Goodbye Beastgrave…

Well, the end of Season 3 has come. It’s definitely been a weird, long, drawn out, socially distanced season with not nearly enough games. But there were some events over the year, and that’s what we are going to cover today!

Beastgrave Events

Obviously this was a stilted year for events, even though I participated in more events than I ever have. But we do have some data to look at for how the meta shaped up and evolved. For the purposes of this article, I’ve taken any events from the start of Beastgrave that were a Grand Clash or online Clash competition. I’ve taken out Skirmishes and some of the Open tournaments (not being sure of format).

We’re also going to take this article and just look at the winning warbands and decks. Obviously, there’s a decent amount of luck with matchups, dice and card order that go into winning an event. And the top deck may not be representative of the “best way to play” at any given time. But, this will give us a playstyle breakdown of those that took home the big tournaments this season.

The Clash top decks for Beastgrave.

Out of the 12 events we had in Beastgrave there were:

  • 3 Grymwatch
  • 2 Hrothgorn
  • 2 Rippa
  • 1 Lady Harrow
  • 1 Mollog
  • 1 Skaven
  • 1 Thorns
  • 1 Wurmspat
Here’s the playstyles for reference

Briefly looking at the decks and defining them by our playstyle archetypes gives us the following data. As much as I think there’s a big difference between Objective/Aggro and Aggro/Objective, for this article we’re going to lump them in together. I’m also quickly glancing at these decks and determining the base playstyles off their objectives and what their upgrades/ploys are teching into.

  • Aggro: 3 (Rippa, Rippa, Mollog)
  • Objective: 1 (Grymwatch)
  • Control: 1 (Hrothgorn)
  • Objective/Aggro: 4 (Thorns, Grymwatch, Harrow, Grymwatch)
  • Control/Aggro: 2 (Wurmspat, Hrothgorn)
  • Objective/Control: 0
  • Aggro/Objective/Control: 1 (Skaven)
Gotta figure out how to make sure the Venn diagram builder shows the correct overlap.

I think it’s been a common opinion that the Objective playstyle dominated the Beastgrave season. And yes, 5 of the 12 winning decks I would classify as primarily Objective (with only one of the Grymwatch decks being pure Objective, not really teching into Aggro much at all). However, I think the main point that makes me excited as a dedicated Aggro player (well, Aggro/Control, but that’s for a later article) is that 10 of the 12 decks were Aggro or flexed into Aggro. There were only two decks that I wouldn’t necessarily say they had any large part dedicated to Aggro: Peter’s Grymwatch from LVO I would classify as pure Objective and Benny Monahan’s Hrothgorn from Vassal Clash II which is pure Control.

I think this is an important distinction to look at as we discuss what is strong. Objective decks have been strong through the Beastgrave season as they’ve had relatively easy surges to score. Which means that they no longer have to commit their power deck to cards that will keep them on objectives. It means that they can significantly dedicate their upgrade deck to traditionally Aggro cards. Whether or not this is a good thing is a point that will wait for another day.

No matter how you slice it, even across the whole season in which Aggro has been weaker due to the lack of good end phase cards, the majority of decks cared about fighting and potentially used fighting as a method of gaining glory.

Looking at this overall breakdown, I think this is some actual decent balance for the game. We’ve seen a whole season where at different points, the three major playstyles were strong in their own right. We had Grymwatch domination early, Hrothgorn Control in the spring, and a very Aggro finish with the Arena Mortis expansion making the “Voltron” style of play very strong. Also Thorns were strong all season. Probably too strong.

I think the concept of lack of balance is that there is a “strongest” way to play at any of these given points and that’s what turns people off of the meta. I believe the most balanced we’ve been was after the FAR list that first brought faction specific restrictions. Now we’re just waiting for some of the powerful cards to be restricted before we can strike a better balance again. Which is just what happens after two sets of releases with no FAR update.

