Restriction Breeds Creativity – Building Decks with Restricted Cards

Edit 18/02/19: This article has been affected by today’s update to the Banned and Restricted List – see my follow up article for more details.

The introduction of the Banned and Restricted List back in November has brought a new dimension to deckbuilding in Warhammer Underworlds. Players now have to weigh up some of the most powerful cards in the game (and some… less powerful… ones) and choose just 5 to include in their deck. Making the right decision here can be tricky but have a huge impact on your deck, so in this article I’ve tried to give some advice to help make the decision easier.

What follows is my rating of each of the cards on the current (November 2018) restricted list, grouped by type and then by rough categories of similar effect (damage boosts, extra actions, defensive cards, etc). I’ve tried to give my reasoning for why I’ve ranked the cards in the way I have along with some suggestions of when you might (or might not) want to take them, and a few non-restricted universal alternatives – either for the specific cards or the category as a whole.

I’ve used our standard rating scale for these cards, but here it’s intended to be more of a reflection of how worthwhile it is spending a slot on the card for most warbands rather than an absolute rating so it’s going to be a bit more polarised than normal. Almost all of these cards are among the strongest universal cards in the game, and so need a slightly different approach to create a bit more distinction. For reference, this is what the numbers mean (Mike‘s examples below might not 100% match my ratings in this article…):

  • 5 – Best in class effects that should go in basically every deck that can take them (Ready for Action, Hidden Paths, Faneway Crystal)
  • 4 – Powerful or versatile effects that are extremely strong in a particular archetype or pretty good in any deck (Abasoth’s Withering, Deathly Fortitude, Extreme Flank)
  • 3 – Solid effects that will find a place in many decks (Haymaker, Sidestep, Strong Start)
  • 2 – Limited effects that might be useful in some specialised decks (Earthquake, No Time, Grand Melee)
  • 1 – Just plain bad cards (Our Powers Combined, Interdiction)

Restricted Objectives

A good objective deck lets you get away with taking slightly weaker cards in your power deck, so I would personally suggest starting here. Some of the restricted objectives are the best universal ones in the game, and are much harder to replace with non-restricted alternatives than many of the gambits and upgrades on the list.

Passive Objectives

These are objectives that are easy to score, require minimal investment of cards or activations, and are hard for your opponent to disrupt. In my opinion this type of objective is the strongest in the game, and most decks should be looking to include a good number of these – even aggro strategies. Having a strong base of passive objectives means that you can keep gaining glory no matter what happens, and gives you more freedom with your activations to react to what your opponent is doing.

Extreme Flank (5)

Edit 18/02/19: Extreme Flank was banned in the February 2019 update to the Banned and Restricted list – see my follow up article for more details

This is probably the best passive objective in the game right now. It requires very little investment, is hard to stop (especially if your warband is large enough to threaten it with multiple fighters at once), and you can even start the game in position to score it if you choose the right board. I can’t really think of a good reason not to run this, even in an aggressive deck.

Most of the other high-scoring low-investment objectives are also restricted, so there aren’t really any direct alternatives. You could consider Keep Them Guessing as another 2 glory passive, or Skirting Danger as an easy positioning-based objective, but why not take them as well as this, not instead of it?

Alone in the Darkness (4.5)

With Zarbag’s Gitz and the Thorns of the Briar Queen being two of the most popular warbands at present Alone in the Darkness is a bit weaker than it used to be (and than Extreme Flank), but it’s still a very good card and a strong contender for a restricted slot in most decks. Again, there’s not really a direct alternative, and my comments on Extreme Flank apply here as well.

Fired Up (3.5)

Whether this is worth it really depends on what your warband’s inspire condition is. The easier and more controllable it is, the more worthwhile it is to include this card. Yes its only one glory, but it’s a really easy one glory for Spiteclaw’s Swarm, the Cursebreakers, and a few others.

Shining Example is a good non-restricted alternative, as long as your leader is as easy to inspire as the rest of your fighters and your gameplan doesn’t involve putting them at risk. You could also consider Heroes All if you’re on an inspiration plan and your warband tends to inspire during the same round, but it’s a lot less good.

