So, if you’ve been reading along you’ll know that this was originally going to be a 4 part series with part 3 covering the power deck as a whole. While I was writing this, however, I quickly realised that it was going to be too long-winded even for my usual content as there are an absolute ton of cards to cover across both halves of the power deck. Because of this we’ll just be looking at ploys this time, with upgrades getting their own separate article afterwards.
Your Power Deck
If the objective deck determines what a deck is trying to do, the power deck determines how it is trying to do it. Ploy and upgrade cards need to synergize with your objectives and your general gameplan, as well as taking into account what your opponents are likely to be trying to do.
For a defensive list you should pick your power cards in line with the general principles of the deck – reduce the impact of variance and cut down your opponent’s ability to react to what you are doing. When weighing 2 similar effects, a reactive card is better than a proactive one, and one that works 100% of the time is better than a conditional one or one that has a die roll attached.
When building your power deck you should always try and stick to 20 cards. Going above the minimum decreases the chance of drawing each individual card in the deck, and increases the chance of getting flooded with upgrades when you need to draw answers.
There might be an argument for going to 22 with a 3 model warband that spends a lot of activations drawing (I say, primarily to justify doing this because I’m too greedy to drop Forceful Denial), but you are almost always going to be better off cutting to 20. It’s hard, but you will have much more consistent games if you do.
Ploys are the most important part of your power deck, as they are the main way you’ll be interacting with your opponent in the early game (and indeed in the late game too). Also, they’re the most immediately impactful type of card and I feel like there are a lot more powerful ploys than powerful upgrades.
Your ploy cards need to focus on stopping your opponent’s gameplan – whether that’s aggro or objective – and enabling your own. There’s 3 main types of ploys you want to prioritize in order to do this, and most of your picks should fall into one of these categories: pushes, counters, and movement.
Ploys that push enemy fighters are the heart of your power deck. They’re very versatile, and work both to counter your opponent’s plans (whether that’s to run in and hit you or hold objectives) and help you achieve your own (scoring Alone in the Darkness or Consecrated Area, getting fighters in range to attack, and so on).
You should take as many of these as you can, with the exception of Earthquake which is really only useful if you play against a lot of defensive or hold objective decks). Usually this means 3-4 out of your 10 ploys.
Distraction (and Peal of Thunder etc)
This is a good workhorse card that has a lot of versatility. Obviously it’s not as powerful as Great Concussion, but it still gives you a load of options with just one ploy. If your warband has their own copy (or a better version, like The Earth Shakes), then you should almost certainly take that too – this is another reason why Steelheart’s Champions are so good as a defensive deck.
Earthquake is not a strong option unless you face a lot of objective decks. You can only use it to create distance in particular boardstates (where fighters are positioned just right with respect to board edges or blocking hexes) so its really limited to stopping hold objective decks scoring or helping aggro decks advance into their opponent’s territory.
This is almost certainly the best card in the game, hands down, and is pretty much the sole reason hold objective decks don’t see much play (although that might change now with more friendly pushes in the Leaders Expansion). I strongly believe that there is no good reason not to include this in any deck, let alone a defensive one.
Great Concussion is hugely versatile, letting you create up to 2 hexes of additional distance against aggressive decks or to defend against Hidden Paths, push objective decks off of Supremacy and other objectives in a way that’s really hard to counter, and even close the distance with opposing fighters in some circumstances when you want to attack.
As mentioned above, the warbands with an extra copy of Distraction win out here (Steelheart’s Champions, Spiteclaw’s Swarm, the Sepulchral Guard, and especially the Chosen Axes). You probably don’t want any of the ploys that push an adjacent fighter (Ironskull’s Boyz, Magore’s Fiends, and the Farstriders all have one) as they’re too limited in most cases.
These ploys are purely about stopping your opponent. Quite a few of them are only good against one kind of deck, so you need to make sure you have the right mix for the meta (i.e. prioritize counters against aggro decks at the moment) and take the more generally useful ones where you can. Again, 3-4 is probably a good number.
I love Forceful Denial, even though it kind of goes against the spirit of the deck by relying so much on random chance. It would be great if GW had decided to balance these powerful ploys with pretty much anything other than a die roll, but unfortunately that isn’t the world we live in. Still, this gives you an answer to pretty much anything your opponent tries, no matter what type of deck they’re playing, and when it goes off it’s amazing. You just need to live with the fact that it’s only a 50/50 answer.
Frozen in Time
This is a narrow but extremely powerful effect, which means the 50/50 chance hurts a lot more than it does with Forceful Denial. When it works it’s great – especially against warbands like the Skaven, Orruks, and Duardin where you’re mostly concerned with one powerful fighter – but I don’t think I can recommend taking it.