The last thing I want to point out is that nine of these winning decks were Season 3 warbands, two were Season 2 and only one was Season 1. I think it’s common to know that Season 3 warbands have stronger faction cards, and I’m glad that the new releases performed well. It definitely makes it easier for new players to compete. Imagine if Steelheart’s Champions were meta definingly strong right now. New players would have a very hard time getting the warband and thus couldn’t compete in the same way.

Deck the Halls…of Beastgrave

I wanted to take some time and comb through a few of the decks that I’ve been analyzing and talk about some interesting choices throughout. I want to start showing how I’m defining them into playstyles and work through the things that I think make them special. I want to compare decks of the same warband as well to show any nuance that changes the way they may have played or reacted to the meta at any point. I also think it’s time to show more pictures of miniatures. I’m given to believe you all like that.

I think I can talk about these guys all day…
Rippa Vassal Clash III vs Rippa Alberta Grand Clash

Alright, let’s start this section by comparing the two winning Rippa decks and the slight variations that differentiated them. I’m starting with the easy one here because both of these were my decks, so I can speak very easily about playstyle and what changed between July and October in this deck.

The core of these two decks are very similar in a purist Aggro style. Be fast, run in and smash what you can. However, unlike the way that Aggro is commonly built with a lot of plus dice and plus damage cards, due to the Snarlfang reaction not being able to be modified, I’ve never really played with a lot of traditional buffs. Support is better, rerolls are better, more attacks are key. You can also notice that the scoring core of these decks only require two kills throughout the game at a minimum. Each deck can score every objective, by only killing twice (one for Brought to Bay, and having two fighters out of action with Cruel Hunters). This allows seed glory to come even if the dice run cold, which will allow upgrades to make our attacks better or survive through the match.

I’ve put these two decks both in the Aggro category because the core of the style is scoring glory for attacking. At 14 total glory in each deck, these are relying on kills to ensure they are able to score as much as other decks (especially Objective ones). They also use restricted slots by taking both Tome of Offerings and Trophy Belt, showing that killing is a large part of the strategy. I might argue that the second deck is tooling more into Control, but that’s literally based on the inclusion of No Time, not anything changing about the core of the deck.

The cards that changed up between these iterations were:

Vassal Clash IIIAlberta Grand Clash
No MercyShow of Force
Versatile FighterMaster of Battle
Smell WeaknessNo Time
Prized VendettaVision of Glory
Amberbone SpearBloody Axe

The No Mercy/Smell Weakness combo that was originally in this deck was definitely a reaction to my local meta at the time. One where elite warbands and big bois were rampant. Playing into horde warbands (Thorns particularly due to their lethal immunity), it was suboptimal. The change to Show of Force being a surge version of something that was already important (scoring Loaded With Plunder) was an easy one. No Time was a reaction to the Frantic Exchange/To The End archetype, because playing No Time as the fourth power card in a power step can brick Frantic Exchange for a whole round. Master of Battle can be scored on one charge, which makes it an auto-include for every Rippa deck, in my opinion. You make a charge and then a Snarlfang reaction. That fighter has now made three actions: Move, Attack, Attack.

The last thing that I’ll touch on with the choice of Rippa is that they are a great counter-Objective warband, but struggle into heavy Control or elite Aggro. Given the Beastgrave meta has generally seen Objective warbands be popular, that has raised their viability a ton through the season. Bloody Axe was one of the counters I put in there against other elite warbands, to up the damage potential.

All right, I got my obligatory Rippa content out of the way. Those Cruel Hunters won’t let me rest until they’re Loaded with Plunder. It takes Great Strength and Great Fortitude to continue writing and I have No Time for Distraction. Let’s continue with our Vision of Glory as I’m Fired Up right now and need to Cover Ground. Did this Steady Assault of puns become a successful Calculated Risk?

Wurmspat Vassal Clash V
These guys sum up 2020.

Here we go! Now that I’ve covered Rippa, I’m going to do the rest of these starting with the most recent win and going back to cover the rest. Nurgle did it! When they released, there was so much negativity about their power level, so I’m esctatic that they’ve been able to take down a major event. Congrats to SteveUndRund! I had a chance to play against his deck a few weeks before the event and it was a tight game.

