The biggest ever tournament in Warhammer Underworlds took place on January 26th with a total of 164 players fighting for the top spot.
One hundred and sixty four players.
There have been previous Grand Clashes that have run with barely twenty people.
One of the issues that often comes up when talking in online forums or on social media about Nightvault is in trying to assess what is the ‘best’ way to play the game. Every area of the world and even smaller regions within countries have their own little meta whose players will often loudly declare that anyone who doesn’t play like them is doing it wrong. Well a lot of those meta’s just collided in the country with the biggest scene in the world, its fair to say that this tournament is a good representation of what the best players are playing.
This article is going to analyse what was played during the tournament in an effort to asses what warbands are top of the pack right now, not only am I going to look at the total amount of each warband that entered but also at how each warband ‘converted’ those entry numbers to the top places in the tournament. Towards the end I am going to pull up the some of the top deck lists that were played and chat about cards that they all share, those should all be considered when making a competitive deck.
For those unaware, this tournament was played without the Mollog or Godsworn Hunt expansions so I am going to finish off by talking about how I think those expansions might affect the meta going forwards, I have played at a tournament with those expansions active already that contained two very good opponents (and Tom) who really tested me, so I’ve started to get a grip on what is to come.
So strap in, this is going to be a long one.
What on Earth is a meta?
For those unfamiliar with the term that I have already begun flinging around like it’s going out of style, meta is simply the way that people play the game and by association the way that they expect their opponent to play the game. Generally speaking people gravitate towards playing what is considered ‘strong’, especially in a competitive game like Warhammer Underworlds . As already mentioned above, Nightvault is in a strange place for a competitive game where the general community isn’t actually sure what the best way to play the game is, if this were a computer game you could just look at what sits at the top of a ladder, Nightvault doesn’t even have a ladder.
Why is this any of this useful to you as a player?
Well if you know what is strong then you can make an educated guess as to what warbands and cards you will expect to play against at a tournament. This information can be exceptionally useful in a game like Warhammer Underworlds as some play-styles and warbands actually counter others. As an example, if aggressive Steelheart Champions and Ironskullz Boyz were seen as popular and strong then the Chosen Axes would be something very clever to pick because they generally eat them for lunch, however if the ultra defensive form of Steelheart’s Champions along side defensive Cursebreakers/Farstriders were the popular choices then Chosen Axes would be awful because they can’t even play a game vs them. Knowing what cards are popular is very important as well, right now Hidden Paths and Faneway crystal are run in almost every top deck, making Denial a useless choice even though its generally a solid card.
Unlike a Sith teaching, nothing I have said is an absolute, Chosen Axes can draw Hidden Paths first turn alongside Inspiration strikes and teleport into a defensive list and start opening some tin cans, I am only talking about my opinion in this article. So feel free to disagree but at the very least I hope to present you with some new information and some solid ideas to help you play the game.
How did I do at the Grand Clash?
Well I’ve been here before. I did almost exactly the same as my performance at the Blood and Glory Grand Clash last year. My placing was 42, which sounds pretty horrible but remember it was out of 164 players. My record was 3 – 1 over the four rounds which were played, meaning that I dropped one match. I came as low as 42 because my tiebreakers were not great.
Ouch, not the start I had hoped for to the year.
A silver lining was that I did beat a previous Grand Clash winner in my run, Jamie Giblin in an exceptionally close match. He was playing the dreaded Thorn Relic list that had been doing the rounds on Facebook a week before, someone had claimed it was unbeatable because well, they had never been beaten with it, turns out it was a very good list but not reliable enough vs players who bring the right tools (see lots of mobility and Forceful Denial).
I have to confess that I have never been so unsure of myself going into a big tournament before. Tom and I had spent most of January heavily play testing against each other and he had given up on playing his Gitz because my Cursebreakers destroyed them, whereas a week before the tournament I had given up on playing my Cursebreakers because he had built a Fiends list that obliterated it in turn.
So I panicked and picked Thorns.
With one week of practice and some previous experience I certainly did ok but honestly me and Tom had, to put it in his words, fucked ourselves. Sometimes you have to accept that there will be a bad match-up that your warband or play style has problems with. Practice against it, even put some specific cards in to fight it, but unless you expect lots of other people to be playing it then you have to hold to your guns and hope that either fate lets you miss facing them or that you know the match up better.