Escalation (3)

Escalation is undoubtedly a strong card, even if I personally don’t like it, but it’s one that needs to go in the right deck. Having an incentive to play your upgrades in the action phase (or rely on your opponent doing so) can lead to needing to make hard choices when playing upgrades and discarding cards in the end phase. The more glory you can get in the action phase the better this will be for you.

As someone who tended to be on the fence about Escalation before the restricted list, the fact that it now competes with better objectives (not to mention gambits and upgrades) means that I will pretty much never take it now, although I realise this is a personal bias and if you run more aggressive decks it’s still a strong contender and worthy of a slot.

Other passive objectives that you can score just for playing your other cards work as alternatives (Ploymaster, Master of War, etc), and you could use Geared for War or Chosen Champion as vaguely similar upgrade-focused objectives even though neither are as good.

Perfect Planning (1)

Why this is even a restricted card is still a mystery to me. It was a pretty marginal include in the full defensive archetype that’s pretty much been killed by a combination of the bans of Quick Thinker and Great Concussion and the new teleports and damage gambits in Nightvault. Even before it was restricted it felt really clunky (sometimes you really need to move to not get killed by Saek or Skritch in turn 1) and now that it competes with the best cards in the game its really not worth it.

Skirting Danger, Unbroken Wall, and Well Guarded are all better defensive passive objectives than Perfect Planning, and would be even if it wasn’t restricted.

Loner (1)

Like Perfect Planning this really isn’t in the same tier as the rest of the restricted list, so I’m not sure why it’s here – I don’t think I’ve ever even seen it played? The main strengths of this objective are that no one’s going to play around it deliberately in game 1, but after that it’s not a great option. Any of the cards suggested for Perfect Planning above are decent alternatives here too.

Score Immediately Objectives

Pretty much any deck can benefit from having a few of these, although I really don’t like having more than half of the objective deck be score immediately objectives even in aggressive lists. They’re powerful, but they can also be risky. When they work out well they help you leverage your attacks to score more glory, and make it easier to score objectives like Solid Gains, Master of War, and Superior Tactician.

Sometimes, though, you end up playing into a defensive deck and your whole hand is dead in the early game as you just don’t get to make attacks. Even against another aggressive deck you can end up having the wrong objectives for the situation and struggle to get glory from your kills.

Because of this I’ve generally rated these a bit lower – I just think it’s better to spend restricted card picks on strong passive objectives and ploys rather than upgrading a merely good score immediately objective for a great one.

Change of Tactics (4.5)

Change of Tactics is kind of the exception, though. It’s just a really strong card, especially for warbands with high move and/or ranged attacks. Not having to kill or even hit your target means that you basically just get free glory at the cost of taking a guard action (and if you can do that with a ploy, or are running Keep Them Guessing then that’s not even an issue).

Generally it’s pretty straightforward whether or not you want to spend a slot on this. If you’re running a fully defensive or hold objective list and are basically never going to be charging then it’s not worth it. If you play an aggressive horde warband like Garrek’s Reavers or the Godsworn Hunt then its probably not the best use of your activations. Otherwise, though, it’s almost always going to be worth it.

Advancing Strike (3.5)

This is another strong immediate objective that pretty much just requires you to be playing an aggressive deck to be able to consistently score, but its still not too hard to drop for something a bit more specific that isn’t on the restricted list as long as you’re running a sensible number of these objectives.

Precise Use of Force (3)

Precise Use of Force is a good generic score immediately, but it does sometimes lead to awkward plays where you either make it impossible to score or have to use a sub-optimal attack or specific sequence of attacks and ploys to score it, depending on your fighters’ current upgrades and what your opponent is running. Because of this it’s a lower priority to spend a slot on.

Defensive Strike (2)

This is a lot easier to drop than Advancing Strike, as not only do you need to be playing a warband that wants to hang back, your opponent needs to be playing one that wants to come to you.

While these are probably the best score immediately objectives (that aren’t Harness the Storm or Treacherous Foe) there are still a lot of universal and warband-specific options that you can use instead. There’s not much difference between these and slightly worse or more specific alternatives when taking one of the latter means you also get to include stronger gambits or upgrades.

Cover Ground can be an alternative to Change of Tactics for warbands with higher base movement, performing a similar role as an immediate objective that doesn’t require you to hit an opponent. Depending on what warband you’re playing What Armour? and Get Thee Hence could be good ideas to substitute for Advancing Strike or Precise Use of Force, and a meta with a lot of horde warbands makes Crushing Force more attractive.


