Shadespire – One Last Look At the Meta before Nightvault takes over

As the title suggests this article is going to look at the competitive meta of Warhammer Underworlds season 1 as it is just before Nightvault is released and changes everything. We are employing the might of this fully assembled blog and doing a collab article between all members of Steel City.


Michael C

I have the rather dubious privilege of starting and letting my co author’s point out all of their (incorrect) disagreements with my assessment of the game right now. Lets start with my 100% unbiased and objective tier list of all the factions as season 1 draws to a close:

  1. Reavers
  2. Scritch (i think Skaven have other models?)
  3. Farstriders
  4. Steelhearts
  5. Magores Fiends
  6. Sepulchral Guard
  7. Gurzags Gits
  8. The Chosen Axes

Joking aside, I am aware that any attempt to make a tier list is going to have people up in arms about how i have placed certain factions wrong or don’t know what i am talking about etc. The rest of Steel City will hoist their flags and declare their own tier lists below, hopefully the discrepancies between our lists will highlight just how subjective such an undertaking is, even amongst a close knit group who play tests together.

I think its worth mentioning that this tier list is based on what i think are the best versions of each warband, for example someone playing aggro Sepulchral Guard is probably at the very bottom of the list. So that everyone is on the same page i will do the list again and this time say what versions of each faction i am talking about.

  1. Super Aggro Reavers with mobility tricks and about 23 extra actions to kill all your models if even one gets close – oh also they get glory if you kill their models
  2. The Scritch kills one or 2 models deck where you score about 72 glory immediately for killing any model with Scritch – I’m not salty
  3. Hybrid Striders – defensive objectives with an aggro power deck – takes free wins of off bad aggro but goes in to mess up opposing defensive and objective play
  4. The true turtle Steelhearts – the perfect defensive set up a BBQ and laugh while your opponent cant do anything deck
  5. Magores – considered aggro – where surgical strikes are king and Shardgale hurts
  6. The pure objective full key skelly deck
  7. A semi (haha) aggresive/defensive deck with some objectives for just inspiring your Orks by running over lethal terrain etc
  8. The general objective/aggro hybrid Dwarves – although to be honest its very similar in threat to full aggro Dwarves

Its also worth mentioning that i think Warhammer Underworlds season 1 is an incredibly balanced game and that not only can bottom tier decks beat top tier decks but also that people were finding new ways to play warbands that was surprising everyone even towards the end of the season. There is definitely room for someone to either play something we haven’t seen and do well with it or to take an existing warband/archetype and play it in a way that makes it much better then was previously thought.

Ok Steel City – who’s next up to bat?


Hobbit

Alright, I suppose as the second of our quadrumvirate to reach three trophies, that puts me second in our internal pecking order and second in this article.

I suspected that we all had fairly different takes on the state of the meta and it seems like I was right, again.

For the correct order for the season one warbands is:

  1. Steelheart
  2. Farstriders
  3. Skaven
  4. Reavers
  5. Magore’s
  6. Dwarves
  7. Skeletons
  8. Orcs

Having gotten that out of the way, and with Mike’s ego suitably quashed, I can now safely agree with him; without risking damage from cranial shrapnel. The warbands from Shadespire are remarkably well balanced. As the last phase of the season has drawn on, and with the advent of the leader cards I feel that the warbands that were trailing have been brought back to viability.

For me, what makes a top flight warband is not so much tied up with the power of a single archetype, instead I value flexibility.

My first two picks could really have been equally well put the other way around, but I’ve won all my shadeglass with the Champions and must honour them accordingly. What makes the two Stormcast warbands top of the list is their versatility. Both warbands can play an offensive or a defensive game, and do very well with a hybrid deck. Neither of them has a key model the loss of which neuters the warband.

My next two picks are again very much on a par, but the rat men just squeak in ahead. [sorry/not sorry] The Reivers and the Skaven have much in common: they are both 5 model warbands and both reach speed 5. They both use the dodge defense, which is counterintuitively more protective than shields due to the preponderance of cleave in the current meta. Both warbands can make a good go of being hyper aggressive or going for the objectives. Their speed let’s them control the flow of engagement and allows them to turn the screw on a long board turtle deck. The Skaven are faster off the bat and inspire into better defence, which for me is enough to claim third place; even if they are let down by an over reliance on Skritch. The Reivers don’t rely on anyone in particular and are happy to see a few of their own die on glory road.

The ordering of the next three warbands is more difficult still. I have plumped for the Fiends in fifth position, they are not particularly flexible, though I have seen them played defensively to good effect. The murder puppy has only one purpose and its master’s in built cleave brings them to the top of the bottom. The other two fighters have a nice inability to be pushed back, but leave little else to be said for them.

Next on my list are the Chosen Axes, I’ve always had a soft spot for dwarves and these guys are great for holding objectives, and capable of mounting a solid counter-attack. They are however let down by their stubby legs. A great selection of warband specific push ploys helps mitigate this a little but the reach no higher than sixth.

