Bring It On: Underworlds and Competition by Compak

Hello again! I’ve been getting myself primed for Harrowdeep and getting ready for the upcoming warband and card releases. But today’s article comes from Graham, AKA Compak who was most recently on this blog discussing Madmob. He’s got some thoughts to share about the competitiveness of Underworlds.

In defense of UW / Why UW is GWs most competitive game system

Ok first, just a little bit of bragging if you’ll indulge me. If you read my last article you’ll know how I lamented not being able to play a real life game with my favourite direchasm warband – Hedkrakkas. Well, I took the Madmob to a real, body-odoured, beer filled tournament and won! The LGT was just 16 players and I took on 4 high tier warbands (Grymwatch, Harrows, Kainans, and Stalkers) with my orruks and everything went according to plan. What plan? Well go read my article because I used the exact list I put there, and used the exact board setup and strategy described. It works. I’m probably going to give the Kunnin Krew a run when Harrowdeep drops but I really do think this savage warband is underrated. 

It is a great shame that I have not yet painted the warband and so they are omitted from the photo. It’s the first tournament I’ve played without a painted warband and only built them the night before. But I recently moved house and have a newborn so hopefully you can cut me some slack.

Thank you for that. Playing in person again was amazing. As you’ll read, I’m still an advocate for online play, but I would love to see the return of 100+ tournaments or at least some prize support (you’ll note the lack of glass in my prize). So I wanted to write more about why UW is so well designed for competitive play. I may follow this article up with one on how I think we can grow the game.

While I was at the LGT there were a lot of game systems on display. I’m not here to say they are bad games. I have an AoS army and I do love the game. I do, however, believe that Underworlds has a number of factors that make it the most competitive game system and will keep it there for some time.

My dawnrider charging into Direchasm (Elves got nothing on Stormcast –Matt)

Maybe you’re new to the game and want to know more. Then great, read on and I hope this motivates you to get started in this wonderful hobby. Don’t be scared by the competitive nature either – you can have friendly games which are competitive and the community is very welcoming. Your opponents will start off easy if you let them know you are new. You’ll see in this article that underworlds is rare (in GW game context) in that it’s very easy to become a better player if you want to and I believe this is a very good thing. Without it, the inequality in skill between players would be far greater because players who can spend their time travelling to tournaments every weekend and building the latest army will be untouchable to new players. There is nothing worse than showing up to a tournament and you’ve had no experience against some super competitive build running around and you get stomped. It is very easy to get access to competitive underworld games and decks.

Maybe you’re a veteran and already love this game. Well the internet has taught us that people love to read articles they agree with, so please read on (and share with anyone thinking about starting, or quiting). 

Hex based movement and ranges 

I love that everything in UW is measured in hexes. No pesky measuring tape that you have to hold still or curve around terrain. And you don’t have to worry about being that guy who points out you’re actually a quarter inch out of range so no you can’t shoot at me. Hexes make Underworlds significantly faster because you don’t waste time arguing or making multiple measurements or doing complicated math

Moreover, the hexes make ranges perfectly clear and you know what is possible before you do anything or your opponent does anything. It is this that really adds to the competitive nature as your positioning of boards, objectives and fighters can be considered precisely and countered.  It is a lot more chess-like than any other of GWs games. Yes there are cards that can boost movement and range, but you have knowledge of those cards and the exact difference they can make. 

The line of sight rules are also made clearer with hexes. You don’t have to worry about height or shape of terrain or drop your head so you can get the same view as the fighter. 

Hexes are precise and clear and I love them.

Best of 3 format

Put your hand up if you’ve lost a game due to a single dice roll (or a lot of bad dice rolls in a row). Or a time when you got caught off guard by some unexpected playstyle your opponent took for the warband. I know I lost the first game in the LGT final when Klaqtroq charged Hedkrakka first activation and both his attacks went through (the odds of that being 16%). Granted, I shouldn’t have risked that positioning and it almost ended the contest very early (I ended up losing by just 2 glory, and of course won the next 2 games). 

Thankfully, Underworlds is a relatively quick game so we can fit in 3 games. Moreover, a game you are losing doesn’t take that long to finish, compared to having lost an AoS game by turn 2 and going through the long painful process of playing it out. I’ve seen games where Nagash managed to Hand of Dust Archeon (an instant kill spell in which you have to roll to succeed the spell (83%), then have the opponent fail their dispel (call it 75% depending on what the spell rolled) and then hide a dice in one hand and have the opponent pick the empty one (50%). So, overall it’s around a 30% chance to succeed. –Matt) (extremely low odds) and although it was still competitive, it isn’t really a viable plan over 3 games. Or there was the 40k LGT final which was called after a single turn. A single turn. 

Thankfully, the brevity of the Underworlds enables players to fit in 3 games within a 100 minute period. In my opinion, the best player is far more likely to win a best of 3 compared to a one off game. It also makes games 2 and 3 far more interesting as each player has learnt more about their opponents plans and cards and tries to counter them. So you’re just going to charge me and lack movement cards? I’m going to longboard you! 

Standard Warband Fighters

You buy a warband and that is the warband. They have the weapons they have and both players know that. There is no need to think about loadouts when physically putting the miniatures together. (I recently put together some Stormcast Paladins and it took me literally months to decide exactly what weapon loadout I wanted… –Matt) No need to learn how to magnetize. No need to squint over at the opponent and see what weapon his 2 inch tall model has. No need to buy a whole new box when a different weapon set becomes powerful. You customise through cards and that is far easier in my opinion, and allows you to change quickly if the meta changes. 

I think this simplifies the competitive environment a fair bit because again you can have very good knowledge of what fighters you are likely to come up against. Yes we probably have too many warbands at the moment but at least you know exactly what each fighter in that warband will start with and inspire to. That makes reading the meta much easier, and lets you quickly prepare yourself when a warband is dropped opposite you for a match. Using AoS as a current comparision to the point of warband amount, there’s around 25 different armies in the game, with around 4-8 subfactions each, with 20-80 different units in each army. –Matt

Too often games where you can customise your army lead to people choosing one unit that is overpowered and spamming that unit. See the 5 foxes lumineth build, or that admech LGT winning list I mentioned already. Who wants to go out and buy a bunch of units that happen to be OP at this time in the meta, only for them to be nerfed and you send them to your cupboard. 

I know I’m dunking on the other systems a bit here, so apologies about that, these just needed to be pointed out. Personally, it’s more about overpowered styles of play being oppressive and a negative play experience than straight dunking, as I’ve talked about in the past with Relics –Matt

Competitive Deck Accessibility

Thanks to the hard work of the community, you can quickly find winning card decks from worldwide tournaments. See underworlddb or Underworlds Deckers. Although there is a lot more to a tournament win than a good deck, it still let’s players get up to speed quickly with what a strong set of cards are and what synergies there are. 

Accessibility goes beyond just being able to view the decks – it’s quite easy to build that exact deck. Yes, it does require you to own all the cards, but I’d still argue that it’s far more accessible than having to have every unit in every army available. You can get practice against winning decks quite easily. If you and a friend have all the cards they can just build that tournament deck and try it out. 

I don’t really want to get into the cost of Underworlds, but from the perspective of always having access to a tournament winning build, it is miles cheaper than others. If you buy each warband for a season, you’re set to build a strong deck for every single warband. That’s brilliant.

Accurate Online format

This needs to be said. Although I do love playing in person. The easiest way to become a better player is to play online. I think I won some of my games at LGT on board and objective set up alone because I’d played with this warband and deck many times against players from all over the world who are very good at the setup stage. There’s a reason why real life poker is now dominated by online players. More games make you a better player. If you are restricted to playing in person you are restricted in your ability to learn. I don’t want to scare off new players with this as it’s actually a good thing! If you want to get more games against different players, it’s very accessible and easy to do. Just join the Underworlds Vassal Discord. It would be far worse if only a few lucky people could play a lot of in person games because of their circumstances and then you got crushed by them at a small or big tournament. 

All of the other GW games can’t be replicated online very well. Yes there is Tabletop Simulator but it 1) struggles to replicate inches and actual armies people can afford to take, and 2) is slow so you can’t fit in more than a best of one for an evening. Underworlds works online for the same reasons it’s a good competitive game – hexes, cards, and brevity. 

There are a number of people who don’t like the online format and that’s fair enough. Personally I love it almost as much as I love playing in person if only because physically rolling dice is quite fun and I do like to take out my painted miniatures. Sometimes for online tournaments I’ll just have the models out next to my laptop and talk to them because I am that big a nerd.  I’ve definitely done this too…💕 –Matt

Spectator Friendly

I loved watching the Warhammer World finals on Twitch. Thanks to the small boards (easily viewable on screen), hexes (easy to see range), tokens (you can quickly tell the status of each fighter) and standard fighters, I believe Underworlds is very spectator friendly. I can often drop in on a game and it will just take me a minute to figure out the status of everything and the scorecard. Furthermore, the game is short so you don’t need fancy editing to make recordings watchable. 

This is not only great from the perspective of watching the game you enjoy, but you can learn from it. When I decided I wanted to pick up Grymwatch, I went and watched how Mike (of Steel City fame and winner of the Grand Clash at Warhammer World) played them. How he set up boards, where he put his fighters, what cards he played when. It’s that easy to become a more competitive player.

