I was lucky enough to attend not one but two tournaments this weekend at the Forge in Manchester and at Boards and Swords in Derby. We really are blessed in the north with both the quality and quantity of events on offer, the Steel City itself has three separate stores that all run tournaments in the main city and at least two in the greater area surrounding. In this article I’m going to try something a bit different from the usual tournament report. I’ll be going through some of the process I went through in creating the deck that I took as well my general strategy and board set up plans. As I have two tournaments to cover I will be a bit brief on some of the games but will try to highlight any that made me rethink how the deck works and/or adjust my play style.
Its worth mentioning my goal going into both tournaments, I already have enough trophies that I am bothering my landlord for a new shelf so I have decided to not play my main warband at local events and instead have set myself the challenge of winning with each different one. The plan is partly inspired/copied from John Rees over at Can you Roll a Crit? and Jay Claire, the beast himself. Its a long road to go down given how many warbands we have now but I think its a good call to really get a feel for how every one plays.
A Cunning Idea is Born
As some of you might be aware, I prefer the defensive play style. If nothing else I try to reduce the amount of dice rolling that I have to make to a minimum, I’d much rather lose because I made a misplay then because my opponent rolled lots of crits. With that in mind I was brainstorming for what my next warband and strategy was going to be. A random comment from my co-authour vanadis sparked an idea in my brain when she described someone else’s deck as midrange. Midrange is a term that comes from Magic the Gathering (please forgive me if I butcher the term) and describes decks that try to control the early game but around the mid game start to charge forwards with their own big threats. I had never thought about such a style of play with regards to Warhammer Underworlds, I was aware of defensive/aggro hybrid decks and in fact have had the most success with that type of play but the difference between that and midrange is that the hybrid deck picks either defensive or aggro at the game start and sticks to it while midrange should start defensive and then change into aggro around Turn 2.
After many hours of sitting on the underworldsdb website and playing through many different scenarios in my head I had made a list i was not only happy with but excited to start playtesting right away:
Two days later something went horrible wrong with all my planning and the banned and restricted list was published/made official. We’ve already put our general response here but for the purposes of this article its simple to just say that this deck was shafted. Two banned cards and ten restricted. Initially this made me want to go back to the drawing board and come up with another idea. In the back of my mind though, I wondered if it was possible to make the deck work with the new restrictions and a couple of days later I gave myself the challenge of trying to put it back together to see if i could do just that. Around 4 hours later a new, leaner, maybe less efficient but definitely more legal deck emerged, I present Midrange Fiends:
Tell me again what on Earth Midrange is?
The general plan with this deck is to spend the first turn sitting back and drawing cards, just like a defensive deck. You can score passive glory off of Extreme Flank/Ploymaster/Rivers of Blood/Shining Example and build up a combo of power cards. It almost always attacks (where possible) in the last activation of Turn 1, either with a Riptooth charge or a Magore Hidden Path’s in. Turns 2 and 3 are usually spent attacking where possible or playing conservatively if you get enough of a lead. Against aggro decks you will have plenty of targets to attack and the small combos (which I will talk about in a moment) built into the deck make the odds of your attacks succeeding as high as possible. Against objective or defensive decks you generally find that only Riptooth and Magore are fighting as you don’t have the spare activation’s to bring your spare fighters to bear, this doesn’t usually present a problem though as you pile on upgrade after upgrade and turn them into killing machines.
As mentioned above, there are many small ‘combos’ in this deck:
- The 4 damage combo: Use either Inspire card to bring Magore or Riptooth up to 3 damage and then combo with – Shattering Terrain/Shardgale/Twist the Knife/Gloryseeker/Great Strength
- The ‘I really need to hit this attack combo’ – play shattering terrain in the power phase – charge with a fighter – react to the shattering terrain damage with My Turn – throw 2 attacks at a target to make it extra likely – then have the FAQ handy to show your opponent that this is indeed legal and not just some bullshit you just made up
- The ‘I really need to hit this attack combo part 2’ – put Total offence or Potion of Rage on a fighter react with Ready for Action and attack with a small bucket of dice – don’t have the glory to play those upgrades? – then use Ghoulish Pact or Spoils of Battle to play them at no cost.
- The Magore is dead and I have What Armour? in hand send help – don’t send help send Dark Darts as they are another source of cleave – ok this is borderline not a combo but its a useful interaction
There are other small sets of interactions that you can pull off with these cards, its worth having a look through and imagining it play out in your head.