In future me and Tom will continue to practice against each other but we are going to broaden our horizons a bit to try and stop this problem from happening. Luckily for us in Sheffield (UK) we have Grand Clash winner who has recently organised a weekly night of play, Martin Collins thanks for that. For anyone reading this who might be interested, just drop us an email (link at the bottom) and I will happily pass the details on. John Rees has done a great job in setting up a strong community in London, I think its time that us up North started doing the same.
A breakdown of the Warbands at the Grand Clash
The above image shows the percentages of each Warband that was played at the tournament
Well, that certainly paints a picture. Between the Gitz, Thorns and Cursebreakers we have half of the total entries put together. Three out of the four Nightvault warbands were heavily represented with the Thorns of the Briar Queen sitting at the top of the pile. The Eyes of the Nine seem to be the ugly duckling of the group, which honestly fits with my expectations, they are fun to play but they just aren’t good enough to be competitive. There are potentially two reasons for the prevalence of these newer warbands
- People want to play new stuff because they have gotten a tad bored of playing the same things over and over again
- The Nightvault warbands are all at a slightly higher power level then the Shadespire ones
I am reasonably confident in saying that while both of these factors may contribute the second reason is the more important one. If it were just reason one then surely we would see many more Eyes of the Nine players? Of course at this point we are talking more about perceived power rather then actual power, down below we will look at what warbands actually translate these numbers into high placements.
Of the Shadespire Warbands Sepulchral Guard are the most popular, closely followed by Magores Fiends. Sepulchral Guard were often seen as the weakest warband in Shadespire but now Nightvault has introduced cards like What Armour and Extreme Flank, alongside reworking the token system, they are seeing a bit of a resurgence. I don’t think anyone is surprised to see the Fiends reasonably well represented, in my mind they are the best all around aggressive warband even with the new Nightvault hotness. After that, well, well, well, how the mighty have Fallen. Before the BAR list hit Farstriders and Spiteclaw’s Swarm were both extremely popular and knocking tournament wins out left right and centre. Now they are barely picked, alongside all the weaker warbands at the bottom of the pile.
The easy conclusion to draw from this is that you need to practice and tech against the big objective based warbands of Thorns/Gitz/Sepulchral Guard, all of those warbands have a similar play style that you need to be able to deal with if you want to win some glass. After that your next target’s are Cursebreakers and Fiends, right now they actually both play in a fairly similar manner, aggressive but with lots of options and enough passive glory that they can sit back and be ok. Of course I am only talking about the most popular versions of both of those warbands, full defensive Cursebreakers exist and can be quite nasty to deal with for the Gitz/Thorns/Guard.
How did those Warbands actually perform?
The left most columns show the number of each warband that entered the tournament as absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total. The conversion columns show what percentage of those numbers made it to a certain bracket – in the first conversion column its the percentage that made it to the top 64 and in the next its the percentage of that top 64 that made it to the top 32. Within each ‘bracket’ there are also absolute and percentage numbers for how each warband is represented.
Phew. I hope that the above image is easy enough to understand, there are a few different ways to present the data but we think that this is the best. I say we, but it was actually my co-author Vanadis who sorted all this data out and who also provided the pie chart we saw earlier.
Vanadis: Just popping in with a few brief notes on this data. Firstly, I know conversion rate isn’t technically the correct way of looking at the brackets here (as there’s not a proper cut between them like there would be from day 1 to day 2 of a 2 day event), but I didn’t get a chance to put together better comparisons – maybe for the next big event? In any case, I would say the most relevant things to look at are:
1. Does a warband have a significantly higher or lower percentage in the total number of players than you’d expect based on random distribution (8.33·% with 12 warbands)? This tells you how popular the warband is, and thus how likely you are to face it in general (except that the meta has now changed with the new expansions).
2. Does a warband have a significantly higher (or lower) percentage in a higher bracket (e.g. top 32, top 16) than in the total? If so then that warband performed better (or worse) against the field than would be expected and you can get a general idea of how ‘good’ it is in the current meta. This is heavily dependent on decklist and player skill though, so you can’t draw too much from it.