Online games are even better from this perspective. You can watch the entire tournament, dropping in and out of any game that looks interesting. It doesn’t take long to see what is going on and follow the whole game. You don’t even need to hear their voice chat really. Some of the games in the past have had commentary and it’s been brilliant. I enjoy my games where I know there are 20 or so people watching. Another few reasons why I think online play is great and more people should be using it.  To quote Derek, “Mithril sharpens mithril” –Matt

Looking forward

I’m not going to speculate on what Harrowdeep is going to bring. I’ve no idea what they will be although we’ve seen some announcements on the Warhammer Community website and I’m excited for the shake up.

I will say this – if you want to enjoy this game going forward then embrace change. Don’t wish the game was the same as it was in Direchasm or another season. Study the new changes and figure out what impact it will have on the game. And get out and play! Give the rules a chance. You’ll probably love some of them. Changes keep the game interesting and the competitive scene fresh. 

I hope some of these thoughts have made you realise what a great game Underworlds is. And if you’ve just decided you’re not sure about Underworlds and may be leaving the game then just know the community will always welcome you back if you realise you’d like to jump back in. I’m here to compete, and I want more people to play so I get to play against the best players. Bring It On. 

Thanks again to Graham for contributing today. Personally, I’m looking forward to what the Harrowdeep season is going to bring us. Keep your eyes here as I’ll be working on some content as things release and you can walk with me through the realm of Ulgu. 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!

Cunning Paths: How to Spend Your Restricted Slots

Aptly, this article is coming close to the end of the Direchasm season. It’s been on my list for a bit, but I was thinking about it as I separated out my Beastgrave cards in preparation for rotation. Once the Beastgrave set of cards leaves Championship play, we will be only left with one forsaken and six restricted cards. So, without much choices, this article may not be as punchy as I would hope, but I did want to go over some theory as to the balancing of your three restricted slots.

The first thing I want to briefly cover is some of the reasoning for the restricted list. Restricted cards usually aren’t ones that are absolutely overpowered or confusing. Those cards normally hit the Forsaken list instead. Limiting the use of certain cards can ensure that they aren’t just auto-includes for every deck. Usually if a card is powerful enough to be in most everyone’s deck, it’s a good candidate for a restriction. I think of cards like Show of Force which was a very strong effect for both passive and aggressive decks which definitely deserved its place on the list. As we go through the different card types, we’ll touch on this in more detail within the specific types. I’m mostly going to focus on the Universal pool today as I believe they are more indicative of the overall card trend and less about the balancing of certain warbands in the meta.

Objectives

Objectives have generally only hit this list for one reason: they’re too easy to score. No, seriously, I think it’s really that simple. When you can effortlessly score your cards (especially surges) without changing the board state, with doing the same game plan whether you had the card in hand, while not needing a dice roll, that’s a good sign that the card is going to be Restricted. I mentioned Show of Force earlier, as I think the main way I saw it scored was the activation after it was drawn. Without any action. Of course you’ll likely have a fighter with three upgrades sometime after round one. So, effectively it read “when you draw this card, score a glory”. Hidden Purpose gives a reward for standing on two tokens, which is the common game state of most horde warbands. And Cover Ground commonly was just scored by running in a circle. Really, this is the main reason you’ll spend slots in the Objectives. It’s a good way to get your glory train going and get some early upgrades out.

Post-Rotation Restricted Objectives: Surge of Aggression.

Gambits

In the gambit side, we’ve generally seen very strong effects that are hitting the list. Overall, in the last set of cards we’ve seen a lot of card draw effects and objective manipulation. But there’s a ton of times that cards hit this list due to the perceived negative player experience from the cards. Honestly, the two cards that are going to stick with us are only on this list because they can cause a bad taste. Slickrock can cancel a charge and be a major disruption. Daylight Robbery can steal an opponent’s only glory if they waited to use it. And I’m not even touching on Rebound.

So, what would convince you to take gambits? Mainly for very strong single use effects. The ability to get through your deck quickly, the strong manipulation of tokens, high damage spells, bonus attacks. You’re really going to focus on these effects if they play into your overall strategy. By having the ability to use something like Restless Prize you can shift a token out from an enemy and put it under you, which is likely the difference between scoring Dominant Position and not. If the card can really help out your overall game plan, take it. But know that you may miss out on an easy score for it. But still, Howling Vortex is worth it when it becomes six Distraction at once…

Post-Rotation Restricted Gambits: Slickrock, Daylight Robbery.

Upgrades

Ok, the last and recently the largest pool. Upgrades have significantly raised in power over the years of the game. I think a big part of these effects becoming stronger is due to the effects lasting over many activations. Using a card for a bonus attack dice or a reroll is ok, but when you get it on every attack it’s a much more efficient use of recources. Extra glory is another way for cards to hit the list such as Cryptic Companion, Proud Runner, Amberbone Sword and Trophy Belt. Another effect we see is super defensive upgrades. Bonus defence dice, permanent Guard and damage reduction.

So, what’s helping make the decision here? Personally, I always think the upgrade slots become the rounders for the list. Did I need the easy glory or were my surges already consistent? Do I really need any of the current Restricted gambit effects? If you’ve got some leftover places, it’s time to patch them up with some very strong permanent effects. You’ll play into the weaknesses of your deck to patch them up. Do you need some more damage or accuracy? Do you need to stay alive easily? This is where you’ll get some strong ways to do that.

Post-Rotation Restricted Upgrades: Geomancer’s Gauntlet, Haughty Resistance, Proud Runner, Savage Visage.

The Final Card

I’m of two minds here. I hope we can be in a place where the game doesn’t need as big of a FAR list. To me, I think this will show a lot of balance in the game. However, it can make the game stale. Being limited by the choices (especially if they aren’t all super powerful) does bring a lot of good variety. I always enjoy a new list dropping because it really shakes up deckbuilding and allows you to change the way that you look at your deck.

How do you feel on the list? Anything missing right now? 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!

Live by the Code: Online Clash IX

As we’ve started to see Harrowdeep in all its glory, it looks like the tournament held on September 18/19 will be the final major tournament of the Direchasm season. Unfortunately, the season saw no official Grand Clashes, due to the pandemic, but we can still look to events like this to get our major competitive fix. Let’s dive in.

Meta Thoughts

I’m going to keep this section brief this time. I spent four hours going over my meta thoughts (pre-Arena Mortis 2) on the Path to Glory podcast. Here is the link, if you want to check it out. For the episode, I did make a tier ranking based on how I thought warbands may perform:

August 2021 Tier List

To summarize, I thought the changes made by the FAR list and the last couple releases made Objective warbands stronger. I think that there’s something to be said about the last gasp of Beastgrave, since after this tournament, I’d expect Season 5 to drop. No more Hidden Purpose, Temporary Victory, Swift Capture. I think I’d be tempted to take them for one last drive. In that same vein, if horde warbands become more powerful, I think that anti-hordes also become stronger. Hrothgorn, Rippa and Crimson Court to name a few here.

Warband Breakdown

There were 28 players at the event, representing 15 of the 36 available warbands. More than half the field (16 of 28) were playing season 4 warbands, which I think is really cool to see. Referencing my meta thoughts, 14% of players were playing the S tier warbands, 57% of players in A tier, 21% in B tier and 7% (2 players) in C tier (although one of those two players was Erik with Eyes of the Nine so that doesn’t even count as C tier for him). On the day of the event, this showed me that there was a really open field. Lots of players with warbands that could work well and perform decently.

So who’s missing? First off, there were three Direchasm warbands unrepresented in the event, Ravagers, Madmob and Myari’s. The beta rule wasn’t enough to salvage the Ravagers. Myari’s is a warband I’ve slowly seen dissapear on the scene. Madmob is a pretty technical warband to make run well (shout out to Compak to winning a second consecutive league with his list from his guest article). The Aggro warbands we’ve seen prevalent in the scene in past events have also fallen off for this event. No Rippa, no Hrothgorn and no Mollog. I think other than a lack of Madmob, Rippa and Hrothgorn, the mix didn’t surprise me.

The Top Eight

The top eight had an interesting breakdown this clash. Five of the top eight were season 4 warbands, which is around the same percentage as those warbands were in the general field. However, neither Wraithcreeper made the cut and none of the three Kainan’s made day two either. One of the Starbloods made day two (which would be expected given they were the most represented warband). Two of the three Crimson Court also made the cut. But it’s the other five warbands that are really interesting to see. There were two Idoneth players at the event and both made the cut for the next day. Erik made it with his Eyes again, Benny made it with Krushas and Neils thundered with the Profiteers to the top spot after the first day. I’ve said it before, but I think a lot of this shows that players who master their warbands always have a good shot at the playoffs.

After the quarterfinals, we had Krushas, Profiteers and both Idoneth making it through to the top 4. However, they stopped swimming there as an ebb tide rose, making the final being Profiteers against the Krushas. After two games, Neils prevailed with Thundrik’s Profiteers. Congratulations to him! Going 14-1 in individual matches during two days of play is a phenomenal result. I also love to see that the sole player with a warband was able to take down the whole event.