Once you get in the middle of your enemy its important to get Deathly Fortitude or Sudden Growth on your main fighters so they are safe from a counterattack. Now that a lot of the ‘free damage’ cards are restricted these upgrades are even better then before as most decks are just about optimised to kill 4 health targets and anything over that becomes a case of having to try your luck with multiple attack actions. If I was going to continue playing and refining this deck I would seriously consider trying to get Great Fortitude and Potion of Constitution in for much the same reasons and also the fact that these effects get more powerful the more you have of them.
What boards do I use?
Ok enough deck building chat, lets talk about a less appreciated but almost as important part of gameplay. What board do you select? After practicing a bunch against my Steel City compatriots I settled on two different main boards that I select depending on my opponent.
This is my standard deployment against objective or defensive play. My board is set up to score Extreme Flank without having to move a model, Riptooth is not only as far forwards as possible but also mostly central so can threaten a lot of board and Magore is safe at the back where he can use Hidden Paths or Faneway crystal to teleport across and attack.
This board is also my main choice if I lose board roll off vs an aggro player. The vast majority of aggro players will pick as short a board setup as possible and this once again lets me score Extreme flank with no effort while protecting my main fighters for a counterattack. On that front I usually deploy Riptooth at the back next to Magore so that my opponents main targets are the weaker fighters. Remember this deck is not a defensive one, you are happy to be fighting your opponent, you just want to make sure that its on your terms.
This is the board to select when you win the roll off vs aggro. As you might have noticed you can once again score Extreme flank incredibly easily. One very important factor in placing this board is that its not best when used longways, instead offset this board with your opponents and only connect the three edge hexes at the top right. You can do that either as shown above or rotate the board (thats numberwang!) 180 degrees, you want to pick your orientation depending on the board your opponent chooses and make the largest hex distance between their starting hexes and where you want to deploy. With this setup most opponents cant reach you on turn 1 and if they do with something like a spectral wings then their easiest target to hit is Ghartok – a fighter who cannot be driven back and thus cannot be killed with Trap or Pit Trap, truly a nasty puzzle to present your opponent with.
The reason 3 and 4 can be Riptooth or Magore depends on the cards you have in hand and what you are playing vs. Remember you still want to try and kill something towards the end of turn 1 – generally you want to place Riptooth on number 3 but if you have objectives like Show of Strength/What Armour and you lack Hidden paths its worth putting Magore there to give you odds on for a kill.
So did all this theory crafting and practice pay off? Or did my hopes crumble like Paul Hollywood’s face when he was told there would be a Vegan week on Bake Off?
Day 1 – At the Forge in Manchester
Jamie Giblin of the excellent katophrane relic blog was excitedly inviting everyone and their mum to come play up at his local in Manchester. I was unfortunately going to have to bail as the event started at 9am and that was a bit early for the train I would of had to get. Fortunately my co author Tom suddenly become free and offered to drive us down, bringing along his brother Olly who is officially the Steel City mascot. Some of the practice that I mentioned above occurred at Tom’s house on the Friday night, along with a lot of beer and KFC as we tried to polish our decks and play style.
Round 1 I got paired vs Richard and his Skaven. Richard is a familiar face as he attends most of the tournaments up North and is very willing to travel to do so. He’s always great to chat to as well, still it was a tad scary to be matched vs a known good player round 1. Especially when they are playing Skaven. To make matters worse he managed to pull off a game 1 win against me by cleverly baiting me to attack Krrk with my leader and then counter attacking and killing Magore with Scritch. In that game I had used board one with the conservative deployment but I had thought it worth going for the kill on Krrk as I had Show of Strength in hand – note to self some early glory is not worth more then your leaders life.
Games 2 and 3 managed to swing my way as I played more conservatively and prioritised killing Scritch with every attack I made until he was dead. Turns out if you kill Scritch then you generally beat Skaven, sometimes that is easier said then done though.
Round 2 I got paired vs … Tom. Fuck. Tom was playing his goblins and will go into more detail about how they play in an article that he is definitely going to write soon (or I will get the whip out again). Suffice to say he managed to beat me in a very close best of 3 where each game was won by either 1 or 2 glory. On one game he used Hidden Paths to bring his fanatic next to Riptooth and one shot him in a single activation by comboing it with a lethal terrain from the board he had placed. The fanatic is bloody scary.
So with that loss my dreams of winning two trophies this weekend had died, still I was looking forward to keep playing so I could get as much practice for the next days competition.
Round 3 i got matched vs …. Olly. Well hello mascot, meet the boss. I mostly destroyed Olly 2 -0, to be fair to him he has not had a chance to play since the launch of Nightvault and he was literally opening the Echoes of Glory pack on the Friday night for our practice session. I really looking forward to having him play more and come back into the fold though as he was a beast on defensive Steelhearts back in season 1.
