Mask of the Silent People: The History of Upgrade Sets

Since the dawn of time Shadespire, we’ve seen a devisive design choice pop up through our upgrade cards. This has been something that has had major ramifications on our game, the meta in each season and the way that many players have looked at the game, for better or worse. Today, I want to breakdown the history of our upgrade sets.

Shadespire: Katophrane Relics

No, please don’t close your browser window…I tried to get those giant censored blocks so that you didn’t have to look directly at the relics.

Ok, I think that’s better. Our inaugural set of upgrades was a seven upgrade set in which every single card was exactly the same but with a different name! These were super interesting at the time as they didn’t see much play until later in the season (mainly because only one released per expansion, so they didn’t become all available until the Leaders pack released). Here’s how they work. Have two of them on one fighter? Get a defensive reroll on all dice. Ok, that’s not bad. Have three of them? Get a reroll on all your attack dice. Well, that’s pretty awesome. Have four? Draw two cards after the fighter activates (meaning you draw more relics…). Now that’s silly. Get six of them? You can take an action with the fighter to gain four glory points (and incidentally draw two cards).

Overall, these seven cards made a fighter really accurate, really defensible, a source of many cards and once they were all out, able to churn out four glory each turn for the rest of the game. They made a splash in the British scene, using this set with Steelheart’s Champions in the style known as total (or turtle) Control, in which you sat at the back, drew power cards, scored reliable glory for staying alive and got the set out to get the glory train started. To quote Steel City Underworlds: “Steel City originally invented this playstyle alongside Sandro Antunes (who beat our player Lee in the final of a Warhammer World Grand Clash) and it kickstarted our love for defensive play.”. Relics were a dominant part of the meta and this turtle playstyle was the only competitive way to play. Here’s a PSA from Can You Roll a Crit?.

Eventually, they got an errata where each cost two glory to score. Even then, they were still working in the Nightvault season. John won a tournament with Gitz playing relics. Almost immediately after that, there were some FAQ pieces stating that cards that gave upgrades for free (Spoils of Battle, Gruesome Pact) could no longer equip them. Literally the day before I was planning on taking an Ylthari’s Guardians relic deck to a local tournament. That reroll on Gallanghan would’ve been sweet…

Overall, this is what I was alluding to about the “history of Control play” in my Control playstyle article. This first set became a massive problem in the scene, with no easy way to deal with it or tech into, and the meta had devolved into relic mirror matches. I think it’s given a bad taste in many people’s mouths about what Control means. But we should look at it as a learning lesson. These got doubled in cost and then completely shut down. So, using a style where we pile upgrades on a defensive figure and are able to score copious amounts of glory is too much. Especially when they give defensive boosts and card draw.

Nightvault: Katophrane Tomes

Tomes were the set of the Nightvault season. Once again, we saw them release one at a time through the various expansions. When the Eyes of the Nine expansion came out, we received the scoring card for the set which was Acolyte of the Katophranes. This time, you had to stack the upgrades, take a card in your objective deck (third end phase no less) and would score a glory for each tome on a fighter at the end of the game. Early on in the season, we once again saw them not see much play in that style. However, the tomes themselves saw a ton of play. Tome of Offerings was a staple card for most decks and was an amazing Aggro card. Tome of Vitality gave another bonus wound in the card pool. Tome of Glories was a great way to spend an activation in a horde and gain a glory. Tome of Healing was situationally good to keep that fighter alive. Honestly, playing in the season, Tomes didn’t seem too bad. Sure, Tome of Offerings needed to be restricted, but other than that, it wasn’t too bad.

And then players started putting them on Mollog. And Cursebreakers. We ended up being in a similar state where we had warbands able to pump out easy glory (Cursebreakers with Harness the Storm along with other cards that rewarded casting multiple spells, spamming Empower; Mollog with Longstrider and Burst of Speed) who would make a large score if you didn’t kill the big fighter. And Mollog had such counterpunch, it was a really scary matchup. I know that both Longstrider and Burst of Speed hit the R list in response to “Troll Tomes” and Cursebreakers saw errata meaning they couldn’t auto-cast Empower four times a round.