Also, as an aside to this aside I just about managed to top 16 with my Cursebreakers, which clearly shows that the correct strategy is to not have a last minute panic about your read of the meta like Mike and Tom did and just go with the warband you know how to play. 😛
So here we have it, a reasonable representation of how all of those warbands that were taken actually performed. First off lets look at the Warbands that had very poor representation in the top 64 :
- Sepulchral Guard
- Steelheart’s Champions
- Ironskullz Boyz
- Spiteclaw’s Swarm
- The Chosen Axes
- The Eyes of the Nine
Well 5 of those 6 warbands are Shadespire and not Nightvault ones. Suddenly I am much more confident in the conclusion that I drew in the previous section. Reavers look to be solidly the weakest warband right now, only 5 players actually took them to the event and none of those players ended up in the top 64. The Eyes of the Nine also seemed to do incredibly poorly, only one player of the nine (did Tzeentch ensure it was exactly 9 players who would come with his champions?) that took the warband was successful enough to make it to the top 64, however that same player went a long way and actually ended up in the top 16, either showing a statistical anomaly or perhaps that there is a strong way to play them that the rest of us don’t know about?
The Farstriders, despite only have 7 players, converted resonably well, with 6 of them placing in the top 64 and 3 of those making the top 32, personally my guess as to why they didn’t go further is that the Farstrider match up into Thorns is not ideal, on the surface it seems like the Farstriders have incredible game against the spooks when built with lots of damage cards, but a lot of Thorns decks will have the queen teleport into the back-line and start assassinating the low fighter count warband, making it a tough one to win.
Magore’s Fiends seemed to perform above expectation for how many came, seven players made the top 64 and one player went all the way to second place, losing in a great final. It’s also worth noting that one Steelheart player and one Ironskullz player made it all the way to the top 8, being in the top 8 for this tournament meant not dropping a single match, so potentially those warbands have some game at the very top level of play but have an extremely high skill floor.
Thorns of the Briar Queen were absolutely the top dog of this event, 15 thorns players made the top 64 and we had 2 go undefeated to make it to the top 8. The other warband to come in Nightvaults core set, the Cursebreakers, also converted extremely well, between the Thorns and the Cursebreakers we have half of the top 8 players at the whole tournament and the Cursebreakers were the one to win the whole thing. Gitz seem to hover just below the Thorns and Cursebreakers in terms of results but nonetheless had a solid showing. Outside of the Eyes all of the Nightvault warbands at the event did extremely well.
Shared Cards Across the top Decks
The data to make this chart was taken from the tournament decks stored here.
Unfortunately we don’t have a published list of all the top 8 decks, so the info that I used to make this chart was taken from the 8 decks that are publicly available, all of these did make the top 16 so it is still taken from some of the best decks at the tournament. For obvious reasons I have not included any faction specific cards, I have also only put cards onto the chart that were included in at least half of the decks, these numbers are low enough that anything else might be reaching a bit.
Right away we can see that there are 4 cards in use by every deck:
- Sudden Growth and Deathly Fortitude are essentially carbon copies of each other that are made stronger by the fact that you can run both, with Soul Trap and Tethered Spirit being restricted these have become the defensive upgrades of choice. Forcing your opponent to spend 2 activation’s to kill a fighter (assuming you hit both attacks) is an incredibly strong one and it more then makes up for the downside of – 2 movement. The fact that everyone and their mum is running these upgrades means that you need to have a way to deal with very high wound fighters, with Mollog just out that probably a good idea anyway.
- Faneway Crystal is an insanely powerful effect to get from an upgrade, ‘teleport’ effects allow you to surprise your opponent and is one of the reasons that Thorns of the Briar Queen are so strong. Knowing that this card is likely to be in use by your opponent does give you some potential counter-play, if you are playing an objective deck you should prioritise getting onto those objective tokens before your opponent can use them as portals and if you are running Abasoth’s unmaking you can delete a dangerously placed portal from existence.
- Escalation almost feels like its 2 free glory just for playing the game. With the increased of more easy to score immediately objectives hitting the game and the fact that some lists are running Ghoulish Pact/Spoils of Battle, Escalation has only gotten better since the BAR list despite its addition to the restricted list. The fact that Thorns/Gitz/Guard are all in the meta helps this as well, you can usually rely on a few glory being generated from kills each turn which makes this objective pretty easy to score. The only real way that you can play around Escalation is to try and save playing all of your upgrades till the end step, of course those upgrades actually have productive effects and sometimes you do need them.
