Is the Lockdown Meta Better?

The Meta we Feared

After being in lockdown for 10 years, I was excited to attend my first Grand Clash in a long time. I was packing a Skaeth deck I’d made mostly for a bit of fun. I’d lost the models so I had wrapped 5 pebbles in electrical tape to proxy them. It’s what Mike would have wanted, shame we lost him to the dreaded corona.

After entering Warhammer World through the new airlock system I was matched against my first opponent, a Grymwatch player. Post Coronavirus I have to clarify, he was playing with the Grymwatch faction, he was not one of the unfortunate virus victims who now resembled Duke Crackmarrow on a good day.

We shook hands and then amputated them at the wrist to be safe.

The Grymwatch player won the board roll off, and somehow set up 7 objectives on his side. Boy the games changed. I got the first turn though, and charged Skaeth in to take out Gristelwel. Unfortunately the Grymwatch player reacted with Buried Thinker for Action, giving him a guard token and allowing a free move and attack action so long as Gristelwel pondered standing on an objective.

Good Move.

The Grymwatch player then scored the surge card I Am Playing Grymwatch, giving him two glory for playing Grymwatch. After playing Pack Advance he scored Temporary Victory, In the Name of the King and In the Temporary Name of the King’s Victory for another 6 glory! He then equipped Sudden Growth, Growing Suddenly, Getting Big, Being Large, Unexpected Size, Absolute Unit and Fucking Massive to all of his fighters to provide 14 extra wounds.

Damn.

Not being able to kill anything I took the official pass action three times in the hope this alpha display would destabilise my opponents otherwise watertight game plan. Unfortunately my opposition played a card called, “No, We Will Not Stop.” Which turned every objective in his deck into a surge objective. He then proceeded to score 11 of his Twelve objectives, for being on Objectives, Being on the Board, Existing, and “Having Models”.

Well, I thought, he’s scored everything now. At least he can’t get anymore glory.

My opponents last Objective was called The Even More Perfect Match. This objective card came with a unique reaction which allowed a completely scored objective deck to be reshuffled and scored again!

As I watched my opponent excavate his scored objectives from underneath the 250 glory tokens he had amassed during round 1 I considered my options. Surely things couldn’t get worse…

He then equipped Cryptic Companion.

The Reign of the Undead

Grand Clashes in recent memory have been dominated by ghouls and ghosts of all shapes and sizes, drifting/clawing their way onto objective hexes and cackling madly as the rest of the Beastgrave struggles to prevent them. Stormsire and his plucky band of Cursebreakers had come the closest to stemming the tide, mostly due to their ability to blast away not only ghouls but the objectives they stood on as well. Not to be denied however, Thorns and Grymwatch have continued to battle it out in the upper echelons of the Underworlds competitive scene. Their ability to score large amounts of glory reliably with their unique abilities and objectives has been hitherto unmatched.

For a number of months now two new warbands have waddled onto the scene. The highly anticipated Hrothgorn and the (at least in my opinion) heavily undersold Wurmspat. These big bois and their big pack of cards shone a beacon of hope upon the Beastgrave. Surely ghasts and ghouls couldn’t continue to be successful in the face of such hulking opposition?

Well, with a few months of hashing out decks and playing in the latest meta we may have some tentative answers.

Big Bois and Big Toys

As we’ve established, the strongest warband and card combinations in the meta have been defined by the easiest and most reliable way to score glory. With a new set of cards and two new warbands, we have to re-evaluate what is easy and what is reliable in the new setting. Equally, we have to establish what effect new cards have on old warbands, and even other older cards! In my opinion the complete domination of objective play is no more, however that’s not to say the style is not still incredibly strong. Objective play simply has more to contend with, getting on objectives is not as easy as it used to be. To emphasise my point, it’s not that a new playstyle has evolved that has become more reliable than objective play, its that styles of play have evolved that make objective play less reliable.

The new warbands have play styles inherently suited to playing against the objective archetype and that has definitely been a large factor in their fall from grace. That’s not to say that all warbands can’t take pages out of Nurgle and Hrothgorns respective books to have a crack at the Grymwatch and Thorns that have pestered us for so long! Let’s look at features shared by both new warbands first.

Tanky as Balls.

Crackmarrow has nightmares about this tanky boi up in his grill

I don’t know if Gristelwel can sweat, but whatever ghoulish secretions ooze from his pasty pores I’m sure he isn’t feeling great about trying to one shot the Sepsimus or Hrothgorn bearing down on Master Talon. Grymwatch and Thorns both have a good counter punch to most aggro warbands coming at them and trying to knock them off of objectives, however even that punch may be insufficient for the tanky boys wading into the Beastgrave. Being able to advance into the territory of an objective warband with more safety is huge. Previously aggro warbands have had to hope every shot landed because there was a good chance the objective warbands would kill your fighters with a counterattack. Both the Wurmspat and Hrothgorn can exert huge amounts of pressure on hordes simply by being difficult to shift, potentially even becoming impossible to shift over the course of a game. This is even more of a pain for Grymwatch who really need to get you off of their property to inspire.

