Lessons Learned: Arena Mortis 2 & Alternative Game Modes

We’ve now had our second Arena Mortis set release at the end of season four. It’s a format that GW has shown to want to support and build up in the Underworlds scene. The Beastgrave release made such an interesting splash on the game that I wanted to take a look at this new set and some lessons that I learned in thinking about the cards, the format and the overall release.

Release Rundown

As a rundown of the box, you’re going to get 20 gambits and 20 upgrades, along with a new board, tokens, and the new 20 card Hazard deck. You’ll also get copies of the Dolorghast and Fulbringer cards for the game mode originally released on Warhammer Community. Today, I’m going to focus on the Championship-legal stuff from this release, so boards and cards only.

Bloodtrap Hive

The boards are very similar to what we’ve seen lately, both with only one lethal and only one blocked hex. Bloodtrap Hive I like as a mid-range reaction board. You’re not getting up into the opponents face, but they can’t get you too far away either. Bonefields I think is a better board all around though. Setting up as Aggro, you’ve got four hexes in your first two rows and as Control, you can keep a four fighter warband on the back two rows. Expect to see this one for sure.

3 Cards You’ll Play (And 3 You Won’t)

I’m not going to go through all 40 cards here, but I did want to touch on a few great (and a few weak cards). My take on the cards on a whole is that I’m happy there is Combo support (too little too late, however) and I think a lot of the cards have some fun upsides and concerning downsides. I do think the Seals of Power are a bit unbalanced. Sure, there are some good downsides on Xereus (Snare effect for an extra charge token), Ordolos (the opponent gets a glory when you roll a defensive crit) and Primus (gain an extra glory when killing the fighter). But Ultimus and Retris don’t have any downsides. And combo to potentially let you steal two glory from an opponent (for a four glory swing). You’ve got a fighter with two bonus defence, that’s probably unkillable and will just swing the game in a decently big way. I think stealing glory is a negative play experience and so I’m just flatly against the Seals.

Cards You’ll See

Breaking the Food Chain is an anti-big boi card. It’s a bonus dice to all attacks that target any enemy fighter with 5 or more wounds (until one of them dies). It’s nice for anti-Krushas but also any four wound fighters pumping themselves up. I especially like this card in Godsworn Hunt (who I think are one of the big winners from this expansion).

Omega’s Offering is Crown of Avarice-lite or Martyred-lite, but at Gambit speed. Play this persisting gambit on a fighter, and when that fighter is taken out of action by the enemy warband (no stacking with Expendable you rats!), you gain that glory. Put it together with Everything to Prove and your fighter dying will net you two glory! I’d expect hordes to be taking this in a big way.

The Seal of Primus is the best of the upgrades in my mind. It gives you Cleave and Ensnare on all attacks the fighter makes that target an adjacent fighter. Not range one, just an adjacent fighter. Sure, your opponent gets a bonus glory when they kill that fighter, but on a 5+ wound fighter, they’ll probably have already done some significant damage before you take them down. Combo it with Omega’s Offering and you’ll still be even. Sigh.

Cards You Won’t See

Fortress of Arrogance is hilarious to me. Bonus two wounds, but making your opponent’s attacks against the target auto-hit is just asking for them to make two charges to kill the fighter anyway. Sure, it can be a distraction, but I actually worry about giving the opponent their surges for free. It auto-crits as well, so Kainan can score Gruesome Certainty simply by targeting that fighter with an attack. And activates Fighter’s Ferocity as well.

Lights Out! is a worse verson of Winded from the first Arena Mortis. It’s a reaction to a successful Combo attack that gives the target a charge token. While that’s nice, it occupies the same window as the Combo reaction. And usually hitting both will kill your target anyway. Never Saw It Coming is in the same boat, where you get a bonus glory when you kill with a Combo opener. Pass.

Abject Grovelling allows you to give an opponent one to three glory, in exchange for the same amount of power cards or the same amount of healing. Giving your opponent glory to draw cards or potentially heal is absolutely not worth it.

Alternative Play Modes

In preparation for this article I started reflecting on Arena Mortis along with some of the other game modes (Gargant and Grand Alliance). I realized that these modes change the game in fundamental ways that have really never appealed to me. I wanted to lay out some of the reasons why that is to help draw conclusions around this release.

Lack of Objective Deck: I remember that when I first learned about the game of Underworlds, one of the biggest selling points in my mind was the fact that scoring in the game was not all about destroying your opponent. I’ve always shied away from games where killing was the sole objective. Sure, there’s glory rewards for Aggro play and killing, but that’s probably not the only way you’re going to score glory.

Building Secondary Decks: Prepping one or two decks has always been a chore for me. You’ve got to get your cards out, switch them around, sleeve things and then re-sort your collection. It’s always a bit of a time tax each week. When Arena Mortis originally released, I remember packing an AM deck a few times and never playing the game mode. I really wish alternate game modes could easily use the decks I’ve already got crafted.

No Rotation or FAR: As a Championship player, once a season rotates, I put the cards away into their own box, banished to the back of my collection for all time. Without rotation or a FAR list to keep card creep down, building and maintaining decks is much harder than normal. I really don’t want to have to dig for Shadespire cards. And honestly, I’m happy to see a lot of those cards gone from the game. Although it would allow me to play Ready for Action again, or a silly Katophrane Relic Arena Mortis build which would end up just being hateful. I’m thinking Stalagsquig sitting in one place just taking the action to gain glory each turn…

Game Time: I’ll keep this one simple. I’d want a variant game to be around the same time as a normal Vanguard or Championship game. I’ve found that games of Arena Mortis (as a 3-6 player game) are usually much longer than I’d be looking for.

Don’t take my words above to think that I don’t want other game modes. I like how flexible the system is, allowing for the design and presentation of these other modes. Vanguard has been an amazing success in my mind. My ideal is that a separate mode uses the same card pool and decks as Championship format (taking away a deck is also fine by me, if objectives don’t make sense in the mode) and is played in a similar time as the main game. I’d love to end my game night by a rousing quick match of an exciting different way to play.

The Final Activation

So, what’s the takeaway from the release? I think that I would want the design space to be open for Arena Mortis to have cards that aren’t legal for Championship/Vanguard play, because this is the second set like this that I’d expect some major power creep from. One of the main issues with Arena Mortis cards being legal in Championship is that it continues to fuel the Voltron meta we’ve been stuck with, and this set is no different. Voltroning is the only point of Arena Mortis, so these releases will always have this effect on the game.

Have you played Arena Mortis? Do you plan to? Are you planning to buy the new expansion? 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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