This is the 2nd part in my series to help players get tournament ready. The 1st part covers some general advice that gives a good grounding in how to think about competitive Shadespire. For this article I am going to focus on the first and probably most important choice that you will make when creating your warband, what faction should you take? All of the factions strengths and weaknesses will be discussed, so even if you have a favourite faction that you always play it is worth knowing what makes your opponent tick so that you can control their game. Before I get started though I think it’s good to get some things cleared up.
In this and my previous article I have used words like deck, warband and faction and we are probably at the point where I should clear up exactly what I mean by each of these separate terms:
- Faction – the set of models and associated cards that belongs to one of the 8 ‘sides’ in Shadespire, for example Steelhearts Champions is a faction.
- Deck – the totality of cards that make up your power deck or objective deck – occasionally I refer to both decks by this term – it is essentially all the cards that you pick to take with you.
- Warband – the combination of both your decks and your fighters/faction. It’s important to make this distinction not just because it makes explaining things easier but some cards actually refer to your Warband and knowing exactly what it is means you won’t get those cards wrong.
Now onto the fun stuff
If anyone is new to the game and wants to get stuck in then I would always default to recommending fiends.
Fiends are fast, accurate, have a lot of wounds per fighter and also sport some fantastic faction specific objectives and ploys. Magore himself comes with cleave built in and has a nice hefty 4 wounds. When inspired his move goes up to 4 and his damage goes up to 3, making him one of the best fighters in the game. Riptooth (the unofficial 2nd in command of the fiends) is an absolute monster as well – charging across 5 hexes of movement when inspired with 3 damage on attacks. The also ran fighters of Ghartok and Zharkus are actually insane as well – they are almost each as good as Angharad Brightshield, another contender for best fighter in the game. On pure fighter stats if you are counting both inspired and uninspired sides of the cards then the fiends are hands down the strongest faction in the game.
Fiends are partly a victim of their own success here. From the tournaments I have been to fiends easily make up 20% of the attendees, this means your opponents will know exactly how your models work and what your likely playstyle is. Another weakness of the fiends lies in the damage that their attacks inherently do, uninspired they each cap out at 2 damage. On the plus side this weakness is very easily overcome by ploy cards – see Twist the knife, Trap, Shardgale – and inspiring their fighters – see running the 2 inspire cards. If fiends are facing a high wound faction like orcs they want to save all of their damage ploys for a big burst attack towards the end of a turn, try to keep this in mind when playing against them.
Aggro aggro aggro. Fiends are the most likely to play aggro of any of the eight factions and yes I am including Orcs in there. I have seen lists where people try a defensive style of fiends, using rivers of blood to score passive glory etc, but I have never seen it actually played and have a suspicion that those lists are inferior to defensive Steel Hearts.
One of the 2 factions released in the core set, Steelhearts champions have been a staple of tournaments since Shadespire started having tournaments.
Steelhearts has 3 very powerful fighters, Severin himself is great but Angharad and Obryn are both exceptional, meaning you don’t lose as much if your leader is assassinated. When inspired your fighters are incredibly hard to take down for anyone who doesn’t have access to cleave, 2 shield dice is a formidable defence. The faction itself has reasonable easy access to cleave in the form of Obryn inspiring or the Heroic Might Upgrade. The inspire condition means your opponent has to be very careful about attacking your fighters, trying to chip away at these guys can result in you never hitting them again. Steelheart’s also have 2 very viable and different playstyles, making it hard for your opponent to guess what you are trying to do. Finally having 3 models means you get a free crit on the roll off to determine who goes first (unless you are playing against another 3 model faction), this means that most of the time you can force your opponent to go first in turn 1, letting you decide what happens at the end of said turn.
They only have 3 models! Every single model lost really hurts the Steelheart’s and limits their ability to fight back drastically. The inspire condition, I know I listed this as a strength but hear me out, is a 50/50 so you can’t rely on it happening, if you need one of your models to be inspired this can hurt. Low mobility, all of Severins friends are at a max 3 hex move even when inspired, this can make engaging in favourable combat hard.