Restricted Gambits

After objectives, gambits are the next most important type of card to look at. There are some very strong ploys on the restricted list (and they’re exclusively ploys at the moment), and no matter what warband or type of deck you prefer there are certainly going to be at least a few cards on this list that you may want to include.

Extra Action Gambits

I’d suggest that most decks should have at least one of these, and if they don’t there should be a very good reason. Taking actions in the power phase is very strong, no matter what your gameplan is, and the two restricted extra action cards are hands down the easiest ways of doing this.

For both of these there aren’t any good universal alternatives, so unless your warband’s extra action cards are close to their power (and I don’t think any of them are at present) you probably want to take at least Ready for Action.

Ready For Action (5)

This is the best extra action card in the game, and there are very few warbands where it’s not worth a slot. The flexibility you get from being able to move or attack with it makes it excellent for both defensive and aggressive archetypes, and it requires very little setup – you just need to be able to play an upgrade in the action phase (although this will occasionally mean you have to make awkward decisions like with Escalation). Good synergy with strong objectives like Keep Them Guessing, Master of War, and Mad Scurry/March of the Dead is just the icing on the cake.

My Turn (3)

My Turn is also very strong card, but you shouldn’t take it if you’re relying on your opponent to trigger it – it’s just too easy to one-shot most warbands’ fighters. You really want to be running a few cards that damage your fighters before spending a restricted slot on it, and the more you have the more attractive it is. The exception to this is Mollog’s Mob (and an argument could be made for Ironskull’s Boyz as well) where your opponent generally has to accept that they’ll need to hit you twice to take you out.

Damage Gambits

The number of fighters that can naturally reach the all-important 4 damage required to one-shot the majority of models in the game is extremely low, so if you want to take fighters out of action efficiently you need damage boosts (and if you want to do this in the first round these probably need to be gambits).

These cards were less important for a while with 2 of the most popular warbands in the meta being hordes, but we’re probably going to see an upswing in people playing Mollog’s Mob (or trying to counter them) so aggressive decks probably need to spend at least 1 pick here.

Twist the Knife and Trap (4)

These are the best extra damage ploys as your opponent doesn’t get a chance to react to them. Twist the Knife is usually the best option, as it still works when the opponent is trapped (or Ghartok), but Trap can be better if your main attackers have range 2+ attacks or you’re running Masterstroke.

There aren’t really any direct alternatives to these gambits, although there are a lot of other ways to deal extra damage. Encroaching Shadow and Lethal Ward are possibilities, as are damaging gambit spells like Sphere of Azyr for spellcasting warbands, but all of them give your opponent a chance to react after your attack (or after the gambit if you use it first). There’s also the various cards that boost the next attack you make, but I’m not a huge fan of them with how easy to counter they are.

You could also consider more symetrical source sources of damage instead, especially if you’re looking at running My Turn. Shardgale is very strong at the moment with how popular horde warbands like the Thorns and Gitz are, and Shattering Terrain lets you charge in for two attacks in a row with an additional damage on the knockback.

Pit Trap (3.5)

Pit Trap is basically the same as Trap, but slightly less good as it’s a reaction after the attack rather than during it and so can be stopped by My Turn, Angharad’s counter attack, and so on. If Trap works for your warband and you want a second damage boost then Pit Trap is a good choice, but otherwise I’d take the other two ahead of it.

Other Gambits

The remaining two gambits on the list don’t really fit into a single category, so I’ve put them together here. Both of them don’t really have good universal alternatives (although interestingly the Thorns of the Briar Queen have good alternatives for both).

Illusory Fighter (4.5)

Illusory Fighter is a very strong gambit, with fewer limitations than the other universal teleports. It’s at it’s best in warbands with a single powerful fighter they want to protect (Mollog, Skritch, The Briar Queen, etc), but also good for defensive decks and making surprise charges with aggressive lists.

The other universal teleports just don’t compare as alternatives as they’re all move actions, meaning that if you’re not playing the Nighthaunt warband and want to be able to save fighters that have already moved then you’ll have to spend one of your restricted slots here. You could consider Potion of Grace etc to avoid getting the first move token, but that’s pretty clunky.