This is only really good against aggro decks, but it works very well against them. Usually it just buys you an extra activation before you have to Quick Thinker, but if your opponent is playing a lot of setup ploys in preparation for a charge it’s great to just stop them by making sure they’re out of range.
This is only good against objective decks, which means you probably don’t need it at the moment. If they get more popular (or stronger with future expansions) then this and Earthquake will be worth considering, but until then I would take most of the other cards in this category above this.
There are very few ploys this actually helps you against – most of the ones you really care about either don’t target or tend not to have multiple legal targets. We used this in the relic deck to hedge against the one-in-a-million Shattershard play, but without a really specific target like that you’re best leaving this behind.
Personally, I don’t really like Shardfall. I know some people swear by it (and Sandro Antunes ran it in his version of the Katophrane relic deck that ended up beating ours in the mirror match at Warhammer World Grand Clash II) but blocking a single hex for a round is only rarely going to be meaningful, even when you win board setup and deploy long ways.
Conversely, I really like No Time. You need to identify the right times to use it, and it’s pretty unforgiving, but it can do a lot to throw your opponent off their plan and give you an extra turn of respite when you do manage to predict the right time to play it.
The main use is to stop your opponent setting up for a big attack that would one-shot one of your fighters, but against hold objective decks you can use it to stop them equipping keys at the end of turn 3, and if you’re more of a hybrid deck you can also use it to stop Quick Thinker when you make a charge.
Another contender for the most powerful card in the game, at least with how popular aggro decks are at present. This is pretty much a guaranteed counter against one charge (unless they’ve got ranged attacks), which tends to be all you need early on, and even when you don’t have it in hand, the threat of it forces your opponent to rethink their decisions.
It’s a lot worse against opponents who aren’t going to be charging you – i.e. objective decks and other defensive decks – but still lets you take an additional activation so it’s not completely dead.
The Chosen Axes have Piercing Stare, which is fantastic as another way to stop a key attack from your opponent, and Fiends and Guard have their own variants of Invisible Walls (although the Deathrattle one is kind of bad as it relies on your fighters being taken out – don’t play Sepulchral Guard). Blood Rain is interesting, but a ~17% reduction in accuracy for one activation isn’t strong enough for a ploy slot.
These are your friendly pushes and other positioning ploys. When building your deck they’re lower priority than enemy pushes and counters, but you should absolutely take some to help score your postioning objectives while taking fewer activations to move your fighters. You probably only need a couple of these, 3 at most.
This is one of the best movement ploys in the game, and works really well in defensive decks. It makes it easier to score positioning objectives without spending actions moving, and greatly extends your reach when it comes time to switch to attacking your opponent. Just remember that you need to be on an edge hex and you can’t have moved already, and you should be fine.
Hidden Paths is also kind of a counter, stopping your opponent’s own Hidden Paths as well as protecting against Denial and Contained by getting a fighter into your opponent’s territory at the end of the game.
One thing to note from the latest FAQ (pg 7) – Hidden Paths doesn’t count as making a move action when you use it (so it can’t be reacted to with Quick Thinker) but does count as the fighter making a move action for objectives like Perfect Planning.
Illusory Fighter has limited use for defensive lists, as it rarely creates meaningful distance from your opponent’s fighters. It’s a lot better when it’s used to get Skritch out of danger after a charge in aggro Skaven, for example.
This is best in a hybrid list, as it essentially gives you a Sidestep that you can also use to easily use to score Change of Tactics (or put someone on guard just to have better defence against cleave attacks).
The leader-related downsides to this card do come up, but most of the time they’re not that bad as long as you make sure to position your fighters correctly and remember to make plans that involve pushing your other fighters and not your leaders.
This is another versatile card that does a lot of work to help you scoring your positioning objectives, whether it’s Skirting Danger, Unbroken Wall, or Alone in the Darkness. It does have the same downsides as Inspired Command, but just like that card they really son’t impact you a lot of the time. Note that if your leader is the only friendly fighter left alive you can still use this on 0 fighters (as it says “up to two”) to help score Ploymaster.
With Inspired Command and Quick Advance now existing, you should probably only take this if you absolutely have to push your leader for some reason, and you really don’t in this deck.
The Chosen Axes have loads of good options here, with a combined Sidestep/Distraction in The Earth Shakes and a limited Quick Advance in Living Wall among others. For the Farstriders, Rangers, Advance is a second Quick Advance that’s better in most circumstances.