This deck is clearly an Aggro/Control deck. Objectives like Branching Fate, Strong Start, Unexpected Pitfall, and Faithful Reward are directly Aggro objectives. In the power deck, there’s 5 ping damage cards, Tome of Offerings and a number of attack buffs. Clearly, this deck wants to get damage on the opponent.

The ways this deck flexes into Control comes through the rest of the scoring, with To The End, Frantic Exchange and The Avatar Risen. As well as taking three forms of enemy push tech, in Distraction, Mirror Move and a restricted slot for Nightmare in the Shadows. This deck wants to hit hard, but also control the game state by drawing cards, making their fighters more defensible, and pushing the enemy around.

In the finals of this tournament, this deck was able to table Rippa, before the third round in both games. These were low scoring games (9-5, 9-6 or something close to these when the games were called) but that’s exactly how Control would want to play into Aggro and specifically Nurgle is designed as counter-Aggro. I’m sure this would also be a scary deck into hordes, with 5 sources of ping damage, Sepsimus’ scything attack and Fecula hitting on channels at range when inspired. Ouch.

This post-Arena Mortis meta showed one of Elite warbands (the top 4 were all 3 model warbands) with a focus on tooling up one big fighter. It’s very interesting how this style dominated the event, which then makes sense when the warband that can easily mitigate damage won the whole thing.

Skaven Curse of the Katophrane
Skritch was the greatest…yes..yes

Now this is a fun one. The first event after we saw faction specific cards hit the restricted list saw a major shift in the community’s perspective. Suddenly, all warbands seemed viable again. And Skaven ended up taking the day in an epic best of four game final, because the players were exactly tied after three games. Seriously one of the best matches I’ve ever watched. Kudos to Olli Bond for pulling out the win in this one.

This deck is one of the only examples I’ve seen lately that lives in the center of our type chart. It’s definitely a Control deck, but with part Aggro and part Objective. It’s such a tentative knife’s edge to ride, from a playstyle stance, but obviously worked well. It’s Control from the main ways that it scores; Digging Deep, To The End, Martyred, Shortcut, and Frantic Exchange. Furthermore, it has three Distractions, along with Confusion and Shifting Reflection, to ensure models are where they need to be. Paired with the resurrection mechanism being put to use with Crown of Avarice and Expendable, it’s really a deck that can focus on denial.

It splashes into Aggro with Gathered Momentum and Lethal Repetoire, with three weapon upgrades and two damage upgrades. Objective play comes in with Swift Capture, Uncontested, Tome of Glories, Cryptic Companion and Mischevious Spirits (as Objective and counter-Objective play in this deck). Bold Conquest can kind of count as both an Aggro and an Objective card here. It’s a good Objective card because it leaves your leader on a token, but it’s Aggro as it more than likely puts them in potential harm.

With these three different styles all coming together in this list, it’s super important to know what to focus on at the correct time in any game. This is a very technical deck and has a very high skill ceiling because it touches all part of the game. It’s much easier to play a strict Aggro game where you make attacks because all of the cards depend on it. This is probably the most interesting winning deck and style we got all season. Amazing.

Hrothgorn Vassal Clash I vs Hrothgorn Vassal Clash II
He was one hard dude to take down…

We’re at the point back before the latest FAR list, and the interesting thing was that the dominant way that Hrothgorn was being perceived at the time means that these two decks now have 12 (VC1) and 10 (VC2) restricted cards, instead of our three. That’s a really big signal from GW that these decks were “too powerful” at the time and needed a strong arm to balance.

Let’s unpack this. The VC1 deck by Duncan Bilz I’ve classified as Control/Aggro for similar reasons as the Skaven deck we just looked at. It’s got the card draw scoring engine, but not only that, it focuses on objective token destruction or flipping with 4 ploys and 2 surges. This is Control focused on denial of the tokens for warbands relying on standing on objectives. As well, the upgrades make it very hard to take down the big man, making this a very hard matchup for both Aggro and Objectives. This deck has its Aggro in Brought to Bay, The Beast is Slain, Ravenous Fury along with Tome of Offerings and Trophy Belt.

