Tuesday, 8 December 2015

10-T Yan Lo: An Apology

So I owe Yan Lo an apology, and it's time to pay up...

Earlier this year I'd made no secret of my dislike for the dual faction 10-T/Resser Master. To me, he felt like an amalgamation of minion-level tricks. There was a bit of healing and buffing here, some model swapping there – handy in their own right, but hardly worthy of a Master, right? And he was a dirty Resurrectionist no less… a Faction I quit earlier this year thanks, in part, to having a playstyle I just didn’t enjoy. But nevertheless, and despite the communities overall ambivalence around him, there were still holdouts. A select group who somehow “got” Yan Lo, who understood what made him so great and knew the secrets to unlocking his potential. Despite my reservations, I couldn’t resist. With 10-Thunders being my new Faction of choice it was inevitable that I give Yan Lo at least one more try. So I listened to podcasts about Yan Lo (specifically Schemes and Stones and Before we Begin…several times), read about him on the forums and PullMyFinger, even got some advice from @BigBoyBucky on twitter. Eventually I managed to play a game with him. And then another, and another. Okay, so it turns out he’s actually pretty cool and at least for now, has earned a place with Misaki as one of my two go-to Masters for Ten Thunders. 

Thus, I'm so very sorry Yan Lo. I thought you sucked, but you really don't. Well, maybe you still suck as a Resser but I won't hold that against you - Ressers suck anyway. ;)

Lo Pan Yan Lo is not amused...

Like most Masters, the trick to using Yan Lo is to understand where his strengths lie. Unfortunately between his Ascendant upgrades and a set of actions that seem very tame at first glance, he’s definitely one of the harder masters to figure out. There’s nothing that screams “use me this way!” and in fact his Ascendent upgrades only add to the confusion – should he be focusing on crew support with Spirit Ascendent, Instil Youth and Transcendence? Or does he instead clear enemy models out with Bone Ascendant’s  Hunpo Assault and a Brutal  Khakkara?

"Get back here young lady, I wish to...Dance...with you!"

Yan Yes!

10-T Yan Lo basically excels at three things – supporting and healing his crew (Instil Youth), getting key enemy models out of position and into melee with something unpleasant (Lightning Jump) and most importantly, getting in your opponents face and just Refusing To Fucking Die. That’s not to say that Yan Lo’s unkillable, but between his Bone and Ash Ascendant upgrades, Misdirection, Fortify Spirit, and potentially some healing backup from the rest of his crew, he’s not going to go down easily.

These strengths, Lightning Jump and his resiliance, comprise the core of how you are supposed to play him (IMO of course!). Basically get him up the field whilst keeping his crew in good shape, then Lightning Jump into a chunk of the opponents crew, simultaneously tying them up and isolating a key model for the rest of your crew to deal with. Which model you choose will depend on any number of things (as per usual) but generally it’s a keystone model that the opponent is relying on (eg. Slop Hauler) or simply the biggest target that Yan Lo doesn’t think he can take on himself.

After that, Yan’s job is mostly to just stay alive while disrupting the opponents crew for as long as possible. Almost all his soulstones go toward damage prevention and Masks for Misdirection, and I’ll often go on Defensive Stance too, if he’s facing sufficiently meaty models. Other than that, he’ll regularly use his heal to keep friendly models alive and usually throw a few attacks out against anyone who’s squishy enough. I’ll admit I’ve only rarely used his Transcendance action to armour up friendly models. But that’s not because it’s bad, just that I don’t often find an instance where I’ve felt the need for it.

"Damnit woman, stop running!"

Yan No. :(

Yan Lo’s weakness is his crew’s lack of mobility. All the Ancestors have very average movement and while Yan Lo can Lightning Dance like a Champion, the nature of the spell means he’s the only one moving around, and only ever to where your opponents models are. What this means is that Yan needs to either stick to strategies and schemes that don’t require a lot of movement, or fill that gap with some mobile models of your own. Of course often you’ll want to balance that mobility with the need to actually kill parts of your opponents crew – something Yan Lo is merely okay at. So building a crew becomes a balancing act between having the models to move your guys up the field, but also to kill whatever needs killing. The strategy and schemes influence how badly you need those elements of course, but I’ve found that I rarely have much wiggle room in the crew. In other words, you need to be able to rationalise each and every model you add to Yan Lo’s crew. If a model doesn’t do something you don’t absolutely need, then it needs to go.