Seventh at the moment are the Sepulchral Guard. If you’ve read my Adventures in Necromancy articles, you’ll know these are my favourite models (part three will be out later this week), and I think that they are often underestimated. However, they are a one trick pony. They excel at holding objectives and have the key skills required to score lots of glory doing so, but they can’t do much offensively and struggle defensively due to the difficulty of protecting stragglers.

Sadly, I think my easiest pick is for the bottom of the list. The orcs started strong, but have slipped with every subsequent release. Their inspiration condition is weak, especially in a meta which favours one hit kills. They have two terrible fighters and two powerhouses, which tend to be targeted very early for death. The orcs don’t have the right faction ploys or objectives to make it as a defensive warband. And they lack the speed and the punch to be a great offensive team. Offensively, the Fiends beat them on every metric.

I’ll hand you over now to eyemilligan for a third take on the correct ranking for the last days of Shadespire.


eyemilligan

It’s hard to give an objective ranking of warbands or specific decks, as player skill and experience play a huge part in people’s performance. Mike may see Garrek’s Reavers as the best, but you need to be very good to realise their true potential against the more consistent aggro warbands (e.g. Magore’s Fiends).

Even a deck like the aggro/area denial build of Spiteclaw’s Swarm that has achieved unquestionable results in the hands of some of the game’s best players isn’t going to perform if you’ve just downloaded the list from the internet the day before an event.

What other people are playing also has a huge impact. Hobbit has put Steelheart’s Champions at the top of the list, and while I kind of agree (I might be slightly biased here) if all the people you play are running hybrid Farstriders, aggro Skaven, or well-built Reavers lists you’re going to have a lot of difficulty actually realising that potential.

With that said, I do agree that there are general tiers of warbands, assuming an averagely skilled and experienced player. For me the list looks something like this:

  1. Magore’s Fiends
  2. Steelheart’s Champions
  3. Spiteclaw’s Swarm
  4. The Farstriders
  5. Garrek’s Reavers
  6. The Chosen Axes
  7. The Sepulchral Guard
  8. Ironskull’s Boyz

A lot of my reasons for this ranking have already been mentioned by Mike and Hobbit, although I’ve gone into a bit more detail below. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the warbands are strictly better than each other in that order though – there’s 4 rough tiers with 2 warbands in each.

Magore’s Fiends and Steelheart’s Champions: Both of these warbands are very forgiving for less experienced players, but also have builds with a higher skill ceiling that allow them to perform well competititvely. Defensive-focused Steelheart’s do extremely well against a lot of the old meta, and flexible aggro Fiends (with Rivers of Blood, Shardgale, movement ploys and so on) are extremely good against other aggro decks.

Spiteclaw’s Swarm and The Farstriders: These warbands both have one very strong build and then a few… less good options. A flexible hybrid Farstriders list can easily switch between aggro and defense and is very good at pressuring defensive decks, while the aggro Skaven list focused on Skritch performs excellently – especially against players that aren’t familiar with it’s potential for explosive action.

Garrek’s Reavers and The Chosen Axes: The Duardin are slow and reliant on objectives to inspire, which isn’t great when everyone runs at least Great Concussion. Fjul-Grimnir Inspired may be a beast, but the warband is just too easy to counter as a whole. The Bloodbound similarly need a skilled hand on the rudder to do well, otherwise they’ll just bounce off defensive decks and the other aggro warbands.

The Sepulchral Guard and Ironskull’s Boyz: The Orruks have very little to reccomend them over Magore’s Fiends or Steelheart’s Champions as , with their only real strengths being Gurzag’s 5 wounds and a few extra action ploys. The Deathrattle, on the other hand, are just too fragile and too slow. Despite what Mike and Hobbit think they’re only almost playable as an objective list, and once you’re past the initial surprise their aggro build folds easily too.

It’ll be interesting to see how this changes with the Nightvault warbands. Even just the two in the core set offer a lot of potential builds that compete with the existing warbands in their particular archetypes – aggro or objective Nighthaunt and defensive or hybrid Cursebreakers looking the most likely. Exciting times!


Tom B

Clearly we decided to save the best and correct tier list until last. When writing this I’m prioritising flexibility and consistency in ranking Warbands. Any Warband played well can be successful, but some Warbands have more options, are harder to predict, and are much harder to mess up. Another factor worth taking into consideration is which Warbands take advantage of the (generally speaking) strongest universal cards in the meta, as well as which Warbands are hurt by this. So, here is my list!

  1. Steelhearts Champions
  2. Garreks Bloodreavers
  3. Spiteclaws Swarm
  4. The Farstriders
  5. Magore’s Fiends
  6. Ironskullz Boyz
  7. The Chosen Axes
  8. The Sepulchural Guard

Steelhearts Champions

These boys are at the top for 3 reasons

  1. All the best ploys are brilliant in defensive Stormcast! Great Concussion, Quick Thinker, Distraction and Hidden Paths all help the golden guardians frustrate their opponents.
  2. Defensive Stormcast can play into aggro Warbands well, in addition to objective Warbands due to the huge amount of pushes in their deck. The base stats of the models in the warband even allow for the occasional aggressive play.
  3. Defensive decks score consistent glory. They are reliable, they don’t need good dice, and will grab 8-12 glory a game if you cant get to them.

