Hungry for Victory: Why I Enjoy Vanguard

I looked back and realized that I’ve spent most of my time playing Underworlds this year in different formats than normal. I would definitely say that Championship format is where my passion lies, but with very few events happening, my motivation to practice the format has been pretty low. That coupled with the fact that any of the games that I’m playing in leagues aren’t in that format. I’ve really enjoyed the Alliance format, deck building and practice (thanks Path to Glory!). I think it’s a very interesting style of play and offers a very different spin on “what makes a card good”. You can play more niche builds because you can easily attempt to not get a hard warband counter against you.

But what I’m really here to talk about today is the Vanguard format. Or, more specifically a format I’m going to call “Edited Vanguard”, which I will get to below. I’ve been playing in two leagues in that style so far this year and it’s been a really great experience. We did a little local Alberta Underworlds League in that style and I’m taking part in the Agents of Sigmar Patreon League as well. Both have been really cool and made me think a lot about the game and why I think that Vanguard is a valuable format for both new players and experienced ones.

What is Vanguard?

Vanguard is a dynamic format that only features warbands and cards from the latest season – Warhammer Underworlds: Direchasm. The card pool in Vanguard is constantly evolving as new sets are released, making it both a fun and challenging way to play Warhammer Underworlds, and great for players just getting started with organised play. It’s also a good way to master the latest card mechanics, and to expand your collection as the season progresses.

Games Workshop – Vanguard Format Rules

Vanguard is a new format that was introduced with Direchasm. It allows only cards, boards and warbands from the current season to be used in play. The theory behind this is that it makes an easier entrance point for players starting out in tournaments. I remember my first year of tournament play. It took a while for me to catch up to the meta, as I needed to invest in every Shadespire warband to get the cards that would help improve my deck. Right now, to gain all Championship legal Universal cards, it would be around $400 Canadian Dollars to get the Beastgrave season in full. That’s a hard investment to ask new players to make to get into the game competitively. That’s where the format works really nicely. If new players are just picking up the newest core box, they are on the same card and warband footing as any other player! It’s a good way to bring a level of power balance to a tournament.

I personally feel that this format would work great if we could be having physical events. It’s an easy sell for most game stores to promote a Vanguard tournament alongside the purchase of a core box. Those players will also be able to add new warbands and cards in as the season progresses, with everyone gaining at the same rate. And when they are done their first season of Vanguard, they have all the tools necessary for the next season of Championship play. It’s a format that definitely has an easy lead into the main format of the game.

So…Why Edited Vanguard?

I said that Vanguard would work really well in person. But in an online world, where you aren’t limited by the physical product you own, it’s much easier for everyone to jump into the Championship meta. I’ve also been saying that it takes some dedication to the game to commit to playing online. I know for me personally, I already play some video games and spend most of my work day on the computer. Playing Underworlds was a break away from screens with models, dice and cards. So, after a full day of the screen, it’s hard to get back on a laptop. We definitely aren’t getting a lot of newer or casual players that you would see at weekly gaming nights, store tournaments or Grand Clashes.

That being said, it means that there are a lot of players who are familiar with the game and its various warbands. So, building a Vanguard community with just Dread Pageant and Myari’s Purifiers was a very limiting experience. If you get 10 people, you’re still only having two different warband matchups (mirror or against the other warband). To that effect, both of the leagues I’ve played in have made one edit to the rules. The core of Vanguard stays the same, with only allowing the boards and Universal cards from the Direchasm season, but it opens up the format to any warband and their faction cards. This means that you have a larger variety of matchups, but the deck building limitations still are present. I think this allows a larger amount of variety and a cool way to study a warband and grow with them over a period of time when new cards are coming out.

Deckbuilding

Here’s an example of what makes this format truly interesting. I wanted to play something different when we started our Alberta league. I started to throw together a number of decks. I hadn’t played Mollog in a long time, so I thought it might be something cool with Primacy (note that I was wrong and have no interest in Mollog anymore). And I couldn’t find six surges I thought would work. This kind of blew my mind, honestly. After staring at underworldsdb for 15 minutes, I cleared the editor and changed warbands.

I think I did a good variety of deck building like I haven’t done in a while. Overall, I think I made 8 or 9 different decks in prep for this format. It was really fun to see what innate strengths I could boost while making something I would hope is consistent from a glory stance.

It’s also really interesting building decks with a limited cardpool for a couple of different reasons. First off, it makes you consider the faction cards a lot more than you would. I played Spirit Blade in my Harrows deck, which I’m not sure I would’ve seriously considered over Amberbone Spear for example. But it was a super good card for me through the run. Giving someone a three fury, three damage, cleave attack was a nice surprise to have up my sleeve.