Round 4 – lets see who I get… Tom. Again. I am actually happy that the system allowed people to play each other again, sometimes it has to happen if those are the only players in the same ‘group’. It just kind of sucked that this tournament was basically turning into a replay of the night before, only with less beer and chicken. It also meant that Tom had ‘bottled’ it and lost his match and so there wasn’t a chance of a Steel City trophy, I am sure he will have some explanation for the loss in his article.
Play wise Tom once again just beat me and once again it was by tiny glory increments. Over the course of our games I had decided to make two small changes to my objectives in order to make my Glory more consistent to score – I’ll show them in a moment.
Generally the tournament was amazingly run. We would have had 15 players meaning some players would of faced BYE’s but Jamie volunteered to be a dedicated TO and save us all from that fate. He did a great job of managing the event and we had lunch included, which was a combination of Subway and some quality Kettle Chips. 14 players is a nice size for a local event and there was a real mix of playstyles. It was also nice to see Bryce win it, he’s a good mate of Jamies and is another top player who will travel around to go to lots of tournaments.
Day 2 – Boards and Swords Derby
I got up groggily in the morning and took the train down to Derby, this time there was no lift as Tom and Olly were busy drinking with some old friends. On the plus side this meant I would get to face different opponents and I had my new slightly tweaked deck along with me:
Fear my mighty paint skills.
I had done a straight swap of Denial for Superior Tactician, the former is to easily denied (ba dum tish) by Hidden Paths and Faneway Crystal while I was finding that i would consistently score 6 objectives each game minimum – hence the Tactician. I also Swapped Victories Duel out as it was too situational and there were games where it was trying to reward me for playing wrong – you need to kill Scritch with anyone no matter what, not try and set up a perfect kill that might go wrong – and Skirting Danger was an easy to score passive objective from my defensive days.
Its worth mentioning that there were another 14 players at this tournament and I was the only one who had been to both. Its great to see the scene doing so well and it gives me a lot of hope for the future of the game.
Round 1 – vs Ben Davis and Reavers
Its always scary seeing a Reaver player set up across from you. A lot of people underrate them based on experience playing them in the starter Shadespire deck box, they almost always lost that match up to Steelhearts, but once more expansions came out that helped them burst for damage they suddenly become top tier as their mobility lets them strike from anywhere. With the Ban and Restricted list making so many of the free damage cards hard to get to I had initially expected the Reavers to fall off, but then this was my same initial reaction for the Fiends and here I was with a deck that I was confident would still work.
In game 1 I got boards and set up long ways with board 2 – the reason I said not to do this above is partly from experience in these games – turn 1 was going great as he didn’t get any fighters into charge range and had to use all his activation’s to simply move closer to me, I had Extreme Flank in hand and was very confident when I charged an inspired Riptooth in the last activation of the turn. The attack was successful and I played Twist the Knife as I didn’t need it to much in this match up and it would score me Ploymaster.
Then Ben played Rebound.
With hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have played Twist the Knife. Riptooth died and my opponent scored Miraculous Escape. We both went into turn 2 with about the same glory but I had lost one of my key fighters and Ben was all up in my grill. I can’t remember the exact details of how I lost but I remember one amazing combo from Ben, when Magore attacked Ben played Aggressive Defence – Magore Hit – Ben then reacted with Last chance – last chance worked – Magore died. Jesus. Last chance also combos with Miraculous Escape and Aggressive Defence also works well with Rebound. I have never seen these cards used in this way before and it utterly destroyed me.
After getting completely destroyed in game 1 I was sweating, I was close to not only losing my chance at both trophies but going out in round 1. For game 2 Ben won the board roll off and i picked board 1. He placed them very slightly off set (literally by one hex) and based on the cards in my hand I decided to deploy extremely aggressively. I put Magore in position number 2 and after using my free crit to win the first turn roll off i chose to go first and charged in with my leader. Normally this is literally the worst thing to do and is a sign that a player is either new to the game or is playing on tilt but I did have a solid plan. With the way the boards had been placed Ben had left Targor in a spot that Magore could not only charge straight away but that left Targor trapped, and I had Strong Start with Show of Strength in hand. My plan was to score a fast 3 glory and then equip Deathly Fortitude and make my leader impossibly to kill.
There are reasons that I try to avoid rolling dice as much as possible, this was one of those times. Fortunately for me I was still playing Fiends and with both warbands starting next to each other I could take advantage of the fact that any attack I hit scored a kill while Ben had to use either cards or multiple attacks. I killed all his fighters by the end of turn 2.
