In the second half of our look at the power deck we’ll be looking at some of the best upgrades for defensive lists. Overall, upgrades are less important and less impactful than ploys. You can’t use them until you’ve scored some glory, which generally means they don’t do anything until turn 2 at the earliest, and for the most part they provide a smaller benefit over a longer time compared to the immediate impact of a good ploy.
In defensive decks, the generally low amount of glory you get per turn coupled with the additional cards you draw will tend to mean that you have more upgrades than glory in the end phase so you’ll need to choose carefully which ones to play. Because you want to be drawing as many cards as possible, it’s best to then discard any ones you couldn’t play,
What this means is that most of your upgrades aren’t actually going to be played in most of your games and so you should try and focus on things that are broadly useful. In general, these probably fall into three categories: scoring more glory, keeping your models alive, and helping you counter-attack (especially in hybrid decks where sometimes you’ll want to go on the aggressive).
One of the best things you can do with your upgrade slots is increase the amount of glory your deck can score. There are a number of upgrades now that essentially give you free glory at the end of the game, and it’s a good idea for pretty much any deck to include 1 or 2 of them – not just defensive ones.
A Destiny to Meet
This is the best of the glory upgrades. It has no requirements other than for the fighter it’s equipped to to survive the game, making it very easy to score as long as you aren’t losing terribly. It’s best if you can play this in the second end phase or during turn 3 to reduce the chance of your opponent taking the fighter out of action, but its generally perfectly fine to use it early in order to clear out your hand.
Not quite as good as A Destiny to Meet as it can only go on your leader, but with the new ploys from the Leaders expansion as well as the popularity of objectives like Victorious Duel in a lot of aggro decks you usually want to be keeping your leader out of harm’s way anyway.
With the introduction of the beta rule, the relics are basically dead. You aren’t realistically going to get 12 glory (10 with Spoils of Battle) in time to get these online in turn 3, which is what you need to do to get any glory out of them.
Fortunately, you don’t really need them – the only thing they did for defensive decks was make you more likely to win Grand Clashes due to how the Swiss for most of them is structured and the way glory differential is used in tiebreakers. Even if the ruling is reversed I wouldn’t necessarily recommend playing these – they demand a lot of sacrifices in the rest of the deck, and it’s probably better off without them.
The Formless Key
This is probably the worst of the 3 single glory upgrades, as it forces you to plan ahead to score it and save activations or ploys in order to do so (ask me about losing to aggro Skaven due to putting myself in a position where I could score either this or Alone in the Darkness but not both). It’s still a good card, but I wouldn’t recommend taking it in this kind of deck.
The Other Keys
Even more so than The Formless Key, these really aren’t suited to defensive decks. Suddenly you start having to care about what objective token is where, planning out move activations and pushes ahead of time to get fighters onto them, and playing around Earthquake and other enemy pushes. Using these to score glory is completely counter to the playstyle you want to be adopting with this type of deck.
You don’t want to rely on your leader being taken out of action, so this is pretty much useless. The only redeeming feature is that it gives you the glory immediately, but that’s it.
There’s only 2 of these currently – both of the Khorne factions have an upgrade that grants extra glory when their leader takes a fighter out of action. They’re good cards for aggro, but this isn’t the deck for them – I’m not sure I’d even include Trophy Hunter in a hybrid Fiends deck.
Keeping your fighters alive is also a great use of your upgrade slots. Even without objectives like Complete Victory and Eternals, stopping your opponent killing your fighters for as long as possible helps deny them glory and strengthens your position for counter attacks (this seems fairly obvious, but there are warbands and archetypes where losing a fighter or two isn’t too much of an issue). After taking a few glory upgrades I would suggest prioritizing this type of upgrade next when building your deck.
There’s 3 main types of defensive upgrades – ones like Trusted Defender and Acrobatic that make you harder to hit, ones like Great Fortitude that make you harder to kill, and ones like Soultrap that mean that you might not die to a fatal attack. I personally have a preference for the latter 2 types – additional wounds don’t rely on variance, and the effect of a successful Soultrap is so big that it’s worth the 50/50 chance (and also isn’t reduced in effectiveness by cleave) – but your mileage might vary.
This is best in warbands with dodge defense characteristic, as outside of trying to score Change of Tactics you generally don’t want to be spending actions to go on guard. Unfortunately the best defensive warbands all have shield defense, so this is not worth taking in the majority of lists.