The deck itself is a very interesting one. It’s a combination of Aggro and Objective play, focusing on holding objectives with the smaller fighters and being aggressive with Thundrik and Drakkskewer. Eternal Chase unlocked the potential of Absolute Stillness, Ahead of the Hunt, Predatory Instinct and Hunter’s Talisman, while also giving the warband a large speed boost. It’s got some decent ping damage which I think is neat given the inclusion of Underdog. It means that if you are killing, you’re not taking Primacy away so you can still score it.

Shared Cards

As I love to get a guage of what cards are popular in the top decks, this is the list of the cards in which more than half of the top field were playing. Duel of Wits continues to be the most popular card, followed closely by Distraction. The three pretty standard stat boosts in Great Fortitude, Great Strength and Gloryseeker all continued to be popular. The only two shared Restricted cards were in Hidden Purpose and Cryptic Companion, which show the propensity towards some passive, back of board objective holding.

I’ve highlighted some of these cards as half of this list is about to rotate out. Beastgrave season cards have dominated the deck lists, honestly. Out of the remaining five cards in blue, four of them are Essentials and the only Direchasm card is Underdog. I think that the meta will have some major shakeups when we get rotation. As the Essential cards are very basic effects and none of them tied to scoring (other than bonus damage for making kills), it will be very interesting how players adapt their decks to find ways to score efficiently. While Primacy brought us a shakeup to the game, I think that losing a few more tricks around holding objectives will be a major change to see as well.

The Final Countdown

Harrowdeep is nearly upon us and this will be one of the last (if not the last) major tournament before that season drops. I’m really curious to see what the next season brings. We’ve seen some Gen Con spoilers of the new Stormcast warband, Xandire’s Truthseekers and the Kruelboyz warband, Da Kunnin’ Krew. We’ve heard of Rivals mode, Grand Alliance universals and the Grievous keyword. There are new dashed hexes and new tokens. It’s bound to be an exciting time. Personally, I’m planning to main the Truthseekers throughout the next season and really concentrate on them as my main warband. I love Stormcast and given the way the Direchasm warbands worked out, I have good hope that all the Harrowdeep warbands will be nicely balanced and competitive. Tune in here to see if this prediction is right or wrong!

What are you looking forward to in season 5? Which cards will you miss the most? Why is the bird the best? 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!

Driven by Envy: Warband Relationship Therapy (featuring Beardarm)

Welcome again to another guest article! Today, I’m excited to introduce David Lancaster AKA Beardarm. Dave is a local player to me (well, a three hour drive, which is close here in the great white north). He’s one of the players I’ve had the most reps with and is always a blast to play. I’ve always appreciated his focus on learning, having fun and analyzing this wonderful game. Dave also runs the Vassal leagues, putting in a ton of time reminding us all to play our matches on time, dealing with rules disputes and setting everything up. His article today is around finding those truly special warbands to your heart. Without further ado, let’s get into it. -Matt

WARBAND RELATIONSHIP THEORY

Are you and your minis in a rut?  Are you getting in the reps, but just not enjoying your games?  Are your dice fine and your deck dealing out alright, but watching your fighter deliver a 5 damage coup de grace isn’t doing it for you anymore?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and your warband(s) might be in need of some relationship counseling and, lucky for you, I’m here to dole it out.

I can hear you now.  “Beardarm,” you ask, “What qualifies you to give relationship advice for real, living people and their little plastic murder squads?”  Well, thanks for asking.  Let me lay out my qualifications. 

  • First, I have NEVER won a Grand Clash.  But, you did place 5th at one with the Wurmspat… -Matt
  • Second, I have NEVER qualified for the second day of a Vassal Clash. 
  • Third, I once lost a local glass tournament to OBJECTIVE-HOLDING IRONSKULL’S BOYZ (and that was a Best of Three tournament no less, so no excuses of just being surprised). 
  • Lastly, and most importantly, I have been playing this game since Q2 of Shadespire and even with this overwhelming lack of success, I am in love with this game more than ever. 

Part of the reason why I still love Underworlds is because I have really bonded with a couple truly remarkable warbands (The Wurmspat and Zarbag’s Gitz in my case).  I’ve played a lot of warbands and like most of them, but there is something different that happens when you bond with a warband.  Matt and I were talking about how we both hope that Season Five will have a warband for each of us that we can really we can get into.  We talked a bit about what it takes for a player to really bond with a warband and that led to the idea that I should write this article.  An article about how we can find a warband that we like and then build a strong bond for with that warband.

Now, I want to be clear, this article is not a playstyle article, although playstyle definitely plays a role in finding the right warband for you.  The focus is not improving your win rate, although if you have the right warband, I think that your win rate will improve.  The premise of this article is that we have relationships with our warbands and, like real world relationships, they can get stale or unfulfilling if we are in the wrong relationship or not putting the work into our chosen relationship.  Let me suggest that you might need to find a warband (or multiple warbands for you polyamorous players) with which you can build a strong bond.  If you can find a couple warbands like that, you’ll always have the reason to build a deck and throw some dice. 

There are few things that I think are needed to truly bond with a warband. 

  • The playstyle of the warband and your own subconscious strategic biases need to be in synch.  For example, if you are quicker to see control choices on the board and in deck construction, you will bond better with warbands that can play well into a control option. 
  • You need to be able to win games with that warband.  Unless they are a complete masochist, anyone will eventually tire of losing all the time. 
  • You need to like the models.  If you think the sculpts are lame, it’s hard to really like the warband as a whole.
  • Finally and most importantly.  You need a history with the warband.  You need something extra that endears you to that warband.  Something beyond just a generally good game record or an affection for the models.  You need to have happy memories.
It was probably crits… -Matt

So, those are the ingredients to a good warband relationship, but how do you actually build that relationship from scratch?  For that we will turn to “THE FOUR STAGES OF THE WARBAND RELATIONSHIPS”

THE FIRST ENCOUNTER – CHOOSING A WARBAND

This is when a warband first sparks our interest.  There are many reasons a warband could catch our eye, but really most people are drawn to warbands for a mixture of the reasons listed below.

  • Aesthetics AKA The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room – whether the quality of the models or your personal love for that warband’s lore, this choice is purely superficial.  No thought is given to game rules or strength in the meta.  You love Sylvaneth and will play any Sylvaneth that are caught in the curse of the Underworlds. I have personally been drawn to many warbands just based on how they look.  Sadly, sometimes after a few nights out, I can see we have very little in common no matter how pretty they are (looking at you, Farstriders).
  • The Top of the Meta AKA The Sure-Thing – This is fine and natural.  Really, it is.  You never know, this could be the foundation for a long-term commitment.   Everyone is tempted by the sure thing in the dating scene and the gaming scene is no different.  It’s a competitive game and you are here to win, so chose the warband that everyone says is the most broken.  The models don’t matter and who gives a crap about the lore.  This beauty will get you glass and that is all you want.  This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship that lasts for years.  But be careful, sometimes, the Sure-Thing isn’t as easy as you thought and you don’t get the wins you were hoping for.  Or, you could wake up the morning after a tournament, tangled together in the sheets with your warband and glass trophy and just feel a wave a shame at the depths you will sink to in order to get a taste of glory.  Those of you who raided local tournaments playing Steelheart’s Katophrane Relics pre-Beta Rule know what I’m talking about.  I include myself among that number, to my personal shame.
I planned to play Relics on a Saturday tournament, and then on the Friday they got the Beta-rule… -Matt
  • The Bottom of the Meta AKA My Fair Lady – This is the flip side of the “The Sure-Thing”.  What you like is that the warband is, at least on the surface, underpowered.  Like Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” transformed an unrefined flower-seller into a “Lady” of poise and dignity, so too will you take that neglected warband at the bottom of the tier list and make them into something to fear.  You might be a bit of contrarian and march to the beat of your own drum, but you like nothing more than proving everyone wrong.  Of course, you know what they say about the wisdom of crowds.  They can often be right, and you might end up learning the hard way that your warband isn’t really a diamond in the rough. I was going to make the Pretty Woman comparison… -Matt
  • Running the Gauntlet AKA Playing the Field – Finally, if nothing is pulling you in any particular direction, why not give them all a whirl?  You are going to play every warband, because there is no way on God’s Green Earth that you paid good money for those models just to let them sit on your shelf and never see the table.  This is a great way to learn a little about all the warbands and see what you like and what you don’t like.  You’ll learn more about yourself as a player and the game as a whole.  If this approach interests you, you should check out the new blog by Davy from What the Hex Podcast (Hexodus — The Mortal Realms).  Be careful though, if you spend too much time tomcatting around, hopping from warband to warband, you might not get to know any of them with any true depth and never know if any of them were life-long relationship material.
THE EARLY ATTACHMENT STAGE – BUILDING GOOD MEMORIES

Ok, so you’ve selected a warband and gotten a few games in.  This is like the first few dates with a new person.  You’re seeing if you work together, but no one is exactly committed.  If things go well, maybe it will get more serious, but if the spark fizzles, hey, no one’s feelings will get hurt.  If you are winning games and seem to be getting the hang of the warband, it might become your main warband and you will probably play them for a while.  I remember the first time I played as Mournflight back in early Beastgrave.  They gave me my first experience with easy in-faction surges and fighters that started on 2-dodge, but they still demanded that I think about my plans and make good decisions.  It was fun and rewarding.  It was a whole new world and I was Jasmine to Lady Harrow’s Aladdin. 