On turn 3 he scored 7 glory.
I just edged out the win, you should always be afraid of how much glory Reavers can score when their are a lot of dead models. Khorne was indeed happy with the blood that was spilled and I was swiping the sweat from my brow.
Game 3 and I won board roll off. This time I used Board 2 and adapted my play to not even try for a kill, this is also where I figured out the full offset set up with Riptooth in position 3. I literally played the game like a full defensive deck and grabbed 3 glory turn 1 from Extreme Flank and Skirting Danger. I Then put Deathly Fortitude onto Ghartok and Sudden Growth onto Riptooth. This gave Ben an almost impossible situation where not only could he not only kill any of my fighters but he couldn’t rely on any of his reaction combos to kill me back. I ground the game out and managed to pull the win.
Something important to note with decks that can play in multiple ways. Sometimes you set up and play based on your opponent and sometimes you do it based on the cards you have in hand, knowing when to do what is simply a matter of experience and is why these type of decks can be so hard to play if your just trying them out.
Ben had been playing the game for about 2 weeks. I have a strong suspicion that he is going to do well at this.
Round 2 – Dan Jones and the Vertically Challenged (Chosen Axes)
Dan is yet another player who travels to lots of tournaments and is a friendly sight to see whenever you rock up, he actually gave me a lift to the train station afterwards and took a picture of me with the trophy. Today he was rocking the ginger midgets as opposed to his usual Farstriders.
Game 1 – my memory is starting to fail me now so forgive me that I don’t remember the details of this game. The most I remember is that A I got destroyed and that B Dan was running both Our Only Way Out and Supremacy, in my mind I tagged his deck as Aggro/Objective going into game 2.
Game 2/3 – I got very lucky. Both games Dan massively messed up his first turn by moving a fighter just one activation early and revealing what objective they were going for. In both cases Riptooth sprinted across the board with my final activation of Turn 1 and found a new chew toy, starting a snowball that Dan couldn’t stop. I managed to table his warband by the end of turn 2 in both games and keep myself in the tournament. My heart wasn’t having the best of times however, I was feeling a lack of sleep and dropping game 1 on both my matches is a very stressful way to play.
Sometimes this deck scores Extreme Flank in an honest way – this was the end of a turn 2 against Dan.
Round 3 – Derek Wheatley and Farstriders
I have never played Derek before but he was the only other undefeated player at the event so I was going to be careful not to underestimate him. When I saw he was playing Farstriders I had a similar reaction to seeing the Ben’s Reavers, Farstriders used to be my main warband and its a nightmare trying to guess what way they will play until you actually see what your opponent does.
Game 1 – again forgive me for not remembering the game in much detail. I used board 1 and Derek set up aggressively. The way he was playing his warband was to advance into my territory and to sit in the middle of my board and shoot my models from afar, only lowering himself to melee attacks if I was the one charging in. This match up is ridiculously in my favour, the Fiends just have better over all fighting stats then the Farstrider’s if every fighter gets to have a go and I can negate their biggest advantage with my native cleave. This game I didn’t really play very passively as i wanted to fight the Stormcast Rangers before they inspired. When the dust settled we had generally traded fighters which left me winning due to my superior numbers.
Game 2 – this game played out very similarly to game 1 except that I got incredibly lucky. In one attack I hit an inspired Stormcast with a non cleave attack and Derek failed his Soultrap roll. This was legit one of those unfortunate games where you can’t take anything away from it except that I rolled better dice.
Wait. I was undefeated after 3 rounds. I think this means that I’ve won?
Yes I did win. Also yes that is my hair, I grew it myself.
Success with another warband and another trophy for the shelf – time to shout at my landlord again. Not sure which warband I am going to try with next, whatever it is I expect to have a great time with this fantastic game and community. For reference the ones I have done it with are Farstriders – Cursebreakers – The Eyes of the Nine – Magores Fiends.
Note the top 4 players at the end of the event were me and … all the people I had played. Ben, Dan and Derek had only lost to me all day, talk about playing on hard mode.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I know its a bit rambling but I tried to cover a lot of content and cover stuff from a slightly different angle to the usual. If anyone is thinking about playing Fiends this way the only word of caution I would offer is that it probably needs even more refinement before its Grand Clash worthy – although its certainly solid right now.
Here is a link to the deck list to make it easier to play around with yourself:
My only loss all weekend was to Tom and his Goblins, he really should get that article out soon (reaches for whip).