Being tanky is good, it gives your dice more margin for error, and gives the opponents dice less margin for error. If they need every attack to land to kill you they can’t afford a bad roll.

Whilst both warbands are undoubtedly tough, they both encouraged playstyles that are somewhat irritating for our objective holding opponents. First off, Nurgle.

Gambits Gonna Get Ya

No edge hex is safe, Chainrasps are getting splattered left, right and centre by avalanches and sparkly electrical treasures. Cards like Lethal Ward, Enroaching Shadow and Collapse are almost essential for the Wurmspat, but are being seen more and more to help pick off squishy ghosts and ghouls in the power step. These cards combo’d with Restless Prize and Mischievous Spirits can help ensure that objectives sit on edge hexes where 2 wound fighters are at their most vulnerable. Pop the lethal hexes near them too and suddenly Dibbz is having to expose himself much more than he would usually like just to get onto an objective. Unexpected Pitfall provides a glory boost for kills that can be achieved with these cards or lethal hexes (which is far more common given certain other cards that were released – we’ll get to those later) which means the glory swings for picking enemy fighters off of objectives can be huge. Scoring your own glory whilst simultaneously denying your opponents is the most efficient way to play!

So if we make objectives a dangerous place to be, if we shuffle them around under our opponents feet, and we wade into their territory constantly threatening with our attacks, we can really put the pressure on objective warbands who are forced to make difficult decisions about how best to score.

So what does Hrothgorn encourage to mess with hold objective play?

Duuun du du duh.. du duh… du duh can’t hold this.

How you gonna Varclav your Chainrasps onto objectives when Hrothgorn took a big ol’ treasure melting dump on all of them? Hrothgorn has 2 faction specific objective flip/removal cards as well as a faction specific surge objective for flipping/removing the tokens. This combined with Scorched Earth gives Hrothgorn reliable, easy surges that heavily deny the current meta decks! This is essentially a more efficient version of the more recent objective denial Cursebreaker decks, because the Hrothgorn player stands to score more glory for destroying the objectives than Stormsire did. It’s worth noting though that Stormsire can destroy objectives from much further away.

This playstyle is more difficult to carry over to other warbands as they lack Arm of the Everwinter, however, Scorched Earth is starting to creep back into decks as people realise just how effective objective destruction is. The oppressive ogre and his wobbly gnobblars will always be the ones that do it best though.

Touch me, and then just push me.

The next thing to check is what universal cards have really shaken the game up! One in particular stands out as having pushed the meta one hex away from where it was initially…

Nightmare in The Shadows

Our very own Michael Carlin wrote in his initial review of the new neutral cards (alongside many other prominent Underworlds players) that this card was a game changer. As much as I love Mike being wrong, there was no way the card was going to be anything but incredible.

Whatever the Skaven heard scratching around in Shadespire seems to have burst forth and become abusable by everyone else! This unrestricted neutral Distraction clone means anyone can take 2 push effects that are brilliant against the field in general, but essential for denying objective play. Combine this with cards like Restless Prize and Mischievous Spirits to all but guarantee some objective disruption in that opening hand. The abundance of good disruption cards – especially ones with generic push model effects that aren’t dead into other archetypes – means objective scoring can more reliably be delayed. This gives you time to leg it across the board and “disrupt” the enemy with large axes instead of cards. Don’t forget to move objectives onto edge hexes to get maximum effect out of any ping damage you may be playing.

All together the increased feasibility of disrupting an enemies hold objective plans not only potentially denies cards like Temporary Victory and Supremacy but also by extension blocks Combination Strike and Great Gains! With the right combination of cards you can ruin an opponent’s Turn 1 plans and be ready to stick ‘em with the pointy end of your chosen death dealing implement on Turn 2.

As we postulated initially, the combination of new cards and playstyles is just making holding objectives a little less reliable, increasing the number of bad matchups and points of failure for the squishy undead hordes.

Unnatural Truce

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of this card. More than once my opponent has played this allowing me to draw a card I needed for free. It just doesn’t feel nice giving what is essentially a free activation to your opponent with one of your precious gambit card slots.

But.

Yeah, there is a but.