On the other hand, this is the time to maybe be a little picky.  If the warband isn’t working for you, move on.  It was at the early attachment stage that I realized that Mantrappers weren’t really my jam.  I tried Hrothgorn and he was a good vessel for some gimmicky decks, but we didn’t really jive.  Partly it was me not being able to figure out what to do with the gnoblars and probably part of it was remembering how much I hated playing against him back before Hunter’s Reflexes was Forsaken.  We had some laughs, but we knew it wasn’t for the long haul.  No harm, no foul.

The important part of this step is to identify when you are building good memories.  Good memories can be based on any aspect of the hobby.  You could have really enjoyed painted one or all of the models for that warband.  You could have had a lot of fun deck building.  You could have won some games in memorable ways.  You could have even lost some games in memorable, but still positive ways.  It doesn’t matter where the good memory is coming from.  What matters is that you identify when they happen and connect them to part of your overall experience with that warband.

As a quick aside, negative memories of a warband can have the opposite effect and make you dislike a warband, even if you aren’t playing as that warband.  There are more than a few players who have a sincere dislike (possibly justified) for The Grymwatch that is at least partially rooted in that weird time when Grymwatch would just score 20 glory for moving around the board and rolling a crit defense or two.  There is nothing wrong with this, but, as a player, you should be careful of getting to salty about any particular warband if you ever want to give it a try in the future without carrying negative baggage.

THE CRISIS STAGE – THINGS GET HARD

This game is a living and evolving thing.  If we ever stopped getting new updates in the form of cards, warbands, and FAR lists, I think that the community would bore and drift away.  I hope that never happens.  Unfortunately, the same thing that keeps our game alive will kill your decks and knock your warband off the top of the meta.  This is the time to see if your attachment to this warband was really just an attachment to a particular playstyle, just because you liked winning, or if it ran deeper.  If you can adapt and change and still get enjoyment out of the warband when the old way of doing things won’t work anymore, you are well on your way to building a rock-solid relationship.  If you can’t find enjoyment in them anymore, maybe you just need a break to cleanse your palate, or maybe this warband isn’t really your forever warband.  I have an example of each situation in my own history.  

An example of not getting past the Crisis Stage is when I played Grymwatch at the tail end of Beastgrave and into Direchasm.  I enjoyed them and still have a soft spot for all the little crypt ghouls.  I played them with a priority towards early inspiration, with hold objective surges giving me the early glory to bring the pain in rounds 2 and 3.  Not ground-breaking at all, but fun.  Naturally, the cards changed and, as Direchasm progressed, I couldn’t play them the same way anymore.  The move toward hold-two objective and the introduction of several more aggressive and fast warbands made both inspiring and scoring glory more difficult and I just wasn’t adapting to it.  I realized that while I like Grymwatch, I really only wanted to play them one way.   I tried a few variations but just wasn’t feeling it.  It was starting to make me bitter so I deciding it was time to move on.

On the other hand, my relationship with Wurmspat went through a few rough patches and came out the other side the stronger for it.  I’ve had a few different deck styles come and go due to the vagaries of the FAR list and card rotation, but after each upset, and even when I am working through losing deck builds, I still found enjoyment in the game.  Part of it is how much I love these models and part of it is how much I like each fighter’s individual stats.  With the upcoming rotation of Beastgrave cards out of the Championship format, I am sure that there will be another crisis, but having gone through a few upheavals already, I am confident that my love of the Wurmspat will keep me hacking at it until I find something that works. 

I love these beautiful kids.

THE DEEP ATTACHMENT STAGE – TRULY BONDING WITH YOUR WARBAND

This is the sweet spot.  This is the goal.  This is growing old together sitting on the back porch and drinking sweet tea.  At this point, you will know your fighters inside and out and only very rarely forget your reaction windows.  What do you mean the Dread Pageant have Inspired sides? -Matt You will be able to quickly see how each new warband release might affect your own warband in terms of deck construction and potential match up issues.  You might still make mistakes, but most of your choices will get to the point of instinct.  You won’t need to flip over your card to know your inspired stats.  Not only that, but if you have really bonded with your warband and had the time to refine a deck, you should be able to give most other warbands a run for their money competitively.  There will always be better players and bad dice, but you won’t be losing games based on decisions that don’t work with your warband and you’ll likely be finding some diamonds in the rough of the universal card pool that have particularly strong synergies for your game plan. 

I have a couple warnings for this stage.

  1. Don’t get too comfortable.  There is a fine line between a comfort zone and a rut.  Ruts lead to boredom, and boredom is a relationship killer for your real life relationships and your warbands.  Keep trying new things and adapting your style.  Challenge yourself so you are ready when the Crisis Stage inevitably returns. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to take a break and try other warbands.   I get it.  You are committed.  You drew blood on your sword and swore a sacred pact that you would play no other warband until you won a Grand Clash with Morgwaeth’s Blood Coven.  You will never admit defeat and no matter how hard it is, you will keep hacking away.  This sort of commitment can help you really learn everything there is to love about a warband.  In the best of circumstances, you will build an intimate knowledge of this warband that will let you both achieve higher levels of glory.  But, in the worst case, you’ll start building more bad memories than good and perhaps forget why you started playing this warband to begin with.  Think of it this way: by playing other warbands from time to time, you are giving yourself a chance to find yet another warband that you can love forever or, at the very least, learning how your opponents’ warbands work so as to better destroy them.

That’s it.  You made it to the end of the article.  There is probably a lot more to say on the subject, but I am calling it.  I hope that this helps a few players and makes some sense.  Don’t think of your warbands just as game pieces but as allies in your ongoing quest for glory.

Message from the Editor

As Dave said, this topic came up between us a few weeks ago and it’s stuck in my mind. I’ll be honest that I’ve had a hard time sticking with a warband through my career in Underworlds. In Nightvault, I got into Farstriders and Cursebreakers (mainly because I love the lightning lads and ladies). Farstriders honestly never clicked (other than one deck that ended up with 13 Restricted cards right after Power Unbound became bound. Cursebreakers were something I enjoyed, but wasn’t too interested in the Control nature they had been generally played. I messed around with Mollog, Eyes of the Nine, Ylthari, Skaven and Wild Hunt too, but was always bouncing to the next thing. And then wolf-riding goblins arrived. And I had found my love. As stated above, I think it can also be a trap as when I’m not motivated, I definitely sink into my Rippa. That being said, I have really strong hope that Season 5 will bring me a new warband to love and sink into fully.

Thanks again for reading. What’s your favourite warband? Which one didn’t resonate with you? Who did you fall out of love with over the years? Please let David know if you’ve got any feedback, stories or comments! He can be found on the Discords as Beardarm. If you do have any other 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!

Armed to the Teeth: 50 Shades of Aggro

I was thinking the other day about granularity in how we characterize playstyles. Specifically, I was considering what makes different Aggro warbands work. I realized that while we would call a number of decks and playstyles Aggro, that there are significant differences in how a variety of warbands would play. As a companion piece to my article on the Aggro playstyle, I’d like to explore a few different Aggro archetypes, go over the warbands that would be able to play the style, and the pros/cons to each of them.

My other intro note is that some warbands technically fall into a couple of these categories, which I think really is a big part of having warbands feel and play differently. I’m going to bucket warbands the way that I see them, but there could be other archetypes that they may be thrown into.

Brawlers

The first group that I want to take a look at I have dubbed Brawlers. To me, this is the stereotypical Aggro warband. The warband that people expect when you say you’re playing agressively. I’d spec these out as a three or four fighter warband, around four wounds each, movement three and primarily range one attacks. I’m talking Magore’s, Ironskull’s, Chosen Axes, Wumspat, Krushas, Madmob, and Crimson Court.

The generally strategy here is to lumber forward into the enemy territory, corner them and smash them to bits! Usually, I’d think of these as being able to take a hit without dying and then hitting back with some good force. Usually, the inspiration is tied to combat as well. Getting to 4 damage tends to be pretty easy on most of these warbands, but consistent two damage from each model is another key to the style. Think of it as, we’re going to fight and we’ll both get some shots in, but I’ll be standing when it’s over.

Key Cards: Membranous Wings, Outrun Death, Great Strength, Ferocious Blow, Sidestep.

Counter-Punch

Counter-punching Aggro is mainy for warbands that are good at sitting back and hitting hard when the opponent comes at them. I think about this style of play as part of the Shadespire style of Control. Steelhearts to me are a large embodiment of this playstyle, with two fighters on damage three right out the gate. You can charge at them, you won’t kill them in one shot (well, maybe one of them), but then you’ll have two or three strong fighters hitting back. Condemnors are pretty similar to Steelhearts in that playstyle. And Harrows are good at this, due to their inspiration condition.

While the original style involved a number of strong, stout fighters, a newer style evolved over the years. This was one using two wound fighters to lure your opponent in and then smash them to bits. Sepulchral Guard, Thorns, Grymwatch, Starblood and Reapers all excel at this style in my opinion. Sure you may kill a couple of small fighters, but when you miss you’ve got one or two three damage fighters that are now counter-charging with support.

Key Cards: Countercharge, Strength of the Swarm, Buried Instinct, Blindside, Dominant Defender.

Big Boi

Well, we all had to see this one coming. I mean, they’re big enough. A big boi is generally defined as a 6+ wound fighter (which innately is only three fighters in the game). So, this playstyle is only for Mollog, Hrothgorn and Kainan. Now, I’m going to extend this to Morgok’s Krushas due to there being three 5 wound fighters with two of them on three damage.

