Oh, the Karax.
Long since regarded as one of the least useful selections in Skorne, I don’t think players are looking at them correctly. They get directly compared to the Praetorian Swordsmen (seeing as they’re both a 4/6 PC, 10-man unit,) but the comparison really should end there.
[b]Praetorian Swordsmen: a thousand tiny pricks[/b]
Before someone thinks that’s a dirty title, this is the idea behind the Swordsmen. They are FA:3, cheap, and generally can be fielded and used in droves. Even with Combo Strike and MAT 6, they don’t seem all that impressive in terms of raw killing power. However! They have some important powers that cannot be ingored. Penatrating Strike allows them to shurg about their low P+S (even the average military humanoid can muster P+S 10,) and deal automatic damage to warjacks and warbeasts. While you are realistically only going to get about 4 of them into contact with one of these hulking warriors, that’s 8 points of damage, which is almost a coulmn and a half of damage! Being able to take out close to 25% out of any warjack or warbeast in the game is pretty great. They’re meant to be expendable troops that generally threaten warjacks and warbeasts.
[b]Karax: Hold the Line[/b]
Karax, on the other hand, are far different. Costing the same, but with one less FA, they play a slightly smarter game. SPD 5 and Shield Wall keeps them a bit behind the Swordsmen, (even though Reach will give them a .5″ threat range advantage,) but remember, these are not the same guys. They have CMA, MAT 5, and P+S 10 (see!) So what’s their purpose?
Well, Apart from being able to screen and defend valuable ranged elements (with Ranked Attacks and Girded,) they are far more capable at killing medium to heavy infantry. Seriously. 5 2-man CMAs yield 5 MAT 7 P+S 12 attacks, which can put the hurt on most inftantry, and with the charge could even threaten a few Cataphracts! Swordsmen aren’t going to put out that kind of output with the kind of reliability the Karax can. Sure, Swordsmen could try, and do fairly well against he supposed Cataphracts (given Combo Strike,) but also consider the higher DEF inftantry, like Tharn Ravagers, especially when taking advantage of Tree Walker, will die much easier to CMA’d Karax than a bunch of Sowrdsmen trying their luck.
This is all assuming we want to play Karax aggressively, which is not their typical use. Karax fronting for Venator Reivers or Extollers can help hold a control zone without much trouble.
Just a side note: I grant that the Swordsmen get a UA that makes them even better with Side Step and the once per game Perfect Strike ability. Karax do not have a UA to speak of, so I have not included the Swordsmen UA in for fairness’ sake.
[b]Where do we go from here?[/b]
Well, I can’t say the Karax are a better purchase, or that one clearly outshines the other. I will say, though, that Karax are well-costed and worth their points, but tend to play to a different playstyle. Warlocks like Zaal and Mordikaar can really take advantage of them, given their durability, and their bunker-like effects, allowing them to control the battlefield with a safety buffer in place, and for much less that Cetratii would cost. Karax affected by the Krea’s Aura is a formidable defense against ranged, and a nearby Cannoneer can use their animus to wither a charge against them. Also recall the new Theme Force for Xerxis, which allows for Venator Reivers to attach as WAs to the units, and tosses them far up the field.
Much of Skorne that I’ve seen played of late is leaning towards the super aggressive postures that have actions like slinging Molik Karn or a Bronzeback far foward into the field as an unstoppable juggernaut of death. Certainly, it’s proven to be a great approach. There is an element of attrition in some Skorne builds, and that’s where Karax can make a surprising value present. Taking into account all the models that benefit from Skorne models dying to power other models like Extollers, Ancestral Guardians, and even Zaal’s feat, and the Karax are a great, cheap wall for your opponent’s first wave to crash against, and then pay for the audacity of challenging the might of the Empire.
Certainly, there’s no clear superior answer, and that’s not the point. Looking at what you CAN do, rather than what you CANNOT, can reaveal uses for models typically regarded as less than desirable. What can YOU do with Karax?