After those big four we have five cards that were taken by 7 of these top performers:
- Ready for Action – in my eyes the best ploy and also the best gambit card in the game. This card had been rightfully restricted and is still seeing play by almost all competitive players. The most limiting resource in Warhammer Underworlds is the fact that each player only gets 12 activation’s over a whole game, Ready for Action is the easiest way to get an extra action out of a Fighter and is one that gives you the option of either a move or an attack. It is also one of the ways that you can kill a high health that is equipped with Sudden Growth/Deathly Fortitude, charge the target fighter in question and then play an upgrade/Ready for Action in the power step, if both attacks hit then you have killed your mark.
- Hidden Paths – remember how I said that teleport effects are very powerful? Well Hidden Paths has some nasty restrictions like forcing you to come from and to an edge hex as well as placing a movement token on your fighter, despite that almost everyone at top level play still uses it. One of the great uses for this card is to both score and deny the objective that I am just about to talk about.
- Extreme Flank – a two glory objective that you can score simply from how you deploy your fighters that doesn’t require any actions or cards to enable? Another card that is seeing widespread play despite its restriction, at least there is some solid counter play that you can deploy to try and stop your opponent scoring this. Always be on the lookout for two flanking fighters and either use an attack to kill/push on fighter off an offending edge or pack cards like Distraction into your deck that achieve the same effect.
- Great Strength – not much needs to be said about this card. Its been a staple of the game since the game came out and I expect it always will be. Packing an extra damage is often the difference between killing in one hit or having to take two, not only does one hit require fewer activation’s but its more likely.
- Superior Tactician – currently the most reliable finisher in the game. The only nasty restriction on this card is the fact that you can only score it in turn 3. At this point in the game we have access to so many easy to score objectives that the other condition of this card is very easy to meet, hell I have scored this in games where it has been in my opening hand.
And this is where the card comparison ends, this article is already getting terrifyingly long and I still have a few topics to talk about. If you do get a chance then I would totally recommend following the link above and having a look at how some of these lists are put together.
Mollog and the future meta
Unfortunately all of this analysis, despite only being a week old, is already a bit moot. We have two new warbands that are now available to play and a whole host of associated neutral cards that affect the balance in multiple ways. Luckily I have already played a tournament with this expansions active so hopefully I can give you a couple of useful insights to stay ahead of the curve.
It’s worth mentioning that said tournament was at Jamie and Bryce’s own hunting ground and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I beat the recent grand clash winner in a very strategic Mollog off. Bryce still took the glass home due to some sort of dodgy tiebreakers that he manipulated because he was TO …. (for those who might not realise I’m being sarcastic Bryce legit beat me on tiebreakers).
Mollog is absolutely top tier. His warband plays a bit like how John and Jamie used to play Spiteclaw’s swarm in season 1, except even better. The biggest challenge Mollog players face is in building his deck, which presents some unique challenges, once the community at large figure it out expect to see him taking glass all over the place. Mollog acts as a counter to the meta we saw at the grand clash, he does great into Thorns and Gitz. However, he can suffer against low fighter warbands that are able to fight him, you absolutely have to be willing to sacrifice fighters to him which can feel mad for Stormcast but its the way to do it.
The Godsworn Hunt feel like at best a mid tier warband. Tom tried his darnedest to make them work but he just can’t make them good enough. They basically feel like a mild upgrade on the Reavers, which as we have just seen are arguably the worst warband around right now. For more details he will be putting out an article soon, if he dosn’t I will have to break the whip out.
Some of the new neutral cards really change how the game is played, Tome of Offerings especially. Tome of Offerings really rewards warbands that like to put all the eggs into one ultra fighter basket, as you can get obscene amounts of glory from this upgrade. Of course Mollog is the best with this, but we might also see Fiends, Ironskullz, Chosen Axes and even Spiteclaw’s Swarm players do better then before with this upgrade.
Did I say better then before? Well if you thought Fiends were already fairly good then now is probably the time to play them, I legit think that they are the best they have ever been with the cards available right now and they also have very good anti Mollog game.
If you want a more detailed breakdown on what cards I think will affect the game from the new expansions then have a look at my previous article on the topic, I somehow managed to clock over 9000 words on that one.
Congratulations to Bryce on winning the grand clash. He is not only a fantastic player of the game but he is also a great guy to chat to. If you want to hear his thoughts on the tournament then you can read his blog post about it here or listen to him talk in depth about his experience in a podcast that I highly recommend here.
The win couldn’t have gone to someone better.
Especially because he doesn’t paint his models.
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