The playstyle is generally using your superior wounds to take some hits and smash back. All of these fighters start on three damage (with a few going to four when inspired) and an initial charge on the last activation of round one can be devastating. Accuracy isn’t the name of the game here (two hammers is pretty standard), it’s sheer strength and staying power. Healing the fighter and piling on upgrades are common ways to ensure your important fighter stays alive.

Key Cards: Spiritcomb, Savage Soldier, Commanding Stride, Intimidating Display, Deserved Confidence.

Line-Breaker

This was the style that popped into my mind first. I was ruminating on the way I generally play and enjoy Aggro, which is what built this definition. Line-breakers are fast, mobile fighters that will get where they want to go. It’s not enough to put your fighters on the back line of your board, full offset or long-board. They will get to the choice targets and attempt assassination.

Skaven were the first warband to play this way. We saw a lot of success with them as an Aggro warband in season one because their innate five movement meant they could move much faster than each other warband. And with a range two, three damage attack on Skritch, there weren’t any safe fighters. This is the style in which I’ve played Rippa throughout my career. I’ve described this in the past as “positional Aggro”, but it’s more about ensuring you’ve got the speed to be in the best place when you need to be there.

I think in the Direchasm season, we’ve seen two other warbands that can do this effectively. Soulraid with their double move ability, speed and fish. And the Wraithcreepers with their incessant push, range two attacks and ability to move through blocked and occupied hexes. Both can be unrelenting at getting to your fighters and are nearly impossible to run away from.

Key Cards: Membranous Wings, Proud Runner, Blessing of Behemat, Winged Death, Keen Avarice, Hungry Advance.

Firing Squad (AKA Ping and Sting)

Ranged warbands really didn’t start making a splash until Farstriders came out at the end of Shadespire. They were then followed up by one of the most infamous turret warbands in the Cursebreakers. These warbands are the firing squads: they will kill you at range. Dig into your territory and blast your warband to bits. And whether it’s attack actions or ping damage ploys or spells, your fighters will never be safe.

Profiteers tend to be the most commonly thought of one, due to having five fighters with range three attacks, but Storm of Celestus, Ylthari and the Wurmspat (the ultimate ping damage warband) all have the potential to effortlessly kill a fighter that’s nowhere near their fighter with one attack or a couple cards.

Key Cards: Collapse, Jealous Defence, Lethal Ward, Fighter’s Ferocity, Duelist’s Speed, Eagle-Eye.

Torpedoes Away!

The last style for today is a glass cannon style where you’re going to do big damage but you can also consider the fighter dead once you’ve charged. You’re not expecting to live but get big scores off your kills. Garrek’s Reavers were the first that really touched into this style. They capitalized specifically on this with cards like Khorne Cares Not.

Over the years, there have been other warbands that have been able to build up a fighter to be very accurate and damaging (usually with gambits) and slam into a key target. Gitz, Godsworn Hunt, Despoilers, Wild Hunt and Blade Coven are good examples of this. When effective, they can easily destroy enemy fighters but they are all super squishy, with generally poor defence. It’s always going to be an interesting game.

Key Cards: Pure Carnage, Bloodscent, Victimise, Ferocious Blow, Punching Up, Inspired Attack, Savage Strength, Berserker Rage.

The Final Kill

Aggro simply isn’t just Aggro, it’s got a ton of nuance. I think it’s really interesting to think in these very granular terms, because it can give us a big sense of insight as to how to play into a variety of warbands. Playing into Madmob is very different than playing into Reapers which is still different than Wraithcreepers. Knowing exactly how the opponent plans to destroy your warband means that you have more of an ability to disrupt their plans. And if you get lucky, you can keep a fighter or two alive.

What’s your favourite sub-type of Aggro? Did I miss any? Have you played against each of these? 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!

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
Bonefields

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!

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!

Spirit of Gorkamorka: A Guide to the Madmob Featuring Compak

Welcome to another Very Special™ article from Set The Tempo. I’m really excited to have Graham Schwikkard aka Compak on the blog this week. I met Graham originally at the final table of Vassal Clash III, where he was playing Thorns of the Briar Queen against my Rippa’s Snarlfangs. I’ve described the match as my most memorable set of games. It was an amazing set with both of us tired after two days of play, and I barely took the set with a 2-1 win and a glory differential of +2. What I loved about the set was that we had a really competitive set while at the same time being extremely sporting. Graham is a great player and wonderful member of the community, as he runs some of the Thursday Community events. And a wonderful painter too! I’ve gotten the chance to deckbuild back and forth with him many times over the last year. As such, I’m excited to introduce him to the blog where he’ll be talking about Madmob. Take it away, Graham! – Matt

Intro – About Me and Why Madmob?

First of all, I don’t play Aggro. Ever since I started Underworlds (end of Nightvault) Objective or Flex have been my focus. I like styles where you can sit back, score, power up, and then engage. However, after a while you really need to explore all the playstyles if you want to become a better player. My most recent exploration of this was doing a ton of reps with Harrows and Objective/Control. So I’d been on the lookout for a good Aggro warband when these beautiful, snake whispering, Primacy dominating sons of bitches came out.

I liked the MadMob immediately from their models. Shaman with a snake! Shredded arrow boy! Freakin’ wolverine wannabe! You know these guys fuck (yes I know nerds, Orcs don’t procreate that way) I found out today that they’re like fungus… – Matt. They’re much better than some emo vampires. But beyond their ripped abs, I was also intrigued by their free round 1 push and ability to get the Primacy off any kill. The free push has a lot of applications although my initial thought was that it would be great versus Control specifically (which if dear reader you have read Matt’s blog fastidiously you will know it is a usual weakness of Aggro). And dominating Primacy blocks a lot of your opponent’s objectives, whilst giving you almost 3 additional glory to any deck.

There haven’t been any tournaments for me to really prove the warband, but I have played the MadMob throughout the knock-out stages of Season 8 of the Vassal League where I went to win the whole shebang, and so far in season 9 I’ve gone 5-1 with the MadMob. But yes, sadly no opportunity to put these beautiful boys on the table. Thanks Covid.

Alright, much like an online recipe that has 2 pages on their relationship with their mother, I’ve probably written too much about my story. You’re here to learn about playing the MadMob, so channel your inner slytherin and let’s converse with Mr Fangs (Also the title of my favourite one man show; Conversations with Mr Fangs – Matt).

Mechanics

Primal Surge is on every fighter except Dakko. Every time you kill a fighter with an attack action, you get the Primacy. This bypasses the usual one shot need for primacy, but doesn’t allow you to get the Primacy with gambit or upgrade attacks (e.g. Jealous Defense). Still, it’s very useful and a key feature of the MadMob that makes a lot of objectives more scoreable.

Tireless Trackers is on Toofdaggas card but applies to Dakko and Wollop – giving them a free push after the roll off for going first. It must be towards the enemy leader. In most cases you still get to choose which hex but stay aware of where it might prevent you pushing where you want. I love this mechanic and it can effectively give you 4 movement for those fighters. Inspire them and you get another extra move so it’s very hard to hide from Wollop. With the cards I’m taking you’ll see that the warband is surprisingly mobile for 3 base move. 

Primal Portent is your inspiration mechanic. If you gain the primacy, choose a fighter to inspire. Note that Hedkrakka must be alive to use this, so keep him relatively safe and avoid early charges with him (he still wants to smash after all). I think you should only expect to inspire one fighter a turn (starting with Toofdagga most of the time) and really only need to inspire one a turn. If you inspire more than one because you lost it, then great but I wouldn’t actively look to discard the Primacy. I do include some Primacy discard tech but I generally only use those cards if I’m very confident of getting the Primacy back or if I really need to discard it to allow another attack (from a gambit or an upgrade) to kill a dangerous fighter or score a specific objective. That’s because I want the Primacy at the end of EVERY round. It’s 3 extra glory and enables a lot of objective scoring in the deck. 

