctious tyke,

This one rides to battle on bike,

My what a lot of ‘Locks there are!

Overview

A relative of the Warlock/Warlock Skyrunner, the Conclave version is pretty similar at a first glance, but has quite a few differences under the surface. Unlike Warlocks, who are characters, Warlock Conclaves are simply a regular unit with no special targeting restrictions. Coming in squads of two to ten and with the option to send them out on foot or on jetbikes, they have the exact same statline as a regular Warlock (or Skyrunner) does, but at 5pts cheaper per body. While this isn’t a huge point decrease, with as cheap as Warlocks are it’s enough to make a surprising difference- and the ability to take a big squad of them can mean that you have a pretty scary unit when it comes to melee, albeit one that doesn’t really have any way of getting through armor saves.

Special Rules and Wargear

A Warlock Conclave comes with most all of the same special rules and wargear as a standard Warlock model; Battle Focus and Ancient Doom, as well as Rune Armor (for a 4++ save), Shuriken Pistol, and Witchblade. You can swap the Witchblade for a Singing Spear if you want, giving them a bit stronger shooting attack, but this cost can add up pretty quickly for a whole unit.

Most importantly, a Conclave is still a psyker and knows two powers from the same Runes of Battle table, plus Smite. They are unusual, however, in that their casting and denial abilities are dependent on the number of models remaining in the squad- with one to three models, they cast/deny one power and Smite always deals one wound with; at four to six models, Smite is cast normally and they can manifest or deny two powers per turn; with seven or more models, they automatically deal d6 damage with Smite and can cast/deny three powers per turn. Regardless of the number of models, though, their Smite always has a 9″ range.

 

Uses

The Warlock Conclave doesn’t really seem like a great deal taken on the surface; the character rule and its protections against shooting are easily worth 5pts per model, especially since models beyond the first one are largely redundant except insomuch as they provide extra wounds. And while you do get to know two powers, two Warlocks bought separately (i.e. the minimum Conclave squad) also know two powers, and can cast two powers, and can move independently and so on. A Spiritseer has just as many wounds as the Conclave, casts just as many powers, and is 15pts cheaper while still being a character. So it doesn’t seem like there’s a strong reason to run with them, on the surface.

But, like with the basic Warlock, there’s some very important features hiding underneath that make them an especially-valuable part of a Craftworlds army. Not only can they access the Seer Council stratagem just like a normal Warlock, giving them the +1 to cast so long as they hang out with a Farseer, but they can also access an absolutely golden strategy in the form of Concordance of Power. This unassuming stratagem lets you spend 1CP to double the range of a Runes of Battle spell cast by a Conclave- so any of your spells can reach out to 36″, and as none of them require line of sight, you can hit most anything on the board so long as you’ve planned for it.

Now, that all seems well and good, but there’s more to it than that. You may have noticed that psychic powers in 8th edition mostly have ranges in the 12″ to 24″ band, and that’s not an accident- it is, in fact, a very intentional choice by Games Workshop because the way that Deny the Witch works is extremely different now. In order to make a Deny roll, you have to be within 24″ of the unit casting the power. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve got going on, if you’re more than two feet away, you can’t shut down a spell. Not even if you are the target of that spell. A Warlock Conclave that uses Concordance of Power to cast a spell while staying 25″ or more from all enemy psykers cannot have that spell shut down, and given how strong some of the debuffs available to them are that is an incredibly powerful assurance to have. It is especially strong when you are using it to debuff a big target like Magnus or a Knight, something that is normally very difficult to get rid of; by dropping their movement with Restrain you can ensure that they don’t get into combat this turn, and by dropping their saves with Jinx you can all but guarantee they die if you’re willing to focus firepower on them. As big targets like these are an important part of the meta right now, the Conclave is thus an extremely important tool for Craftworlds to have available to them.

So we’ve established why you might want the Conclave pretty strongly there; but what about the problems with them? As they aren’t characters, they can be freely targeted by the enemy, and that is an issue. However, since they do not require line of sight for their spells (as typically only damage-dealing spells do), if you can find a good ruin or other piece of blocking terrain, you should be largely safe from the enemy. There certainly are weapons that ignore LoS out there, but they tend not to be terribly common and the armies that have the most of them (such as Imperial Guard) just don’t have that many good targets for your debuff spells anyways. A Death Guard army running Mortarion might have a Plagueburst Crawler or two, for example, but between the penalty for moving and the Alaitoc penalty, they should be reduced to near-uselessness (and all the more so if you pop the stratagem on the Conclave.) Renegades and Heretics are still a consideration with their artillery as well (since it can easily be mixed with the daemon primarchs, or with Knights) but it is no longer the powerhouse that it once was.

Even in matchups where you don’t need to be debuffing a single huge target, being able to reach across the table for a Quicken, Empower, or other spell is a very good capability to have- and avoiding a chance for the enemy to Deny is still great, as most lists will have some kind of psychic defense around. In short, even when your Conclave isn’t a critical part of the army, it’s still doing similar work to a standard Warlock, and standard Warlocks have a great list of spells.

In past editions, Warlock Conclaves were often used as melee hammer units that could dive into the heart of the enemy formation, weathering huge amounts of firepower and chipping away or locking up large portions of their army (usually supported by multiple Farseers and/or other characters.) Although it is still possible to do this with them to some degree, changes to the unit itself (4+ armor instead of 3+, more expensive when on a jetbike, etc) as well as changes to the game’s meta in general make this a much, much less attractive plan. That said, it’s not completely unusable in a more casual setting- Warlocks can put out quite a few swings in melee, and always wound on a 2+ is a lot more impressive than it was before; d3 damage per swing is no joke, either. However, if you’re trying to do it, I would recommend using a Wave Serpent or Webway Portal to deliver them, rather than trying to approach on foot or by jetbike. As the Conclave can potentially cast Quicken on itself, this can allow them to quickly close with the enemy and launch charges, probably to follow up a volley of shots with Singing Spears to try and wear down any heavy targets nearby.  It’s probably not a winning strategy, since other units (such as Wraithblades, Singing Spears, and Howling Banshees) do it better, but it can be a fun toy to play around with.

 

Countering

So what do you do about a Conclave? Well, you have a few options. Some armies can just shoot at them- and with only a handful of wounds and 4++ saves, they will go down quite quickly when you start putting wounds on them. As with many other Craftworld HQs, anything that can actually target them is a pretty legit danger thanks to T3- even Guardsmen or Tau assaulting them present a non-ignorable danger.

Beyond simply killing them, armies that need to prevent them from casting undeniable spells should try and close the distance quickly and prevent them from having space to retreat back into; while that 36″ casting range is excellent, it’s meaningless if enemy psykers are placed on the board such that it’s not possible to be more than 24″ away from them. If you can get the first turn, dropping your big models right in the enemy’s face (which was probably the plan regardless) will go a long ways towards stopping their shenanigans. Beware of the Conclave arriving via Webway, however- many times the Craftworld player will do this to prevent you from closing with them, and while it may only buy a single turn often a single turn is all that is required from them to down your biggest threat.

Final Thoughts

Whether debuffing an enemy unit or buffing one of your own, any unit casting spells from the Runes of Fate table can be a powerful asset to your army and help swing the course of a game for a very modest price. Craftworld lists that don’t include Runes of Battle in some form- whether a Conclave, Spiritseer, Hemlock, or just the vanilla Warlock- should be rather rare in tournament play, as it’s hard to beat the combination of price point and effect on the game.  A Warlock Conclave can be particularly effective in this role, and so long as we keep seeing big threats as centerpieces to competitive armies in the meta, they are going to be a consistently-strong choice for Craftworlds.

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