Cursed Artifact and Cursed Shield
With how easy it is to get cleave for most of the commonly played warbands, I don’t think reducing health to increase defense dice makes sense – sure, it increases your chance of getting a crit but just increasing your health out of easy one-shot range is a lot safer. There is definitely a place for this kind of upgrade, but this isn’t it (it’s on expendable generic Skaven in hold objective lists).
Cursed Shield is just a worse version of Cursed Artifact in every way and I’m really not sure why – elsewhere the restriction of only being playable on your leader is used to make cards better, not worse.
Getting an additional wound over Great Fortitude makes a surprisingly large difference, and playing this can sometimes make your opponent give up on attacking the fighter it’s equipped to entirely. This is generally a high priority when playing upgrades if there’s even a slight chance that your opponent will reach you before turn 3 (put it on your leader or whoever’s got glory-generating upgrades, if there isn’t someone in immediate danger). You just need to watch out for the movement decrease and make sure you don’t accidentally put yourself in a situation where you can no longer use Quick Thinker, for example.
Even the single additional wound from Great Fortitude (and warband-specific versions like Blessing of Sigmar) goes a long way towards ensuring your fighters survive – while 4 damage is generally only 1 card away for most warbands, 5 pretty much always requires 2 which makes you a lot safer.
With the current meta’s focus on one-shotting 4 health fighters, having a chance of surviving pretty much anything is fantastic – even if it’s only a 50% chance. Note that on a successful roll the damage is negated entirely, so you can still score Bloodless and Sigmar’s Bulwark afterwards.
Perhaps more importantly, as per the 1.4 FAQ you can still be driven back after a successful Soultrap (so a 1 health fighter can still be killed by Trap, although I think most people don’t realise this) and the attack counts as failing so your opponent can still use something like Tireless Assault to try again – make sure you keep these in mind
For defensive decks this is better than Soultrap, as it helps protect you from follow-up attacks and doesn’t have Soul Trap‘s issues against Trap and ploys that let your opponent re-try their attack. Taking both is a good idea, but if you only take one it should be Tethered Spirit.
Re-rolling one of your defense dice is pretty strong (if you have shield defense it’s almost as good as Soultrap as long as your opponent doesn’t have cleave), and for Steelheart’s Champions also increases the likelihood of inspiring your fighters.
In general, you want to prioritize upgrades that aren’t restricted to a single fighter, no matter how powerful they might be. You need your upgrades to be flexible and broadly applicable, and don’t want to end up with dead cards just because you got unlucky and lost a key fighter to an early Spectral Wings/Hidden Paths.
Outside of the Great Fortitude copies (Undying and Blessing of Sigmar), I think the best warband-specific defensive cards are probably the Farstriders’ Lone Warrior and ‘Ard Head for Ironskull’s Boyz (which can at least be played on half your warband).
When you start counter-attacking, you want to be doing so as efficiently as possible so boosting your accuracy and damage to the point where you have a good chance of only needing one activation to kill a fighter is important. Unless you have decided to play a 100% defensive deck and aren’t interested in attacking at all it’s worth taking a few of these options, especially as doing so frees up ploy slots for more interaction in the form of pushes and counters.
Re-rolling one of your dice doesn’t seem like much on paper, but it goes a long way towards turning misses into hits or hits into crits. I’m torn between whether this or Helpful Whispers is a better option for a general accuracy boost, but I generally take this if only because I have a habit of forgetting Helpful Whispers and moving fighters in to get support unnecessarily.
Outside of Dark Darts (which isn’t great), these only exist as warband-specific cards, and if you have access to them then you should run them ahead of pretty much any other accuracy increase due to how many people run warbands with shield defense.
The best ones are those that aren’t restricted to a specific fighter (Steelheart’s Champions’ Heroic Might, Ironskull’s Boyz’ Crush and Cleave) but specific ones like the Farstriders get are fine too.
I think this is a bit too restrictive to be worth including, especially as it needs you to get two fighters into position and also probably want to be keeping your leader out of harm’s way to enable your ploys.
I’m only listing this here to say you really shouldn’t take it. Yes, sometimes you crit and do a ton of damage (I’ve taken 7 from Riptooth using this and Great Strength), but most of the time the smaller but more consistent damage increase from Great Strength is a better option – remember, you want to do everything you can to reduce the effects of variance.