Playstyle

There are, at least in theory, three ways you can play this warband

  1. Lost Pages: Load up the leader and try keep him alive. Not a terrible idea, might work in a skirmish but I don’t think they have enough related surges to make it happen, and he’s not the most survivable fighter.
  2. Hold two: Run Path to Victory, Hunt the World Spirit, and Dominant Position. Again, I think there could be some play here but there are warbands that could do it better and you’re pretty low on defense to stay on the objectives.
  3. Aggro: Well of course, this is the obvious way to play the warband and in my opinion the best way to play them. Yes it’s blatantly clear what you are going to try to do, but that never stopped Rippa from winning Grand Clashes. Aggro just makes the most sense because of the free push you get, the cards this warband has access to, and your ability to dominate the Primacy game. You have three rather versatile fighters which are a bit of a toolbox (or at least as much as orcs can be) and you can make them work in any matchup.
Weaknesses
  • Your defense ain’t great. Yes 4 wounds helps but with punching up and all the +1 damage upgrades out there your fighters are vulnerable, especially as they have to charge in all the time. This is fine though, you will lose fighters, I’ve won games with no fighters left. Just keep Hedkrakka safe in the first rounds, he can do a lot near the end.
  • 3 move can be painful but the free push does help A LOT. You must take speed cards and push cards, but otherwise once you’ve inspired you’re ok here.
  • As I’ve said, it’s obvious what you want to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t use this to your advantage. There are tricks to include and make the Aggro oppressive. Put the fear in the enemy that if they don’t stop you, you will kill them.
  • You’re also not the most accurate fighters. There’s no 3 smash fighter. But you can compensate for that with your cards, and early on you just need a few attacks to go your way. You’ll notice that my deck doesn’t rely on any kills for the surges.
  • Underdog is basically an auto-score against you. But in any case it’s also a pretty reliable objective versus any Aggro, so here you don’t have to bother working around it. Just accept that if your opponent has it, they will score it.
Fighters

Hedkrakka inspired is, in my view, one of the best fighters in the game. He basically has a range 1, 2 and 3 attack with the range 1 being 2 smash, 3 damage. Makes Bold Conquest an easy score and often a good attack to have made. Furthermore, pop Gloryseeker on him and he can do 4 damage close up, or 3 damage on his 2 range attack. Yes, he can’t use Great Strength on the 3 range attack which is a big limitation, but it’s still an excellent profile. Two dodge is a pretty decent defense too. Oh and did you notice he’s a level two wizard (suck it vamps)! This opens up a few spell options. The most important in this meta is Hunting Bolt.

At first glance Dakko seems kind of useless. An inaccurate attack and one dodge defense. Should spend more time practicing his shooting and less time getting those gains…

However taking a closer look, his Tireless Tracker ability shapes the setup of most of your and your opponents fighters. Move onto an objective hex in enemy territory with no enemy fighter within 2 and get the Primacy. With your free push, it’s quite easy to reach an objective and that can score you Surge of Aggression, inspire a fighter, and unlock a few gambits or upgrades. Way to go Dakko. But what if they put a fighter near that objective? Great! Charge that fighter with any other one of your fighters. You should be placing your lethal behind any starting hex by that token as well to discourage that, or to boost your damage.

Once the opponent sees that you care a lot about Dakko and where he is running too, you’ll see how they change their setup. And just like that you’ve changed any preconceived deployment plans they had and moved the focus off your other fighters.

Also, just throw in a weapon to your deck. Because most people ignore him, he’s often alive and in a good position in round 2. And if they’ve targeted him that’s fine too because it’s kept another fighter alive. My favourite choices for this are Bloody Axe (because of course I would) and Wicked Lash – Matt

Toofdagga is in most games, your best fighter. Inspire him and you have just over a 50% chance of rolling a crit for a 3 damage base attack. He goes to two dodge and so you can slap Scavenged Armour on him to put him on guard and 5 wounds. There’s not a lot of nuance here, throw wolverine in where you need him, but try to get the timing right because your opponent will target him.

Wollop is often used best as a threat. He gets the free push, and if your opponent knows you’re running snare and speed cards, they’ll want to hide an important 4 wound fighter at the back. That opens options for you to attack smaller fighters and run Dakko up. Two smash really does miss a fair bit of the time, so don’t rely on him hitting without any buffs. I’ll only inspire him if I really need the cleave, or that extra movement so he can reach the other side of the board (unsurprisingly, you get longboarded a fair bit once opponents realise what a threat your fighters are). Sometimes it’s worth throwing Soultooth Dagger on Wollop if you face 3 wound fighters. It’s technically more accurate and gives you a chance of getting to 3 damage without using up your Great Strength.

My Current Championship Deck

Here’s my latest deck with the MadMob. Overall the strategy is to do whatever you have to to score Set the Tempo (wink wink Matt), get the Primacy, and kill as much as you can on the way.

All the surges are fairly easy and note that every single objective is a Hybrid or Dual so I’ve often scored Set The Tempo by round 2. It is probably a bit greedy on the end phase but so far it’s working for me. Although you are trying to kill a lot of the time, only 2 objectives rely on kills – Smash ‘Em and Clean Kills. The others that involve primacy don’t actually need a kill and can be scored with Dakko, a gambit (Primal Brutality), or an upgrade (Proud Runner).

A lot of people ask about Bold Deeds and I just prefer Clean Kills because I’m already running Dominant Display and don’t want to feel too much pressure to move into enemy territory if I need to defend an objective or reach an enemy fighter sitting on my side. I have considered ditching Clean Kills for a simple 1 glory card (e.g. Awesome Predator) if only because you can get in trouble if you draw Clean Kills, Dominant Display, and Set the Tempo first up. But even in that case, Dominant Display is very doable round 1 so you could keep the hand.

Total glory is 17, but you should aim for the Primacy for each round and so it’s more like 20, plus any kills you get. There’s a lot of glory and I’ve not struggled to outscore horde decks.

Without going into each card, the gambits and upgrades try to balance more accuracy, more damage and a touch of survivability. There’s also a couple of cards for discarding Primacy which can help with regaining it to inspire another fighter. However, as I’ve written before, you don’t have to be hyper-focused on inspiring everyone. One in the first round is good, two is great, and the rest will happen over the course of the game.

Key Cards

For restricted I’ve gone with

  • Show of Force: You want easy objectives and this one can be scored first round or later with upgrades
  • Surge of Aggression: Super easy with this warband
  • Proud Runner: You really want Primacy and can’t always rely on a kill or Dakko, this is the only universal card in the game guaranteed to get it

Other good choices would be Rebound (which scores Bring It On, helps get more kills, messes with opponents heads), or Hunter’s Talisman.

On the gambit side, I’ve included both Snare and Hunting Bolt. As there’s only two +1 damage upgrades this extra damage helps a lot and I prefer them to upgrades for the surprise factor. Snare won’t get you the primacy, but I think the kill is often more worth it (and as I keep saying, you have other ways to get the Primacy). Hunting Bolt is great because there’s so much Quarry right now that you often do 2 damage (bye bye Otapatl). Moreover, it opens up your deck for more upgrades, and in the current meta I think there are so many good upgrades I’d rather not use all of them on damage upgrades.

I’ve also taken Spectral Wings and Outrun Death to help score Gathered Momentum but also just so you can get across the board and ruin your opponents plans for staying outside of charge range. Da Great Stomp is an amazing card for this too! Push all your fighters! There aren’t many cards like that. Opponents think they have you figured out even with the free push and then you drop this and all their plans change.

Finally, I need to speak about Primal Brutality. Get the Primacy for free. No stipulations. You don’t even have to have a fighter alive. If you hold onto this card in the third phase, even if you have no fighters left, you can score Unnassailable, Surge of Aggression and Smash ‘Em (if you’ve killed two fighters), and get a glory for the Primacy itself. It might even trigger Set the Tempo. If you are trailing, hold on to this card. It can be very tempting to use it early and inspire, but I will often hold on to it and go for a kill to get Primacy first. Then even if I lose Primacy I know I can get it back and score my end phase objectives that need it. It’s such a good card.

On the upgrades, Lucky Bone is a favorite of mine. Put on Toofdagga or Hedkrakka because they are rolling the most dice on attack and defense. You choose to use it AFTER the roll too so you never waste this card. Amazing.

Primal Lunge is also brilliant. Normally on Hedkrakka because of his range 2 (which means you’re more likely to be in range and use it) but you can also use it for a pseudo-scything attack with the others, or just a ‘try again’ if you miss your first. However, a very important caveat to this card is that you can’t get Primacy if you kill something with the attack you make. That can stop some of your objectives if you discard the Primacy to trigger it, so I use it only if I really need a kill or have a way to regain Primacy. Lastly, don’t forget you can make a move action with it, and if you have Proud Runner, it means you get the Primacy right back. That move could put you on their side for Dominant Display, or just in range of an attack.

Probably worth noting is that I’m only running Great Strength and Gloryseeker. As I’ve mentioned, you will rely on gambits to boost your damage, and on landing multiple attacks. That’s probably quite different to how most play these days (one shot has often been the goal), but I’ve found it unnecessary so far to include an extra one, and you can get primacy without one-shotting. However, I think there is a good case to include Feral Symbiote or Berserk Might in the deck. I think it’s a good shout that you don’t have to worry about playing into the “one-shot” meta with them, since they can gain Primacy off any of their attacks (well, other than Dakko’s) – Matt

Cards I Didn’t Take
  • Mighty Swing is a great option. I just don’t like that in some matchups or game states I can’t really use it. And I’m only running one push so you can’t manipulate the board state to use it better.
  • Spirit of the Beast is pretty neat. However, I don’t like that it has no benefit if you don’t have the Primacy. As much as you will dominate Primacy, I don’t like it being dead at times and there are so many good upgrades to choose from that are good with or without the Primacy. That said, I do plan on trying it out some more because the effects are powerful.
  • Berserk Might has the same issue as Spirit of the Beast, although it at least comes with knockback when you don’t have the Primacy. You’ll see it makes my Vanguard deck.
  • Unnatural Truce would also make sense. Helps get more damage cards out. I just find too often that when my opponent plays it, it gives me the card I really need. Pre-FAR I was running Frenzied Search and it’s also a great option (especially as you can use your free push onto an objective round 1).
Favourite Boards

The board selection is pretty straightforward – you want clear ones (i.e. few blocked or lethals) with good options for placing aggressively.