That said, Stormcast do crumble quickly. Everything goes perfectly for defensive Stormcast until it doesn’t, and then its over. Decks which close the gap, or can outscore the Stormcast by outplaying their pushes, can succeed into these guys. The onus is on the opponent of the Stormcast to make plays, and if you don’t have cards to allow this then you will struggle to break these guys down.

Garreks Bloodreavers

  1. The Bloodreavers will get into the fight. 4 move as base, 5 when inspired, and 2-3 move ploys in a deck will guarantee one of your multiple big hitters get to the enemy. This takes me on  to my next point…
  2. You have multiple big hitters! You don’t rely on one model to carry you through the game. Garrek, Blooded Saek and Karsus the Chained are all legitimate late game threats that can cross a board with ease.
  3. The Bloodreavers play well into defensive decks as they can cross a board, they play well into aggro due to their inspire condition and their faction specific objectives, and well into objective Warbands with low health count models can be cut down by Khornes multiple 2 damage fighters.

Unfortunately Bloodreavers don’t take as much advantage of  cards like Great Concussion or Quick Thinker, despite them both being great cards. However i feel the Bloodreavers have enough innate strength to negate this, and a slew of other less prevalent ploys which they take advantage of. They are squishy and things can get ugly fast if your three main fighters drop, but overall i personally find then stronger than their sister Warband.

Spiteclaws Swarm

  1. Whats better than 4 move? 5 move!
  2. Whats worse than 3 threats? 1.5 threats!

Skaven play similarly to the Bloodreavers, but are more surgical strikers than blood maddened fighters. Their long range helps against defensive decks. Against aggro i feel the Skaven have less margin for error than Reavers, as they risk bleeding glory early before Skritch is tooled up.

The rats easy inspire condition and beastly leader model can do work for the Skaven, however I rank the Bloodreavers above them because i think the Reavers have more fallback potential if things go a bit wrong. I also understand the Reavers so I do better with them, Skritch confuses my simple Khornate mind.

Now that the podium finishers are out of the way I’m just going to briefly cover the rest of my list.

Farstriders: The epitomy of flexibility, these guys rock the best hybrid decks. You’re never quite sure what you are going to come up against when playing them and a good Farstriders deck will have multiple ways to play the game. This is a small Warband which can be surprisingly squishy however, and this combined with less impressive faction specific objectives places them below their liberator bretheren.

Magore’s Fiends: I love the fiends, but trying to come back to these guys after playing Bloodreavers is so difficult. Its probably just me, but I find against defensive decks you rarely get more than 1 model into the fray at a time. You can still win the matchup, but it is a lot more difficult to do than with  any of the above Warbands. I feel aggro Warbands with three move suffer too heavily against that particular deck archetype to rank too highly in a tier list.

Ironskullz Boyz: These guys have gone up slightly in my estimations since lethal hexes became a thing. A pseudo-defensive Heroes All, Shining Example deck that tools up Gurzag before catapulting him into the fray can actually do surprisingly well. Whilst this is a lot of fun to do, I don’t have quite enough experience with this to rank the Boyz any higher than sixth. I do feel the Orruks should be played more defensively than they currently are however, as their movement is their biggest weakness in the current meta.

The Chosen Axes: 3 health and 2 move on 3 fighters is hard. Good Duardin players can and will make this Warband work, it’s just harder to do that than with other factions. The stunties do pack quite a punch when inspired, and therefore present the biggest late game threat if everything in the first two turns goes their way.

The Sepulchral Guard: The winners of the most recent grand clash deserve respect as a Warband that can be manipulated by a skilled player and perform well. However (and I’m willing to be proven wrong), Guard players want to play on their own board for the most part because they have two move. As you know guard players are going to be primarily sitting on their board, they are more predictable than other Warbands. They also have chaff models aplenty to farm glory from. Staying away from the big hitters is less of a challenge thanks to their low move, which allows the you to cherry pick glory from Petitioners. I feel you have to work hard to make these guys do well. This is why on a tier list looking purely at the innate strength of a Warband and not their potential ceiling, these guys come bottom.

This is all based on my experience of playing as well as my own ability to make Warbands work. What i love about this game is that I will still get trounced by Guard players. Anyone can make the Warband they love perform, provided you are willing to think about making a consistent, flexible deck and practice with it.


 

So there you have it, a little slice of the Warhammer Underworlds competitive meta as it stands with season 1 drawing to a close. I think the biggest take away here is that we all believe that season 1 is a very balanced game with all warbands having a chance and player skill being the largest determining factor in who wins a game.

 

 

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