Of course to work at his best, Yan Lo also needs Chi. He needs it to attach his upgrades, but without it Yan’s spells are pretty poor – Lightning dance and Instil Youth are both very card hungry if you’re forced to cast them with his base Ca of 5. Short of killing his own models (something I’m reluctant to waste SS and AP on) Yan Lo can’t really accumulate much Chi until your crew has gotten stuck in with the opponent and models start dying. For what it’s worth, I don’t set out to build a crew with models I could afford to throw into the enemy and get them killed (although Clockwork Traps are admittedly very cheap…).

Most games, I’ve found myself making sure Yan Lo has Bone and/or Ash Ascendent by the time he’s Lightning Danced into the thick of things (usually applying one of them after he’s benefited from the increased Ca to cast Lightning Dance). After that I don’t go out of my way to get extra Chi. Between discarding for Focus Chi and models generally dieing around him, he tends to have enough for the rest of the game.

I spent way too long looking through memes to find this...

Yan Grow?

Yan’s choice of upgrades should definitely reflect his in-your-face playstyle. The way I’ve been playing him exposes him to a lot of angry crew models, so my upgrades have been focussed toward keeping him a thorn in the side of my opponent for as long as possible! To that end, my three standard upgrades for Yan have been Misdirection, Fortify Spirit and Brutal Khakkara.

Misdirection is invaluable if you want to put him in the middle of your opponents crew, and I’ll generally horde the masks in my hand to get the trigger as often as my opponent dares to hit him. Fortify Spirit is a more recent addition in my games with Yan. He seemed to do fine without it but I did keep finding situations where I really wished I could just avoid a certain attack altogether. I’m still not convinced that it’s needed for Yan, but it’s cheap enough that I’m willing to give it a try for now.

When you compared to Yan Lo’s Spirit Barrage (with its potential Ca 8), Ml 5 on the Brutal Khakkara just doesn’t seem appealing. That said, I’ve really liked having it available on Yan Lo. As per above, Yan Lo’s role is to get in the opponents face and tie up his key models. So the 2” melee range allows Yan to engage more models, while the threat of a 3/4/5 damage flip on disengaging discourages your opponent from attempting to get away. I also found that minimum 3 damage great if it’s going to finish off a given model with one attack (such as the Performer Yan Lo killed in the Wyrd Chronicles 19 battle report).

Reliquary certainly seems like a bargain at 1 Soulstone, but in reality I’ve almost never taken it. Summoning an Ancestor your opponent just killed might be great, but in reality it hasn’t come up often enough for me. Recently the only Ancestor I’ve been taking is Yin (more on why below), but with her negative flips she’s such a pain to kill that my opponent has usually concentrated on other models. Chiaki and Toshiro are squishier but they’re also not frontline models, meaning that they’re not that likely to be the focus of your opponent. All that leaves is Izamu and once I’ve got a proxy for him, the Shadow Emmissary. Both of those feel both dangerous and vulnerable enough for my opponent to want to kill so if I take either of those in my crew,  I’ll be making room for the Reliquary upgrade too.

As for his Ascendant upgrades, I find that Yan Lo definitely needs to get either Ash or Spirit Ascendant on himself as soon as possible, ideally turn 1. Both boost his resilience (which is essential of course), but as a (0) upgrade Ascendance competes with his healing from Instil Youth. That healing can become essential to keeping your crew alive as early as turn 2, so Turn 1 is the only time you can be sure that Yan Lo will have a chance to apply an upgrade. If I had to choose, I’d absolutely add Spirit Ascendant over Ash. The halved damage for Incorporeal is almost always going to help Yan Lo out more, although it’s obviously less effective against against Ca-heavy crews.

Of the other upgrades, the only one I’ve used on Yan Lo was Wings of Wind. However while he appreciates the mobility, between Instil Youth and Ascendance I found that Yan really doesn’t have space for another (0) action. Hence it’s long since been swapped out for Fortify Spirit.