Winning board roll off, you always give the opponent objectives and basically throw every objective you can on their side with Bold Conquest and Dakko in mind. Ideally you don’t want any objectives on your side of the board. Boards: Abandoned Lair, Mirror Well, Hive of Sacrifice.

Losing board roll off, you basically want to limit the damage of an offset or longboard. The options below provide decent options. If your cards come out right, you can make it across but be ready to discard your opening hands. I often put Dakko and Wollop further back, because they get the free push. Boards: Cursed Oubliette, Mirror Well, Ravaged Hall.

My Vanguard Deck

I haven’t had a lot of practice with Vanguard but here is the deck I have used. I think it’s actually pretty decent as the main weakness with Vanguard is easy surges and all of these are pretty doable. In fact, I quite like this as a Championship deck and I think it shows what they are capable of when rotation comes and there is no Set the Tempo. Again, might be a bit greedy on the end phase so I might make changes there if I play it more.

Overall, it’s a bit more focused on gaining and retaining the Primacy, whilst killing as much as you can. There’s Claim to Domination to help with that, which I don’t include in my main deck because it’s a bit situational but is still a good card for them. Berserk Might synergises more in this deck and so makes sense. I’ve taken the Silent Ring to help with reactions (plus card draw is great as there isn’t any gambit card draw), and Silent Sword because it can trigger the +1 dice on Silent Ring whilst still being a really good weapon upgrade in place of Soultooth Dagger. I think Everything to Prove could also fit into the deck, I just didn’t like only having 3 Quarry triggers and couldn’t find space for another Quarry upgrade.

Warpaint Ward is something I’ve really considered for my main deck. It can really mess up your opponents plans and the 50% chance of going off is pretty decent. At the very least the reaction window is uses prevents the drive back into a lethal.

Other than that it’s quite similar to the other deck in gambits and upgrades but does sadly lack the damage gambits. Acidic Strike can at least help knock off wound upgrades to help, and Hypnotic Buzz can give you that extra push into a lethal. You don’t have many other pushes so this deck does require you to be smart with objective placement and charges to try slow down opponent scoring cards like Dominant Position. I do find for the most part though, you won’t stop their scoring but you have so much glory in your own deck, and when you add some kills, you don’t have to worry about them scoring those cards.

Outro

I hope you’ve found this guide useful and inspires you to Waaagh. I also hope you see the potential of this warband (*cough* def higher than C tier Path to Glory *cough*). If you like it, let me know and I could write a whole lot more about board setup, objective placement, and matchups. Or just write about another warband. I’m next looking for a good 3 fighter warband because I’ve never mainlined one. Nurgle perhaps? I have already painted the models…or maybe try out those gobbos on doggos. I’m no expert, but they are my best paint job yet:

If nothing else, this warband is a lot of fun to play with so give them a go. And don’t forget about Dakko.

That Weird Part of the End Phase Where You Score Primacy…

Thanks again to Graham for writing this article. I think it’s a wonderful snapshot of the warband and has some great tips. Personally, I played them a half a dozen times and I’m not sure I won a game… I know I went 0-3 in a Skirmish event. Have you been playing them? What’s your style with them? Why will you start remembering Dakko more? Graham can be found to help answer these questions as Compak on the Discords. If you do have any other 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!

Didn’t Even Want It: Why Some Objectives Are Unplayable

Recently I was asked by Robin of the Agents of Sigmar to write an article about everyone’s favourite objective card: Didn’t Even Want It. It was a card that scored you one glory in an end phase if your opponent was controlling objective token number one. Not only was this a low reward, it was hard to set up, pretty uncontrollable and not consistent at all. It got me thinking about cards that have never seen play in competitive lists. I wanted to use this article to talk through some of the reasons that certain cards are frankly unplayable. By knowing what traits you aren’t looking for in a card, it makes filtering through objectives easier when you’re deckbuilding.

Low Reward

I think one of the first things to look for is the glory count that you’re going to score with the objective. Since Beastgrave, we’ve really been living in a world where you’ll have your six glory from surges (maybe more with Temporary Victory and the in-faction versions) and expecting at least half of your end phase cards to be two glory scores. Generally, you’re looking at a deck that’s 15-20 glory depending on how Aggro you are leaning (as kills do score you more glory and may deny your opponents’ scoring). So, usually cards that have similar effects but less glory than you’d expect to score are hard to justify.

The first example that popped into my head was Fleeting Primacy. I actually think it’s playable in the correct decks, but overall, you’re getting one glory for being on three tokens, which is one less than Temporary Victory. Now, it does bear to be said that it’s only really redundant with Hidden Purpose and Temporary Victory around, and after rotation I think its stock goes up in a large way. Plant a Standard is a fairly easy thing to do, but is it worth one glory to put a key figure on an objective in enemy territory? And then there’s also good risk that the enemy has multiple chances (or power cards) to knock you off. Something like Master Poisoner or Silent Sentinel are decent to deck build around, but for one glory, I’m not sure it’s worth it to build a strategy around and sink deckbuilding resources into. I think that I’d have messed around with Master Poisoner if it’d have been a two glory score.

Hard to Accomplish

There’s a ton of cards in the game that have some great rewards, but are really hard to actually score. Untouchable Swarm was a card I picked on with my Silent Menace deck review, but it’s really hard to pull off. You’d have to make four charges and have no one taken out of action. That’s really hard for most warbands to accomplish. You’d have to have smoking defence dice to make that work. Tale of Victory is a misleading card that is honestly a harder Annihilation (which also fits into this category). It’s effectively a Dual card (even though it isn’t written that way) that states: Score this in the third end phase if all enemy fighters are out of action and all friendly fighters are Hunters. Having your fighters be Hunters is trivial (play Rippa, Crimson Court, Wild Hunt ensuring Lighaen dies) but making sure you table the opponent is really difficult. And at that point you’ve likely won the game already.

Cards like Forbidding Strike are ones that have a really low window of opportunity to score. Make a kill on your first activation of the round isn’t honestly too bad (in a lot of cases it reminds me of Strong Start), but the fighter also has to be on an objective? If you happen to be given the first activation, you can’t score this in the first round, giving you only two shots in the whole game to score it. Really, I’d always ask myself, am I taking too many chances by playing this card? Does my game plan need to be perfect? Dug In (and even Supremacy) was something that tended to work during the Beastgrave season, but I think that the general consensus is that holding three tokens in an end phase has been really difficult in the Direchasm season. And so, do you still try for those seven glory? Or do you go for Dominant Position, Path to Victory and Underdog, knowing that those conditions are much easier for you.

Uncontrollable

So, I think this is a very big one and a main issue with Didn’t Even Want It. If it’s a condition where you need your opponent specifically to do something, that’s always going to be impossible to control. We saw these effects in the past with objectives where you needed to roll a certain amount of crits in a roll off, win or lose every roll off and there’s even a faction card that requires an opponent to have a guard token! Some more recent examples are as follows. Magic Morsel isn’t terrible for the first requirement of making a kill with a fighter who has a hunger token (you can set yourself up for that or play vamps). But in the second, you’ve got to ensure the enemy warband has a Wizard in the first place (14 of 36 warbands or 39%) or has two upgrades (which is almost guaranteed unscoreable in the first round). It’s impossible to ensure your enemy is playing a suitable warband.

Starvation wants an enemy have three Hunger tokens. While there are a few cards that allow you to put the tokens on enemy fighters, they are few and far between. Also, three tokens is a pretty tall order. You have to hope the enemy is playing Crimson Court, or some Hunger build. Scant Resources has a pretty do-able A-side with having all objective tokens held. For two glory though, it’s probably an under-reward. The second condition is completely unreliable. You have to hope that you draw more upgrades than glory earned, the same for your opponent, plus both of you have to spend it all! It’s a tall order where almost every facet is uncontrollable.

The Final Score

Rounding it all out, we’ve come to the real deckbuilding tip for today. When building your objective deck, make sure you’re really focused on the consistency of your objectives. You should be looking for the opposite of the pitfalls above: good rewards, easy to setup and do, within your control. Cards like Cover Ground have been popular (and Restricted) because you get a glory for a move action and all you need is a power card. You get to control that in your deck. You also can always easily make that happen. You want surges to be easy and consistent so that you can get upgrades out during the action phase so that you can take advantage of their effects. You want strong end phase scoring with either good rewards so that you can feel comfortable ditching an objective you didn’t get or one glory super easy cards. Man, I miss Fired Up.

As you’re building your deck list, try to think about how often you will be able to set up your cards and get them completed. As you’re playing your practice games with a list, keep track of the cards you didn’t score often and think about what you could replace them with. This is a big way to strengthen your deck through practice (more on that in a future article!).

Thank you so much for reading! 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!

Endless Revel: A Direchasm Retrospective on the Dread Pageant

I was recently asked what my favourite warband of the Direchasm season was, and my answer had to be the Dread Pageant. While they aren’t perfect or a “forever” warband for me, in my mind they will define my experience of this past year. Today, I wanted to spend some time musing on my experiences, my thoughts on the warband and what I see in their future.

A Year in Review

As one of the first warbands released in the season, we’ve had a lot of time to work with the Slaaneshi fighters. At the start of the season, we saw the dual release of Myari’s with the Dread Pageant, which meant that we got a good split of players fielding each. It was really interesting having a couple of very technical warbands in the starter set. The first major event in season 4 saw Dread Pageant place well (7th, 13th, 15th), however Myari’s did much better (1st, 8th, 10th). From what I remember of the time, early Primacy was really targeting Hadzu/Glissete making them harder to play.