Great Strength and Incredible Strength
These are powerful staples that help ensure your fighters can do enough damage to one-shot your enemies. Unless you are a 100% defensive deck you should take both of these, and prioritize playing them over most other upgrades as long as you think your gameplan is going to involve making attacks (and as long as you aren’t playing against a low health warband).
This gives you another successful result per die for a ~17% increase in accuracy, which is pretty nice. Note that unlike with actual support Helpful Whispers isn’t cancelled out by your opponent’s supporting models, but it doesn’t contribute towards winning support for you either.
This is fantastic when supported with extra action cards, as you can ignore the downside, but as you’re less likely to be playing those it’s not as good here as in aggro lists. Still, with how big an accuracy boost this is it’s worth considering this against Helpful Whispers or Awakened Weapon – you don’t make many attacks and the ones you do make need to count. The only issue is that you probably aren’t going to be able to try again if you fail and even with 4-5 dice that can still happen.
Pretty much the same as Commanding Presence – it’s too limited to be worth it.
These are the various upgrades that give you a new attack option. Outside of the ones that give cleave, they aren’t really well-suited for this kind of deck – they’re a lot better for aggro lists trying to get more mileage out of their weaker fighters (e.g. Spiteclaw’s Swarm or Sepulchral Guard). As the best warbands for defensive lists have good base fighter stats, you don’t really need these. The one possible exception is upgrades that give you a ranged attack, as they can provide some additional flexibility when it comes attacking back.
As mentioned above, anything that grants cleave is worth including if you’re going to be attacking at all. Outside of that, the same caveats as with the defensive upgrades apply – unless the card is exceptionally good you don’t want to take things that only work on a single fighter.
Outside of the categories above, there are a few other upgrades or types of upgrade that are worth considering (or at least worth a note saying why you shouldn’t take them). You probably don’t have space for these if you are running a hybrid list, but pure defensive decks have a bit more leeway as they don’t want as many aggressive upgrades and can maybe fit 1 or 2 in.
These should be good, as they’re a way of getting extra actions without spending ploys, but all of the current ones are too limited to really be worth it. Furious Blow is restricted to a single one of the Farstriders, No Respite requires you to lose a fighter, and Fatal Riposte is only for Severin and also only works 50% of the time.
Master of Tactics
This seemed really cool initially, but after trying it out the benefit just isn’t big enough to be worth the slot. You only get 2 uses out of it at best, and you tend to end up prioritizing your more functional upgrades ahead of it so it just end up in your discard pile.
You don’t really care much about upgrades that just give +1 or +2 move, outside of maybe hybrid Farstriders lists looking to use Cover Ground as an easy-to-score objective. Things like Heroic Stride and Loyal Defender are a bit more interesting and worth trying out as they can give you more ability to react to your opponent. In general I’d rather just take some more defensive upgrades though (or aggressive ones in a hybrid list).
Second in Command
If you’re using a bunch of ploys that require your leader to be alive, and/or frequently play against aggro decks that use Victorious Duel and similar cards for big glory swings on killing your leader, then this is worth considering (although it’s not a high priority).
Unfortunately this has the same problems as Master of Tactics with a weaker benefit. There are some situations where you either want to go first but get a ploy off beforehand (No Time before charging into a possible Quick Thinker for example) or want to go second but play a ploy before your opponent, but as this only has an effect twice a game at max it probably isn’t worth spending a slot on.
Example Power Deck Part 2
Once again, we’ll look at an example power deck to see how this all comes together. As with last week’s article, this is the deck I’m currently running – a hybrid list that leans more towards defensive than aggressive. The upgrades are split between the three main types above – extra glory, extra survivability, and extra damage output.
To increase the consistency of drawing the upgrades I need and reduce the impact when I have to discard upgrades (particularly when doing over an opening hand), I’m running at least 2 of each of the types of upgrade in the deck: 2 glory upgrades, 3 health increases, 2 Soultrap effects, 2 damage increases, 2 accuracy increases. Also, as mentioned above, I prefer to use extra wounds and Soultrap/Tethered Spirit to keep fighters alive rather than extra dice and re-rolls.
Coming Up Next
In the next and final article, we’ll finish off with a broad overview of strategy and tactics for defensive decks – choosing boards, do-overs, general play patterns and so on. Until then, good luck and have fun.