Yan’s Bro’s!

What do I take with Yan Lo? Well here’s the list I went with in the battle report I published in the Wyrd Chronicles 19;

Yan Lo
- Brutal Khakkhara 1
- Misdirection 2
- Fortify Spirit 1
Soul Porter 3
Yin 8
- Smoke Grenades 1
Sensei Yu 9
- Low River Style 2
Katanaka Sniper 7
Ten Thunders Brother 5
2x Komainu 10
Total: 49SS (5SS cache)

I’ve already talked about Yan Lo and his upgrades, so let’s go through the rest of his crew…

As far as I’m concerned, the Soul Porter is essential for Yan Lo. For one, he provides the crew with some much needed mobility with Empower Ancestor to push models (well, Yan Lo and any Ancestors) around. Given Yan’s general slowness I’ll always use Empower Ancestor this in the first turn. In fact I’ll often even use it to push two ancestors, leaving the Soul Porter to catch up in Turn 2 to have some influence on the game in Turn 3. After that I might use it to push models around occasionally, but more often I’m focussing on his Bladed Spear attack and more specifically, its automatic Siphon Chi trigger. Giving Yan Lo some Chi can be handy in the early half of the game (before he ends up with more than he’ll ever need), but the real value is in giving it to non-Masters with Ca-based attacks. In this list it’s Sensei Yu (who’s Ca actions go from great to utterly insane), although Yin and any number of other 10-T models wouldn’t mind it either.
Other than that, the Soul Porter is just a cheap, body with a Ml 6, 3” range spear – great for tying up enemy models and occasionally dealing a few points of damage here and there.

So in a crew with an “unkillable” Master, is Yin redundant? After all, like Yan Lo she’s a tank, best suited to holding up enemy models herself. However in practice I’ve never regretted taking her. She’s a natural target for dumping models swapped out with Yan Lo’s Lightning Dance, and has generally been a great “Defensive” Anchor for holding objectives (eg Squatters Right/Turf War), while Yan takes the fight directly to the enemy. Mass of Viscera is incredibly useful for keeping Yin alive (like any ability that imposes negative flips), although you do need to watch out for models who can ignore or neutralise that. Fortunately, Yan Lo is pretty good at keeping such models at arms length from Yin. ;)

Yin also has the advantage of possessing both Df and Wp-based attacks (Entrails and The Fear Behind the Eyes), giving her the option to use one or the other depending on what stats and defensive triggers your opponent has. Entrails is obviously more damaging, but Fear behind the Eyes has a decent range of 8” and both have a solid set of triggers to damage or disrupt the target (no point repeating what’s on the card…just look for yourself!). Finally there’s Yin’s (0) action - Gnawing Fears. Nobody likes getting negatives on Wp and Ca actions, especially when it’s until Yin’s next activation (as opposed to the end of turn). The synergy with Yin’s Terrifying ability is obvious, but at some point I’d like to use it really mess up a Ca-based Master like Nicodem! In practice it’s always been an attack that my opponent attempts to win, but if I really want it to work (such as against Nicodem…), I’d be loading Yin up with Chi from the Soul Porter's Siphon Chi trigger beforehand!

As usual, the Sensei Yu/Yin tag team tell the Arcanists to engage in illicit relations with themselves...

Part of me hates taking Sensei Yu in almost every game I play. For some Masters I think his usefulness is questionable (McCabe, for instance) but for Yan Lo, well, he’s pretty close to an auto-include. For Yan Lo, Sensei Yu gives him another push-effect to get his crew up the board (Airburst) and Disciple lets him use Yan’s Instil Youth to heal something (and there’s always something that needs healing). After that his huge Wk 7 combined with Calm Air Thunderous Voice (to spend focus on an Interact) makes him an excellent scheme runner in the later parts of the game. Typically he’ll Airburst a target (gaining Focus from the Winded Trigger), then Wk 7” and spend his Focus to Interact. He’ll only be placing one scheme marker per turn, but so long as I’m doing that from Turn 4 it’s enough to achieve schemes like Breakthrough and Protect Territory.