Earthquake (2)

Remember when this was an overpowered card? How things have changed. Other than being the best way to counter Extreme Flank, Earthquake’s really not that useful in most decks now. It doesn’t have the flexibility that Great Concussion did, and only really does one thing – mess with hold objective decks. The one thing that can be said in its favour is that now that it’s less popular people are less likely to play around it or have their own copy to counter with.

Generally I’d suggest taking other pushes instead if you need some disruption, although none of the universal ones have quite as big an impact. Even Distraction tends to do the job most of the time, and you could try experimenting with Centre of Attention or Irresistable Prize (I’ve had mixed success with them so far).


Restricted Upgrades

You can probably get away with skipping most of these and focusing your picks on the gambits and objectives. With the exception of the damage upgrades, none of them are vital, and there are a lot of alternatives and other types of upgrade you may want to include.

Defensive Upgrades

Edit 18/02/19: Sudden Growth and Deathly Fortitude are now restricted as of the February 2019 update to the Banned and Restricted list – see my follow up article for more details

This is the easiest category of upgrades to skip. Neither of the restricted defensive upgrades are really worth taking over more reliable options like Sudden Growth, and you can still run gambits like Last Chance and Rebound if you like coin flips (and who doesn’t?).

It’s also important to note that these cards do absolutely nothing to protect you against gambit spells, lethal hexes, and a few edge case cards like Lightning Whip – they’re for ploys and attacks only. Spending a restricted card slot on Tethered Spirit, only to have it denied when your fighter is killed by Cry of Thunder is just not where you want to be.

In the vast majority of cases you really don’t want to spend 2 of your slots on these, and you probably don’t even want to spend one.

Tethered Spirit (2.5)

If you want to spend a slot on one of these, this is usually going to be the one you take as the bonus Illusory Fighter effect helps protect your fighter from follow-up attacks.

Soultrap (2)

The only time this is better than Tethered Spirit is when you want to stay in position to hold an objective or make a counter attack.

Glory Upgrades

Upgrades are getting a lot stronger in Nightvault with Faneway Crystal, Bag of Tricks, Warding Scroll and so on basically being gambits that you need to pay glory for. This means it’s a lot harder to justify devoting upgrade slots to glory, especially with the 2 best options now being restricted and competing with your objectives and gambits as well.

Slumbering Key and A Destiny to Meet (2)

These are both still very strong cards (or a very strong card, seeing as they’re identical) but I think they just don’t do enough to be worth the restricted slot. Most of the other restricted cards do a lot more to help you win than just giving one glory at the end of the game, unfortunately.

Formless Key and Hero’s Mantle are both decent non-restricted alternatives if you still want to get glory from your upgrades, although they’re both more restrictive in their own ways and which one is best for you really depends on what else you’re trying to do.

Hold objective decks should consider the 2 glory keys instead, for their end game spike potential, and with Faneway Crystal it’s not a terrible idea to take 1 or 2 of them in other archetypes if you’ve got the slots. There’s also Tome of Glories and Tome of Offerings – I’m not personally a fan, but my teammates here at Steel City like them and I can’t deny they’re solid cards.

Accuracy Upgrades

All the damage boosts in the world won’t help if you don’t actually hit your enemy. There’s a lot of good ploys to help you with this, but because of the high competition for the gambit half of your power deck taking some upgrades can really help – especially if your main fighters don’t get better than 2S accuracy naturally. Most of the time you can probably get away without using either of the two restricted ones, but for some warbands they’re invaluable.

Helpful Whispers and Awakened Weapon (3)

I feel like these two cards are pretty much equivalent – both of them help you land hits, and while there’s almost certainly an objective difference between how good they are depending on the number of dice you’re rolling etc it really comes down to which you prefer (and how often you forget Helpful Whispers and move fighters in to get support – not that I’ve ever done that…).

Potion of Rage is a strong alternative, although it only works for one attack, and attack upgrades with better dice characteristics than your fighters’ natural attacks can work too. Light Armour is also nice, especially if your warband already has poor defenses and so aren’t giving up as much.