At the time, there was almost nothing an Objective player could do against a very strong fighter that could become very hard to kill, become very accurate at range and also take away tokens. And what was the point of playing any other type of Aggro, when this existed?

For the VC2 deck piloted by Benny Monahan, this playstyle became pure Control. Trading out the Aggro objectives for Frantic Exchange and Acolyte of the Katophranes and the upgrades for Tomes. We already have a fighter that was extremely hard to kill. Here’s 5 extra glory for him living until the end of the game. Wow. And Daylight Robbery is a card that’s only purpose is denial. I’m glad I never came up against this deck.

Grymwatch: Warhammer World Oct vs Warhammer World Jan vs LVO
I’ll try to remember the early part of this season as a Pervasive Delusion…

Alright, now to everyone’s favourite part of the Beastgrave meta…Grymwatch domination. This was definitely a point of the game where there was one very obvious S-tier warband and a lot of decks that had a hard time being anywhere near as effective. But I’m not here to discuss this in detail as I know that it has been talked about a lot over the year. What I really wanted to breakdown were the differences between these three decks. A call out to Michael Carlin, Sandro and Peter for their Grand Clash victories.

With the October deck, it was pre-Rippa and so there are some core differences. Keep Them Guessing wasn’t banned. Temporary Victory and Gathered Momentum weren’t out yet. What an age we lived in…

But overall, these decks share a core of 8 or 9 objective cards. All three caring about holding three objective tokens, scoring their surges along with Supremacy, Path to Victory and glory multipliers. This was one of the hardest part playing against these decks. They could easily score 10+ glory in the first round cycling through their deck.

The two Warhammer World decks had a decent amount more Aggro in them. Tome of Offerings, Trophy Belt, Haymaker, etc. The last deck I would classify as pure Objective. Sure there are a few upgrades that are Aggro, but they weren’t core to the scoring strategy. Simply put, with how easy it was to score through the deck, there was enough room to be able to kill Aggro models before they could be touched. I’m glad that they are in a spot that the warband is now more balanced due to the FAR list, instead of oppressive as they had been early in 2020.

Closing Thoughts

I think it’s fair to say that the Beastgrave season was a very chaotic one. We had a weird relationship with ghouls for the part of the season that was able to be in person. Once the game became played more online, we slid into a second meta that had one powerful ogre. Finally, we’ve struck some decent balance within the last part of the season, but still without games in person.

I was lucky enough to get to play in two Grand Clashes in 2020 (out of the 3 total) as well as a couple of the online clashes. I’ve personally loved getting to play online and I believe I’m better at the game as the competition is fiercer. But there really was something special about getting to play in person again at the Alberta Grand Clash. I really can’t wait until we can get back to our amazing tournament scenes, both local and international. Hang in there everyone!

Shout…Shout…Let It All Out

I wanted to wrap up the article by thanking all the wonderful players in the community for sharing their knowledge and insight. A lot of the winning decks and players were featured on different podcasts or blogs so that they could share their experiences and talk about the playstyle and meta choices. Shouts out to Path to Glory Podcast, Battle For Salvation Underworlds Podcast, Chatting Crit Podcast and Steel City Underworlds Blog. I believe between all of these you can hear more about these decks and events if interested.

I’d also like to give a big thanks to my wife, Alex. She paints almost all of my Underworlds warbands, including the Rippa, Hrothgorn, Spiteclaw’s Swarm and Wurmspat shown in this article. I paint our Stormcast mostly, and also the models she didn’t want to paint (see the less impressive Grymwatch above). She’s continuing to seek new challenges on the hobby front and you can follow her at Painted Menagerie on Tumblr.

Thanks for reading today! If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at setthetempoblog@gmail.com or on the Underworlds Discord channels as Matt ~ Set The Tempo. Take care and set your own tempo!

One thought on “Goodbye Beastgrave…

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