While I’ve toyed with Wandering River Style on Sensei Yu, I feel that it’s really only effective if you have a way of giving him some free focus, either with a (0) action or before he activates (ie. in a Shenlong Crew). Otherwise I’m willing to sacrifice the chance to make my own models Fast to take Low River Style instead. Being able to gain the Defensive Condition on successful duels improves his resilience, and I’ve found the healing to be pretty damn handy, even when the crew already has some healing from both Yan Lo and Sensei Yu’s Disciple action.

Oh the Katanaka Sniper. I’ve killed more than enough enemy models from 28” away for my opponents to learn to hate this model! I kind of feel his damage output is average for his cost, but it’s the huge sniper-style reach and potential to one-shot 5-6 wound models that makes him a priority target for my opponents. My Sniper almost always dies in each game I take him, but it’s almost always resulted in my opponent dedicating something serious to kill it, from Kaeris to Joss and my favourite, a McCabe-enhanced Peacekeeper! The Sniper is great – there’s no doubt about that. He’s got a solid set of stats, can kill stuff at range and is even half-decent in melee. But to me, I feel like his main advantage is the hate he draws from my opponents!

Having only recently finished painting him, the Ten Thunders Brother has been a more recent inclusion in my games. He certainly does not disappoint though. The 10-T Brother makes up for a pretty average melee attack with some crazy-good defensive stats, a very flexible tactical action and perhaps most importantly, his Protect our Holdings ability to prevent friendly scheme markers being removed. All in all it makes him an excellent scheme runner – using the Eagle Style Trigger from Dance of the Heavens to move up and place the schemes he needs. He can then guard them with a frankly criminal Df of 7 (when on Defensive Stance), triggers on his Dance action to heal or gain armour and a Df trigger to further increase his Defensive stance condition. He’s very vulnerable to Wp-based attacks but aside from that, this guy is practically immovable for his cost!

Last on my list are the Komainu. To be honest there’s not much to say about them except that they’re very solid, low cost melee minions. Armour and Hard to Kill make it tough to take down and when it’s within 3” of an Ancestor (for the Guard ability), it can easily add either Slow or Burning +1 to its melee attack. Being a Spirit allows the Komainu to benefit from some of Yan Lo’s actions too, which is a nice bonus. Df 4 ensures it will go down to a sustained assault, but I’ve found that a little healing from Yan or Sensei Yu can go a long way in keeping it alive a turn longer. ;)
Basically, I feel like the Komainu are the go-to minions for Yan Lo. They’ve got a lot of natural synergies with his crew so it’s always felt worth throwing in one or two to make up numbers.

So that’s the crew, and on the whole I feel that it works pretty well. Yin and the Komainu provide a good centre to work around, while the Sniper plays the area denial game and the Ten Thunders Brother runs up on his own to achieve schemes. Sensei Yu does both support (healing/pushing) and scheme marker placement while Yan Lo, of course, does everything he can to both keep his crew alive and disrupt the opponent. :)

Naturally the crew makeup could vary depending on schemes and strategy, but if there’s one thing it’s low on it’s probably killing power. Swapping Sensei Yu and Yin for something more damaging, like a Shadow Emissary, Lone Swordsman and/or Izamu would go some way in helping that, but of course it would really depend on what the strategies and schemes are!

Yan’s Facebook Friends

Of the models I’ve not tried, I’m pretty excited about getting a chance to use Yan Lo’s Shadow Emissary. Being an Ancestor means he’ll be a great reason to take Reliquary and throw him into the fray, plus he improves Yan Lo’s Brutal Khakkara and gives him Fast whenever Yan attaches an upgrade. Between that and his Rite of Strength action (Fast and a 4” push for a non-leader with upgrade)I feel like the Shadow Emissary might have enough push-effects to make a decent replacement for Sensei Yu. Sure he won’t have the healing or the scheme running, but he’s tougher, a hell of a lot more damaging, can buff the crew with his actions and most importantly, is an Ancestor Yan Lo can summon! At least on paper he seems like a pretty great deal, so all I need to do now is paint up a Wyrd-legal proxy for him…

Of the Ancestors, I feel like the one model I wouldn’t use is Chiaki. She’s a great model in her own right, but unfortunately she feels like a support model in a crew with too much support already. Aside from being an Ancestor having a few disruptive tricks and offering the odd Chi to Yan Lo, there’s not really much that she offers. For now then, I’ve been glad to drop her in favour of a model with more hitting power, like the Komainu.