Until Hrothgorn came into the game. Turns out a 6 wound, 2 block fighter that can take faction upgrades to reduce damage by one and two extra wounds was nigh unkillable. We saw a tomes Hrothgorn place second in a Vassal Clash and then first in the next. The passive Control style where the ogre spent turns drawing cards, scoring glory and having extreme counterpunch dominated the meta. Briefly. Over the next while Tome of Offerings, Tome of Vitality and Acolyte of the Katophranes were all restricted. And eventually a few Hrothgorn cards as well.

Tomes were resonant until they rotated out, they just required a big investment of restricted cards. If there were easy ways to score glory defensively, it made it easy to stack up a fighter, keep them alive and gain four to six glory at the end of the game.

Beastgrave: Lost Pages

Lost Pages had a very interesting style. Similar to Tomes, you gained glory at the end of the game for each of the Pages you had on a single fighter. Except, instead of having an Objective scoring off of it, it was an upgrade. And you had to have them on a Wizard. So, you couldn’t stack them on Hrothgorn or Mollog like the Tomes. And let’s be honest, the Pages weren’t as useful as the Tomes had been. Iara’s Instant Shield was a very good way to cast a spell as a response to being attacked, as well as getting a reroll on all your defence dice. Jared’s Spirited Sphere and Keila’s Choking Coil were some ways to get alternate attack profiles on your Wizards. Mazzig’s Many Legs gave a two hex push to another fighter, but at the cost of an activation. And Abasoth’s Auto-Immolation was silly and ineffiecient.

This set didn’t really see much popularity, since the Magic playstyle had taken many hits over the Nightvault season. By the time Beastgrave had all the cards released, it was way easier to score a ton of glory off of sitting on tokens than needing a way to boost your glory at the end of the game. Myari, Vampires and Kainan have made the pages relevant in the Direchasm season and they’ve worked for other warbands in Skirmish events. I’d say the set sits where I’d want one to: relevant enough that you have to know how to play into it, but not oppressively powerful.

Beastgrave: The Avatar of the Ur-Grub

The Ur-Grub set was the smallest upgrade set we had seen in the game when it was shown off. And was released in a very strange way. We received Sting and Avatar in the Rippa expansion, Mandibles in Hrothgorn and didn’t get Claws and The Avatar Risen until the end of the season with Morgok’s. This meant that as a set, they weren’t really playable in the Beastgrave season, so it took until Direchasm to see the effects. It was very strange to have a completely unplayable card in Avatar released so early in a season, since you couldn’t include it in your deck and there was no way to get three Ur-Grub Aspects until Morgok released.

As a pure combat focused set, it’s a really interesting one. All three upgrades gave boosts to range one attacks (until you had all three and it affected range two as well). Sting gave bonus damage (and I believe was restricted more to limit the amount of bonus damage upgrades in the game, rather than to put a cost on the set), Claws gave attacks Ensnare (super important in the era of Thorns and Grymwatch) and Mandibles gave healing after a successful attack. Other than the range two boost, getting all three made you a Quarry too. Importantly, there was a three glory end phase reward for having collected the set and getting the Avatar on a fighter.

My experience was that early Direchasm is when this set had some prevalence. Early season Krushas decks were focused on easy passive glory by holding one or two tokens, card draw and Frantic Exchange. Usually, they kept a fighter in the back of their territory as an Avatar so they could have a relatively protected five wound fighter that if alive would score three glory. Not to mention how defensive some of the Krushas tech was at the time (Inured to Pain, Berserk Fortitude and the ever dominating, now forsaken Ferocious Resistance). Later on in the Direchasm season, I feel that the search for high scoring end phase cards was not as hard as it had been and the investment into the cards, card draw and playstyle had waned. I personally haven’t seen them played in a few months. Have you seen any effective decks running them?

Beastgrave: Mortis Relics

Woo boy. If the four card Avatar set was the smallest, there’s no way that a three card Mortis Relic set (with no scoring attached to them, to boot!) could make a bigger splash, right? Right? I remember seeing these cards and immediately trying to build them into my Rippa deck at the time. I had cards for bonus damage, bonus wounds and re-rolls, and had a style of getting multiple upgrades on a single fighter. And then I noted that it was the same reaction window as the wolf bite and got really sad.