Unnatural Truce and Frenzied Search together make it incredibly likely that you will get through your entire power deck, meaning you are suddenly super consistent. In addition there are end phase objective cards that reward a good amount of drawing, such as Digging Deep and To the End. Whilst these objectives are not S tier, there are so few good end phase objectives that aren’t snowbally currently these cards go up massively in priority if you build around them. These objectives are much better for smaller warbands as they often have spare activations to dig through their deck in aid of these objectives.

In addition to this, Frantic Exchange requires multiple power cards to be played in a single power step. If you’re playing power cards to draw power cards you can rack up both surge and end phase glory in a way your opponent can do NOTHING to stop. This leaves your activation’s and brain cells spare to focus on denying your opponent.

Don’t be surprised if you see more than a few opponents in the near future drawing out their deck and making bank from it.

Cryptic Companion

Want potentially a Supremacy’s worth of glory out of a single upgrade? Hell yeah you do!! Get on the Cryptic Companion hype!

Ok obviously that’s best case scenario, but there’s no denying the effect this card has on the way the game is played. Warbands that do not care about being on objectives will not take Cryptic Companion, which lowers their glory ceiling and puts added pressure on them to stop their opponents taking advantage of their ghostly glory pouch. Any warband that can afford to sit on an objective without disrupting its own game plan too much will have a backup glory generating machine at best, and a magnet for enemy gambits/attack actions at worst. Add Quickening Greaves to the fighter with Cryptic Companion and suddenly not even a last ditch Distraction is enough to remove your glory engine from an objective! Combo this with your card drawing gambits to increase your odds of getting Cryptic Companion early and start really racking up the glory from it!

This card is obviously a buff to objective play, but more specifically it helps factions that are good at holding one objective but may have struggled to hold two or three.

Ghulgoch wants you to try and hit him off the objective, he won’t bite…have a swing…

Amber-Owned

The critical mass of Amberbone weapons has been reached! You can now legitimately build a deck focused around farming glory with Amberbone weapons reliably. Whilst the 2 damage attacks will struggle to get stuck into beefy fighters, they are perfect for gouging glory out of ghouls and chainrasps alike. When every kill becomes a two glory kill it’s much easier to keep up in the glory race, especially since each kill makes it harder for you opponent to get onto their objectives. Best employed by warbands which have worse base attacks than the standard Amberbone weapon profiles, decks hacking away with Amberbone weapons are seeing a new lease of life with the dagger and spear in rotation!

Mend the End Phase

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Too often do I find myself filling out my aggro end phase deck with cards like Combination Strike, Great Gains, Opening gambit and Solid Gains. There’s a smattering of half decent faction specific end phase aggro cards, and a couple of universals (Fired Up comes to mind), but it doesn’t compete with cards like Path to Victory. Snowball objectives are also inherently less reliable for aggro as the aggro Surge objectives are less consistent.

Even objective players are looking at Supremacy with scepticism given the amount of disruption currently present in the meta. Path To Victory is about as far as most people will go in terms of end phase hold objective cards. Right now its not uncommon to see half the end phase cards built to score off of your surge objective deck. Without a reasonable alternative, sometimes winners can be determined simply by objective card draw order. If there were some more consistent end phase scorers, people would have the option of opting into the risky payout of snowball cards or the more consistent pay out of lower scoring end phase cards. Unfortunately at the minute most low scoring end phase cards feel just as risky as the snowball ones, just less rewarding!

The lack of reliable end phase glory is part of the reason why Digging Deep and To the End have begun to surface, they are the most reliable alternative to an overdependence on snowball cards. Unfortunately the draw engine isn’t an option for aggressive decks, who want to be spending activations getting off good charges rather than rattling through their decks. Pure aggro with hot dice can look unstoppable, but unfortunately the consistency without reliable end phase glory still just isn’t enough to make a big push at the higher levels of play.

Pushing the Meta Around

Given the current lockdown, tournament data in the latest meta has been relatively thin on the ground. There has been some data popping up obtained from online clashes (I’d recommend looking at Wigglehammer’s online Clash article alongside Path To Glory’s podcast on the same subject), but nothing like the amount of information we’d expect to have this far into a cycle. It’s possible that whilst in isolation hundreds of mini metas are evolving, waiting to burst forth in the next tournament as everybody emerges from their coronavirus mandated hyperbolic time chamber. I can’t wait to see what everyone has come up with, because currently I can only share my own experience and what I have been reading/listening too.

If you have any secret strats that I haven’t mentioned then tell me so I can take advantage of them!

Steel City will be aiming to push more content towards the tail end of lockdown, keep your eyes peeled for the final Chatting Crit episode of the season!

Stay Safe Everybody! Whatever you do, do not

Spread His Blessings

Cheers!!

Tom

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