In the few games that I’ve used him, Izamu has proven to be a very capable killing machine with some great resilience, thanks to his Armour. His weaknesses are his tendency to die (because you know your opponent will focus on him!) and the lack of mobility. Fortunately Yan Lo can assist with both of those, using Instil Youth and Transcendence for healing and further armour, Reliquary to bring him back after the inevitable death and Lightning Dance to feed him models without putting Izamu himself in harms way. If I feel the need for more killing power in the crew then for now, my go-to beatstick is Izamu. He and the Shadow Emissary are also the only reason I’d take Yan’s Reliquary upgrade!

My original Yan Lo paint job. Very glad I pinked him up since then. ;)

I’ve shied away from Toshiro thus far, partly because he’s a dirty summoner and partly because I’m not a fan of the model. But he’s certainly someone I really need to try. There’s no doubt that he’s great, but between his incredible minion-specific synergies and the chance to summon Ashigaru and Komainu from corpse and scrap, he really feels like a model you need to build your crew around. If I take him, it’ll probably be with two Komainu, an Obsidian Oni and a Punk Zombie. As above, the Komainu are just solid minions but they also handout Burning for the Obsidian Oni to benefit from with his Flames from the Heavens attack. The Punk Zombie has no specific synergy aside from being a Minion, although it does make an excellent model to drop victims next to with Yan Lo’s Lightning Dance!

The Retainers available to Yan Lo, the Ashigaru and Onryo, both seem pretty decent. However I’m just not convinced they’re as useful as a Komainu. All three have broadly equivalent resilience, but the Komainu seems to edge the others out in damage potential thanks to handing out either Slow or Burning. I guess if I took the Ashigaru it would be for the anti-charge bubble from Brace, although it’s hard to predict whether you’ll be facing a crew where that’d be really useful.

The Onryo has a suite of nice attacks and abilities, and in particular has some good synergies with other Spirit models (in particular the Adversary Condition) In practice I haven’t found a lot of opportunities to take advantage of Yan Lo’s Spirit synergies but the potential is there. She’d certainly make the Komainu (who are Spirits) more threatening and she’d probably do horrible things with Izamu too! So perhaps if I start running Izamu, it wouldn’t hurt to team him up with some Komainu and an Onryo while I’m at it.

I’ll admit I’ve also toyed with Wastrels and Tengu, the former for their healing and all-round flexibility, and the latter for their healing and scheme running. Of course Sensei Yu, despite his cost, easily surpasses them in all of those roles! I still found them to be great minions for their cost though, so if I was to drop Sensei Yu (possibly for the Shadow Emissary) I’d seriously consider adding them in again.

From my first game with Yan this year, back when I was playing his sucky Resser version. ;)

Yan Pro!

So that’s my thoughts on Yan Lo for now. Now that I’ve figured him out, I’ve found him to be a very solid Master and in fact has become on e of my two go-to Ten Thunders Masters at this stage. In terms of Strategies I think he’s definitely a solid pick for Strategies where you’ll find both crews conversion on a single point like Turf War. He’s got potential for the likes of Reckoning and Squatters Rights, although for the latter you definitely want to invest in some mobility.

In a competitive sense, I think I’d be quite satisfied with taking Misaki and Yan Lo to a tournament and feeling as though I can comfortably achieve all the Strategies/Schemes in play. Misaki is great and Reckoning and Reconnoiter, but Yan Lo is far better equipped for Turf War! Either could feasibly do Squatters Rights, although I’d probably think about having a third Master (McCabe?) for that one.

Anyway that’s another mammoth post done! Between real life and writing for the Chronicles this actually took a few months to finish. If you got to the end of it, I will say that I’m going to try and post a little more regularly. Unfortunately when it comes to tactics articles like this one, I can’t help but make them anything but enormous!  So instead I’ll try and vary things up a little by talking about other things, mostly Malifaux related but possibly other stuff too. I guess we’ll see!