Damage Upgrades

Like with damage ploys, damage upgrades remain important for aggressive warbands looking to take out high health fighters as quickly as possible. These are less important early on, but are more efficient later in the game as they can affect multiple attacks. Fortunately they also tend to be easier to replace, between warband-specific options and unrestricted universal cards.

Incredible Strength (3.5)

Great Strength being unrestricted means your first universal +1 strength upgrade is free, so you only have a problem if you want 2. And with the growing popularity of Mollog’s Mob as well as the existing 4 health warbands you probably do if you’re an aggressive deck. The big question is how many of these you want, and

Gloryseeker is a good alternative, although it is a lot weaker against the popular ghost and goblin warbands. Attack upgrades can also be an option, depending on your fighters’ base stats (although see below). There are also a few warband-specific options, although most of them are restricted to specific fighters and so less easy to include.

Shadeglass Dagger / Shadeglass Hammer (3)

These are great cards, but probably a bit easier to drop given that their role in most decks that run them is more of a back-up plan – sometimes Skritch dies and you have to pin your hopes on a clanrat wielding a shiny hammer. They’re still undeniably the best cards of their type, just because of their high damage potential, but there are alternatives in the other Shadeglass weapons (the Spear and Axe are good ways) and the new Nullstone weapons. Mutating Maul is also a good option as well as a way to help score What Armour? or Get Thee Hence.


Building a Deck

So, how does this all fit together? Well, it really depends on the warband and deck archetype you’re playing but here’s a few general points to help you pick.

It’s almost always right to pick 5 restricted cards. These are some of the best effects in the game, so unless you’re doing something completely off-the-wall (or your warband’s cards are just that good) then these are probably the best options available in their class – you just need to find which 5 are most important to you.

Pick cards that play to your gameplan. This may go without saying, but outside a few options like Ready for Action you shouldn’t take a card just because it’s the best in an ‘objective’ sense – it needs to fulfill a role in your deck and synergise with the rest of your cards. This means that you should sometimes take a weaker option that fits better with the rest of your list rather than a strong one that doesn’t.

Prioritize effects that are harder to replace. Either cards with no alternative, or ones where the alternatives are significantly worse, are better choices than ones with alternatives that are close in power – the difference between Illusory Fighter and Shadowed Step is a lot bigger than that between Incredible Strength and Gloryseeker for example.

Prioritize strong objectives over other cards. Having a good objective deck can make up for a slightly weaker power deck, although as mentioned before this may just be my personal opinion. Because of this, as well as the fact that most of the restricted objectives are very strong, it’s generally going to be a better idea to take objectives than power cards with most of your picks.

Use your warband’s cards where possible. No warband-specific cards are currently banned or restricted, so if you have access to an effect that’s close (or identical) to one of the restricted cards then you can take it


Steel City Opinions

Finally, I thought I’d make use of the fact that we’re a team blog to ask my teammates and co-authors’ opinions for another perspective. Here’s their top cards and a few words of wisdom – how much stock you put in their ramblings is up to you.


Tom

“I feel like these will all be similar”

  1. Ready For Action
  2. Escalation
  3. Change of Tactics
  4. Shadeglass Dagger
  5. Extreme Flank

 


Hobbit

 

“Honorable mention: Earthquake”

  1. Ready For Action
  2. Escalation
  3. Awakened Weapon
  4. Helpful Whispers
  5. Defensive Strike

 


Mike

 

  1. Ready For Action: this card is legitimately in a tier of its own and is the only card that I use in every single deck I build.
  2. Change of Tactics: I love score imediately cards that are very reliable – if you have a large threat range for attacks then change of tactics is perfect.
  3. Alone in the Darkness
  4. Extreme Flank: I rate these both equally – solid glory for potentially doing nothing. Their only downside is that they are so ubiqitous your opponents will know how to stop them.
  5. Escalation: more reliable then Alone/Extreme but hard to score on turn 1.

 


Hopefully that gives you some ideas about how to choose which restricted cards make it into your deck, and helps give you an edge at your next event or just when playing with your mates. We’ll be back soon with more Warhammer Underworlds content – until then, good luck and have fun!


At Steel City we would love to have your feedback. If you have something to say about a specific article then feel free to comment below, if you want to get in touch about the blog in general, or just prefer to communicate privately then you can get in touch by emailing us at team@steelcityshadespire.com

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