This was a set of upgrades that had good synergy if you managed to get two of them on a fighter, giving Great Strength, Great Fortitude and Awakened Weapon to a fighter. Not shabby. But it’s really the reactions that ended up being strong. Not only was there the FAQ to clarify that you can make a kill, gain the glory and use that glory on the reaction, but mid to late game, it’s obvious that you’ll have a ton unspent in most games. Gauntlet of Dominance allowed a Distraction (and was the first one to be Restricted). Once that was a limitation, there was still a preponderance to take the other two as a pair, not worrying as much about the stacking effects, since the reactions were great. Gauntlet of Command allowed a Sidestep (to any friendly fighter). And The Crown of the Dead was a major part of the card draw style of the time. Not only did it allow for Frantic Exchange and To The End, it was an enabler to any set you were tapping into.

These cards stopped being played in a big way once all three hit the Restricted list. I for one was pretty tired of them, so was happy to see them go. I will say that it was a good thing that you were able to block that reaction window from your opponent, if you had an after activation reaction, but overall, these were a very strong set that you were going to face in nine out of ten of your games.

Direchasm: Silent Relics

And the last set that we’ve had up to this point (I hope there’s no set of Mortis Relics 2 in Arena Mortis 2…), is the Silent Relics. These followed closer to the old model of upgrade sets with a larger pool of upgrades. The release schedule was loaded to the back end of the season, with two of these coming in the Silent Menace deck and three of the cards in the Soulraid expansion. Breaking down the effects, each makes you a Quarry, each has an effect, and each has a bonus if you have two or three of the cards. The scoring card from these are similar to Master Poisoner from the Beastgrave season. If you’ve got only two of them, you get one end phase glory. And really, thats the only way to score off of these. Popular ones have included Silent Sword (very accurate attack with a potential bonus damage based on positioning), Silent Helm (ignores them crits) and Silent Ring (a reaction to draw a card if you have less than three cards in hand).

I’ve enjoyed how these have been splashed in a number of decks but there’s no way that they can be abused for a massive scoring gain. It’s nice to see a variety of offensive and defensive effects that are very unique. Silent Armour gives the ability to remove Guard tokens from an enemy fighter, which is really swank, and with only one other Silent Relic becomes Great Fortitude. Silent Shield has the incredibly powerful ability to set you on Guard if you’ve got three of them, and the really interesting ability to make your defence into two block if you’re in no man’s land. And I could see Mask of the Silent People be a good way to activate many Quarry-killing effects (could be a backup for Mantrappers by putting it on Quiv if the big dude goes down). Personally, I think these are a fun set, with interesting effects, while not being overly powerful. For me, the best combo is Helm, Ring and Shield, making you a defensive powerhouse.

Playing Against Upgrade Sets

How do you play against them? If an opponent starts laying down Lost Pages, how do you disrupt them? First off, you’ve got a nice priority target. If you’re worried about the potential glory your opponent will score, change up your strategy and take that fighter down. I know it’s easier said than done, but that has to be part of your counter-play, unless you think you can outscore them without targeting that fighter. In the current meta, I’d expect to need more than three glory against Avatar and Lost Pages, and I don’t really think Silent Sentinel is enough glory to worry about disrupting.

Two cards have come out this season that I think are great for counterplay; Narrowing Passage and Acidic Strike. Both give pretty easy ways to destroy an opponent’s upgrade. Narrowing Passage is a nice counter to the Silent Relics as you have to target a Quarry. Acidic Strike is a targeted removal of an upgrade. Remember that neither of these ploys will help you score glory, but they may help deny glory for your opponent. And if you’re oppressed by someone’s Lost Pages, removing The Scattered Tome feels pretty nice.

Spent Glory Points

Overall, I’ve loved the design space that the upgrade sets live in. It’s been really interesting seeing their evolution over four seasons. I think the designers have done a great job reigning the power level in over the years. It leaves us with more balanced and interesting options. Big fighters will always be able to make the most use of the sets, but any four wound fighter is a good candidate in my mind.

What’s your favourite set? Have you played with them? Do you miss any? If you have any questions or comments, please 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!

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