So, with my co-author Tom doing a great job showing everyone how to adapt their aggressive decks to beat defensive play-styles I though I’d weigh in on the opposite side of the equation with a series on how to play defensively.
After starting out trying to make Sepulchral Guard work, then moving on to aggressive Steelhearts for a while, I gravitated to defensive hybrid decks (i.e. primarily defensive with a varying amount of aggression) after all the wave 1 expansions were out, so I’ve got a decent amount of experience with the archetype.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about defensive decks, especially following ‘relicgate’ (which we here at Steel City were all too intimately involved in), and they’re often unfairly maligned. Hopefully this series can do a bit to counter that, and even if I can’t convince you to give a defensive list a try you at least go away with a better appreciation of this aspec
Introduction: Shadespire Archetypes
Before we get started it’s important to first have a basic understanding of the main types of deck that exist in Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire (I’m using deck rather than warband mostly out of habit from CCGs but also to distinguish between the base warbands and specific lists built using them). We’ll probably look at this in more detail in some future articles on the blog, but for now this should serve as a basic overview:
Aggro decks focus on attacking the enemy, gaining glory from killing enemy fighters, score immediately objectives, and aggressive end-game finishers like Denial, Conquest, or Annihilation. Most warbands can be built towards this kind of playstyle, with Magore’s Fiends probably being the best at it.
Hold objective decks are built around the objective tokens, scoring using Hold Objective X cards and Supremacy, and using the Key upgrades and objectives like Making a Statement for late-game swings. Spiteclaw’s Swarm and The Sepulchral Guard both heavily favour this archetype.
Defensive decks try to win by denying the opponent glory using pushes and counter ploys (Quick Thinker, Invisible Walls etc) while scoring hard to disrupt objectives like Skirting Danger, Ploymaster, Alone in the Darkness and so on. Steelheart’s Champions are the best at this kind of deck, but Farstriders and Magore’s Fiends are pretty good too.
Many decks are actually going to be hybrids of 2 of these archetypes (or even all 3), especially once you start adding in cards to counter the weaknesses of the base playstyle (see Tom’s articles on tweaking aggro decks for an example), but generally a deck is going to favor one of these approaches over the others.
It’s important to note that none of these archetypes are any better than the others – either from an objective results-based view or from a ‘moral’ standpoint. In terms of performance, they all have their strengths and weaknesses and as long as you are aware of that and take them into account when building your list it’s fine to run whatever you find more enjoyable to play.
On the ‘moral’ side it’s not ‘easy’ or ‘brainless’ to run an aggro deck, and nor is it ‘cowardly’, ‘dishonorable’, or ‘un-interactive’ to run a defensive deck. All of the archetypes are supported by GW, interact with each other on various different axes, and all are equally valid to play – and again, as long as you are aware of them and have a plan for dealing with them then that’s fine too.
So with that overly long introduction out of the way, lets have a first look at defensive decks, what they do, and why you might want to play one.
Overview: A Good Defense is the Best Offense
Are you tired of Gurzag clumsily flailing his axe around as you roll support after support on your attacks? Have you had your Petitioners pushed off objective tokens by Great Concussion one too many times while your poor Deathrattle are systematically dismantled by giant armoured men? Do you wish that there was a better way, where you didn’t have to rely on the whims of chance and your opponent’s good nature? Well, there is, and it’s playing a defensive deck.
I firmly believe that defensive decks (and in particular defensive Steelheart’s Champions) are the strongest archetype in the game at the moment. They stack up very well to the types of deck that most people are running, are extremely consistent (and thus good in competitive play) and are a great example of how Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire combines miniatures and cardgame aspects – they aren’t a M:tG control deck or a T’au gunline army but something unique to this game.
In addition, defensive decks are (at least in my opinion) fun to play. You may not interact by making attack rolls, defending with Rebound or My Turn, and so on (at least not in the first few turns), but you instead get to try and predict your opponent’s actions and counter them with your ploys while still making sure you’re positioning your fighters to score your own objectives.
Managing to do this well and consistently is both challenging and rewarding, especially when you manage to successfully score a full hand of objectives and deny your opponent despite being threatened by Hidden Paths, Shardgale and other tricks.
Very good matchup against aggressive decks, which is great given that the current meta seems to be very much aggro-dominated. This is especially true for the majority of lists that don’t run passive objectives and movement ploys as a plan B.
Good matchup against hold objective decks This may have changed with the addition of more friendly push ploys in the Leaders Expansion, but in general as long as you disrupt you should be able to win on your passive glory.
Low variance, as you aren’t relying on successful attacks or positioning yourself on objective tokens to score glory. This means you should get consistent results and be less vulnerable to runs of bad luck – which is really good in best of 3 formats.
Strong ploys. A lot of the most powerful ploys in the game (e.g. Quick Thinker and Great Concussion) are even better in your deck, and because you generally won’t be making attacks until turn 2 or later (if at all) you can let your upgrades carry the weight when it comes to combat meaning that you have more space for counters.
Hard to disrupt. Unlike hold objective or aggro lists your opponent can’t do much against most of your objectives, and where they can fight back with pushes or positioning (against Alone in the Darkness etc) you generally have more ability to counter their counters.
Low average glory, meaning you’re vulnerable to late game swings and also potentially disadvantaged in the current Grand Clash tiebreaker setups. A lot of the time this doesn’t really matter as you can stop your opponent from scoring and still have a good differential, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Tough objective choice, meaning you end up needing to be very good at knowing when to do-over or discard objectives. There are a lot of objectives that are very good for defensive decks, but as you get to the bottom of your list you either have to accept some suboptimal choices or include objectives that are mutually exclusive (e.g. Unbroken Wall and Well-Guarded vs Alone in the Darkness, Perfect Planning vs Skirting Danger with no pushes in hand).
Coming Up Next: ‘Objective’ly Correct
Check in later for part 2 of this series where I’ll go through the objective deck in more detail, as well as options for different warbands. Then in part 3 we’ll look at the power deck, before focusing on board choice, setup, and general tactics in the final part.
Hope you enjoyed this first article and found at least something interesting in it – whether you are interested in playing a more defensive game or just want an insight on what goes through your opponent’s head when they play this kind of deck. Good luck and have fun!