The categories above should give you everything you need in a pure defensive list, although you may still have 1 or 2 slots left for some additional cards depending on personal preferences. There are obviously a lot more ploys avaialable for you to choose from, however, many of which have effects that are semi-relevant to defensive lists – ploys that give you extra actions, enhance your attacks or defenses, and so on.
Generally, you are best off using your upgrade slots for these marginal effects where possible. The competition for good ploys is extremely high, as you can see from the list above, so anything that you can do with an upgrade instead you should.
Because it’s easy for you to get ahead on glory early even a hybrid defensive/aggro list can rely on Awakened Weapon, Helpful Whispers, Great Strength and so on to increase their damage rather than Twist the Knife and Tireless Assault. Likewise, you should probably be using Deathly Fortitude and Soultrap to help keep your fighters alive instead of Healing Potion and Last Chance.
Still, you might not want to play a purely defensive deck, and so it’s worth having a quick look at the other types of ploy cards you could include.
Outside of Quick Thinker, I wouldn’t run any extra action cards in a defensive list that wasn’t close to 50/50 hybrid aggro. It’s a tough choice, as being able to take more actions than your opponent is extremely strong, but they don’t synergize as well with your gameplan as the three main types of ploy above.
My Turn is the best option if you do want to include one, but in the current meta you almost always get one-shot if you do get hit so it’s not that great. Ready for Action doesn’t really work as you want to be playing upgrades in the end phase, and Time Trap is best when used to push an advantage in aggro lists.
Tyrant’s Command is also worth a mention here as a way to get more out of Quick Thinker and Hidden Paths, but again that’s getting into more aggressive territory.
Because most of the highly played warbands have 4 health, aggressive lists tend to target consistently dealing 4 damage so they can one-shot opposing fighters. Between Trap, Twist the Knife, Shardgale, and damage boosting upgrades most warbands can do this pretty easily for their key fighters. This hugely reduces the usefulness of healing ploys, and means that there’s an even stronger case for using upgrades to increase your health instead. I would suggest not taking any of these except in the extremely unlikely case that you play solely against aggressive Farstriders.
I also don’t really like any of these, as your best defense is usually to just not allow your opponent the chance to attack you. When they do I’d again rather use upgrades like Soultrap and Tethered Spirit than something like Rebound or Last Chance, as there’s less competition for your upgrade slots.
Only take this kind of ploy if you are playing a hybrid list – even Farstriders probably don’t want Raptor Strike in a purely defensive list. They’re a bit less important than they are in pure aggro as you tend to be able to use your early glory to equip damage upgrades, which makes it easier to get to the important 4 damage.
Use the same principles here as with selecting any card for your deck – you want the minimum chance of your opponent discrupting you. For example Twist the Knife is better than Trap as it doesn’t require a legal hex to knockback, and both are better than something like Righteous Zeal as they don’t telegraph what you’re doing.
Edit: this article originally stated that My Turn could interrupt Trap by reacting to the damage from the attack before being driven back. This doesn’t seem to be the case as per the current FAQ (1.4) We apologise for the misinformation.
Re-Rolls and Accuracy
Again, this is something you might want in a hybrid list, but in a pure defensive list they are a waste of valuable ploy slots as you’ll rarely be attacking. Also, as with damage ploys you can use upgrades instead – Helpful Whispers and Awakened Weapon are fine, as is anything that gives cleave. Taking 1 of these (probably Tireless Assault if you’re playing Steelheart’s) isn’t a terrible idea if you’re even slightly interested in attacking, though, as even with cleave you can just end up missing, especially against 2 defense dice.
Example Power Deck Part 1
As with my article on objectives, I’ll provide an example of a power deck to cap things off. This is the list I’m currently running – a hybrid Steelheart’s Champions deck that is more heavily slanted towards defensive than aggressive play.
The defensive cards here are fairly straightforward – a selection of pushes and counters to help control the game, supported by a few movement ploys to make it easier to score positioning objectvies. Tireless Assault and Twist the Knife are the only ploys that support the aggressive side of the deck, with upgrades doing most of the heavy lifting.
As mentioned above I’m running 22 cards rather than 20 because I can’t bear to cut Forceful Denial or remove the aggressive elements of the deck and can just about live with the reduced consistency as a result. If you want to build a similar deck, though, I would suggest doing one or the other as it’s definitely the quote-unquote correct option.
Coming up Next
Next time, we’ll actually cover the upgrade half of the power deck before moving on to look at general play tips in what will now be the 5th and final article in the series. In the meantime, good luck and have fun!