And the inspire condition was really a head scratcher. Did you take wounds willingly? Did you play your in faction cards to ping yourself or keep wounds on? My answer in retrospect, no and no. Only if there is a decent chance of inspiring on the next inspiration (or making it harder to get Primacy off Hadzu) should you take damage. I think that unlike a lot of warbands with tough inspiration (thinking Ravagers pre-Beta rule, Yltharis, etc.), the Dread Pageant actually gains a good amount from inspiration. An extra damage on Vassilac, an extra dice on Slakeslash and Glissete, a second dodge on Hadzu and five movement across the board. I think that inspiration is great on them, but is more of an “oh wait, I can actually do this” moment, instead of something to shoot for. I’ve played dozens of games with the warband and I honestly don’t know their inspired stats very well because I’ve hardly gotten Inspired!

Through the season, there were very few competitive events (lockdown + lack of FAR being two major issues) and Dread Pageant didn’t place in the top 8 in any of the other Championship events. I also looked through the Straight Outta Shadespire events (some Vanguard, some with all warbands) and there weren’t any significant placings. However, there was one competitive league where the Dread Pageant was really important. I’m talking about the Path to Glory Alliance league. For most of the league, 10% of the warband choice was Dread Pageant. This was strongly due to their versatility (see next section) and strong faction cards (see the section after that). Two of the top four played Dread Pageant in the playoffs and generally had success.

I think that we’ve seen some players keep playing the Pageant through the season (me included) and that the quick pace of releases has definitely taken some of the sheen off the DC core box warbands. Especially since we had a few months without anyone else releasing (well, Ravagers). The last five warbands (plus two from the Starter Set) flying out has definitely taken some of the focus off of the early ones, but I think that there are good rewards returning to those who time forgot.

The Playstyles

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about how Harrows could play any playstyle (link here), because they had a strong set of stats along with great faction cards. I think that Dread Pageant is another warband that can easily be played in many different ways. I’ve seen a lot of different builds and they can get really interesting. I don’t really think there’s an obvious way to play them; I think each player may see some different opportunites. I’ve got four decks to show off their versatility.

Aggro Deck

From an Aggro build, I’ve got them strongly leaning into the Direchasm strategy of running into the enemy territory. With Godseekers and Endless Revel being in faction cards that support the strategy, it’s an easy one for them to go for. Cards like Dominant Display and Bold Deeds are all about the same focuses in Aggro and rush. I’ve got Impending Doom and Excess of Carnality here along with Blindside and Countercharge to help score them. Other than that, we’re pretty standard with a good amount of speed, accuracy, weapons and damage boosts.

Objective Deck

On the Objective front, I think they are very good at sitting on enemy tokens, scoring cards like Treasure Hunter, Plant a Standard and Making a Statement. They kind of exemplify the “hold two” strategy with great faction cards to lean into it. Basically, with this one, you’ll still charge into enemy territory, but with the goal of ending up solely on their tokens. Use your many pushes to get back on tokens or knock the enemy fighters off. The upgrades are mostly defensive in nature so that you can keep your fighters alive and in the positions you want. I’ve put Claim to Supremacy in to mess with Primacy and build the consistency of Everything to Prove and Fleeting Primacy.

This deck is similar to the one I played early in the Team League. It was focused on entering enemy territory, hopefully getting one or two kills and taking the tokens for yourself. Honestly, it worked decently, except into the elite Aggro like Rippa, Krushas or Mollog. So, the deck evolved into the Control version below, as I will explain.

Matt’s Control Deck

So, with the hard choice of trying to avoid enemy territory in the bad matchups, meaning that Treasure Hunter and Godseekers were dead cards, the deck continued to evolve. Honestly, the fun combo I focused on this season was Hunting Season and The Hunter Hunted. I really enjoyed the ability to generate three glory off any kill. In fact, early versions also ran Turned Tables. I was playing a couple games into Grymwatch, and with a first turn Slakeslash charge into a Crypt Ghoul (remember, they’re all Hunters!), I scored one for the kill, two for The Hunter Hunted, one for Turned Tables and Primacy to boot! I decided to take out some of the kill surges (Everything to Prove + Hunting Season means that I score it when any player has Primacy, even if Slakeslash is dead).

This is what I’ve been playing recently. To classify, it’s a Control/Objective/Aggro deck. It’s only Aggro because I’m still playing The Hunter Hunted, which is more consistent with the addition of Eternal Chase. I love that card as not only can I use it for the Hunter/Quarry keywords needed, I can shut down the opponent’s Gathered Momentum/Cover Ground/Winged Death. Really, the focus is to jump onto tokens and not die. Cards like Nearing Hunt’s End are trivial when everyone is a Hunter and Quarry (it now states “have two friendly fighters in the same territory as one enemy fighter” 😅). Ahead of the Hunt gives me a glory for having a surviving fighter. I think the ploys are pretty self-explanatory, focusing on the keyword tricks and a ton of pushes. Heeded Instict is also awesome when every fighter is a Quarry! Every upgrade is about staying alive. My favourite combo is Preybond on Glissete. If I’ve got Hunting Season active (or a Quarry upgrade on Hadzu or Vassilac), she now defends on every side of the dice. It makes her a really unattractive target. I’ve had a lot of fun playing this one, and will probably switch out some of the tech when The Hunter Hunted rotates out.

Craig’s Deck

But wait, there’s more! I called in a ringer for this one too. Craig (AKA fryiee) from Tabletop Sydney and the Gloryseekers blog has been an avid Dread Pageant player and graciously accepted me begging him to share a deck. He’s also playing a Control/Objective deck, with some differences from the style I’ve been playing. Differences include Gathered Momentum (which I wasn’t taking due to Eternal Chase), Show of Force (good shout for defensive play), Branching Fate (great synergy with the Soultooth Net, Barb-Laden Net, Hadzu, Glissete inspired and Slakeslash uninspired), Lie in Wait (effectively hold two), Collapse (for inspiration), and Strength of Terror (makes you a Quarry and boosts Vassilac into Branching Fate territory). I wanted to show that even though we are both playing into a Control and Objective style, there are some significant differences as to how we would field our decks.

Showing how these decks take some similar building blocks and yet play pretty differently is really a testament to their versatility. I love that they can do a lot, but with Glissete and Hadzu being so squishy, it really takes some finesse to play them. I got frustrated a ton in my early games because I just felt like my fighters ended up dead too early. That’s definitely a reason my deck style evolved the way it did. Enough about decks, let’s look at some of my favourite cards!

Top Cards

I’ll quickly run through my top three Objectives, Gambits and Upgrades and touch briefly on ones that I mis-rated when Direchasm released or cards that I don’t really like after trying out.

Endless Revel is the auto-include Slaaneshi card. You’re going to be moving/charging your fighters, you might as well score a surge for it! To note, it does mean you won’t be able to combo Absolute Stillness with the warband (as much as having an innate Quarry makes it much easier). Excess of Avidity and Indolency both are easy two glory objective scoring cards. Honestly, let’s just imagine if Thorns or Grymwatch had these as faction cards…scary. Other cards of note are Excess of Carnality (which I think is good if you aren’t worrying about being spread out on tokens and Gloryseekers (which is Bold Deeds without making any kills). The card I definitely over-estimated was Excess of Vainglory. Sure, I played it a bit, and it’s good late game, but at this moment, there’s a lot of conistent surges.

Lure of Slaanesh is Sidestep or Distraction. And if you’ve got multiple wounded fighters, it can be multiple hexes! It’s effectively the only auto-include ploy for me. Dark Desires gives your opponent an interesting choice, but in practice I found that Aggro players didn’t care much about a push and the Objective players just took the token on a fighter they weren’t planning on moving anyway. Cruel Pangs has always been a great effect and I definitely like it here. The card you may be asking about is Shared Pain. While preventing drive back and redirecting damage is wonderful, you’ve got to ensure your positioning is perfect and you honestly have to draw it early in the game. Consistently for me, it was a dead card early in the season. Either I drew it when three of my fighters were dead, or I needed to contest an objective that was more than three hexes away, or it would just kill a different fighter anyway. I think the effect can be strong, but I also think that there is a high skill ceiling on this one.

Rounding the cards off are a couple of my favourite defensive upgrades. Distracting Ostentation is great to reduce your opponent’s accuracy (especially paired with Countercharge) and Sickening Resilience can keep fighters alive way longer than they should’ve. Strength From Pain is great in Aggro builds; making a pretty easy strength boost for the cost of running through a lethal.

The Future

What do I see in the DP’s future? Well, I think they are a good warband to play flex no matter how the seasons shape up. They will always be great at hold two/hold more, and if Objective play gets a boost, they will also get a boost. Played as Aggro, they’re also going to be potent into hordes. Their defensive upgrades along with their hold two objectives means that they can play defensively into elite Aggro really in any season. While I don’t foresee them becoming a prevalent warband choice, I could easily see great players piloting them to victory. For me, they are a warband to watch out for, as a player who brings them to a major tournament will definitely know what they’re doing.

Thank you so much for reading! Have you played the Slaaneshi? Have you enjoyed them? Ever inspired them? 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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