Second (and the big one to me) was a major realization that there are a lot of cards that I rely on in a lot of decks without question. Have you ever tried building a deck without Great Strength? Great Fortitude? Spectral Wings? It’s scary and liberating at the same time. Is Winged Death good if you only have one or two triggers? Realizing that there is no Distraction around to push you off tokens means you can plan on staying put.

It really allows you to flex and find some fun combos that wouldn’t be normally good enough to play on a consistent basis. I’ve been having some fun with Feign Weakness into Underdog for example. Playing with Wild Hunt, I’ve also enjoyed Charike Claws. I like that there are many cards that are unusual and make me play around with different requirements.

Fundamentals

This is something else that I didn’t expect to gain from the format. A better understanding of the fundamentals of the game. I think that Vanguard takes any reliance on the great cards of the game away and lays the game bare. When you can’t make an optimal move by playing a perfect card, it makes it so that you have to make the best decision you can. Which overall, makes you think more about planning when you play.

Here’s an example. When I don’t have Victimise or Hunter’s Talisman in a Hrothgorn deck, how do I boost my accuracy? If the Ogre needs to hit an attack badly, do I potentially use Gnoblar Scramble to gain support on an attack (knowing that I might put models in danger)? But if I really need to be hitting to score Savage Exemplar and Surge of Aggression, I really need to make sure that I stack odds in my favour. Does that change my positioning of Quiv?

With there being very few push cards (and speed boost) in the format, your positioning is very important. Making sure you can charge to the model you want, at the time that you want is super important when you’re playing Aggro in this format. And when you’re also trying to score Treasure Hunter, making sure that you can land on a token as well as attack at the same time. Figuring out the best position for a charge is a really important aspect in Underworlds, and having less cards to fumble past an unoptimized charge makes you really focus better on where you’re ending up.

Mulligans and knowing how to manage your hand also play a big part in your strategy for a game. In a best of one series in this format, knowing that the glory ceilings are not only going to be lower but also less consistent, it’s really important to know when to throw your hand away. Can I score these? Is there a decent trigger for a card that I should dig for? The basic that this helps teach you is to really know your deck.

I’ve taken most of this spin based on an experienced player’s view, but for a new player I think having a low card pool and more of a focus on what you’re actually doing on the board is a great tool for just starting out. Starting the game out by playing Thorns of the Briar Queen makes you strongly rely on the Varclav push to get on the tokens. Try playing Despoilers and make that work without a super powerful ability. It’s much harder and you have to rely on these fundamentals. What I’m trying to say is that overall, when you are playing with weaker cards and warbands, you have to get better at all the other aspects of the game to come up to the same level as something super strong.

Decklist – Vanguard Harrows

Here’s the deck I was playing in our local Alberta league to some decent success. Note that 20 of the 32 cards are faction cards. I really was able to lean into their deck and then added in some other points of the game. I think early season (this was pre-Ravagers) Vanguard decks will really always be a hybrid of styles. This was an Aggro/Objective deck, where I’m rocking Primacy to try to get some other objective cards happening. I mentioned it above, but Spirit Blade was another way to help with a high damage kill for Primacy. Combine that (or Harrow inspired or Widow) with Savage Strength and I’ve got 4 damage for those objective cards too. I’ve got a mix of some defensive cards, all the accuracy I can find along with pushing the enemy around.

I’d say Winged Death is pretty weak. I’ve got Ferocious Lunge while inspired or Swooping Dash/Savage Speed as triggers to score it. Maybe Soultooth Bow was a better choice for some consistency? Savage Exemplar also can be hard with Harrow at range 1 and with very little accuracy boosts. But overall, I didn’t expect to score everything. Sometimes, you just pitch the card and move on.

Summary

Overall, I think that the Vanguard format is really good for the game. It allows a format that is a good jumping on point for new players, allowing them to slowly build up their collection while learning and studying the game. For experienced players, it’s a good way to hone your skills in the game. It also allows a very different deck-building challenge, which really makes you consider which cards you’re taking. It also makes you see cards that you may have glossed over in Championship.

I’d say for me, my heart is in Championship for sure and I love the Alliance format, so finding so much joy and fun in Vanguard was a major surprise. I really liked the challenge and personally will want to play in the format when I am learning new warbands. It’s also been a lot of fun to play some more casual games in a light setting. Thanks to everyone taking part as I’m having a blast!

Are you interested in the format? Will you try it out? Should we have a small Edited Vanguard Skirmish event? Let me know your thoughts at setthetempoblog@gmail.com or on the Underworlds Discord channels as Matt ~ Set The Tempo. Thanks so much for reading! Take care and set your own tempo!

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