Sigmars favourite trio are best suited to 2 radically different playstyles. They are the absolute best warband for playing a super defensive style, see my co-authors article on how to do that here. As an alternative they also pack a hefty punch when played as full aggro .
The other 3 fighter warband are one of high finesse and versatility. They have a cool bird as well.
Every fighter in the Farstriders has a 3 range attack as an option as well as a more powerful melee attack. This gives the long legged guys a lot of options when it comes to engaging and a ridicules effective threat range for knocking fighters off of objective tokens. When inspired these guys are just as hard to hit as Steelheart’s inspired bulwark (i.e. bring cleave or leave) but the inspire condition is one that you have control over rather than a random 50/50 dice roll. The faction specific cards are pretty amazing as well, Raptors strike and Rangers advance should be in every Farstrider deck and upgrades like Flashing Handaxe + Swift Stride are absolutely bonkers in power. Another faction that has multiple playstyles, again making it hard for your opponent to judge what you are doing.
You have a combination of the Fiends and Steelhearts weaknesses. In exchange for having ranged attacks on your models your uninspired melee attacks deal very little damage and only one model inspires to do 3 damage in melee (Eagle eye). You also suffer heavily if any of your models die and in order to inspire you have to put your models in charge range of your opponent. A key way to fight Farstriders is to kill as many of them in turn 1 as you can before they inspire.
The most played form of Farstriders is aggro, synergising the inspire condition with objectives like Swift Advance, Lightning Advance and Conquest. Farstriders are the 2nd best faction at playing the ultra-defensive deck as well. It is possible to run objective Farstriders as you have 3 different versions of Supremacy you can take but if one of your models dies then it’s all over.
Cleave or leave
A quick note on the importance of cleave. 5 out of 8 of the factions use primarily shield defence, while of the 3 that use dodge 2 are quite underplayed (being the Reavers and Sepulchra Guard). This means in the vast majority of your competitive games you will be trying to overcome shield defence. Cleave negates all the normal successes on a shield dice and only leaves crits, it makes your attacks so much more accurate which means you can start betting on your attacks hitting. Against the factions that go to 2 shield defence you have suddenly taken away their biggest advantage. Put simply cleave is the best keyworded ability in the game and the fact that it cannot be gotten from neutral cards makes it an important consideration in picking a faction.
A high skill faction that has consistently placed highly at tournaments. Not recommended for beginners.
Scritch himself is arguably the best fighter in the game. You should only bother looking at his inspired side as it is so trivial to inspire him, he has a threat range of 7, deals a base damage of 3 and has 2 dodge dice defence (2 dodge are better than one shield and negate cleave). Talking about how trivial it is to inspire the fighters, you only have to play a ploy that says ‘choose’ a fighter on it and the Skaven gain a fair bit from inspiring. They are the most mobile warband in the game, making it incredibly hard to defend against and have you read Scritch’s other ability? He can resurrect any of the 3 basic Skaven in both your own and your opponent’s territory, that’s fantastic for objective play. Having 5 fighters is also a great boon if you are going the objective route.
Both playstyles of Spiteclaws Swarm rely heavily on Scritch, if he is killed early on then it is probably game over for our furry friends. Scritch is also the only really competent fighter in the bunch, aggro versions of the verminus multitude will rely on getting early glory from Scritch so that they can put Shadeglass upgrades on the weaker fighters, if they don’t get the ball rolling then they falter pretty badly. The scurrying masses also have no easy access to cleave (Scritch’s attack really doesn’t count) meaning you have to roll well on dice if you are playing aggro, especially against either of the 3 model factions.
If you are interested in further reading on our the psychotic rat people then I would highly recommend Jamie Giblin’s blog as well as John Reece’s, they are both excellent players who have a ludicrous amount of trophies between them.
The Chosen Axes
A low mobility faction that has an easy disruptable inspire condition, still if you do manage to inspire the short buggers they pack a wallop.
Remember when I said that the fiends had the strongest fighters by pure stats if you counted the uninspired and inspired sides? Well if you just count the inspired sides the stunty orange gits would like to have a word because these models gain so much from inspiring. If you have your Dwarf fighter cards handy take them out now and compare the uninspired and inspired sides, every model gains 1 wound (the only faction to do this when inspiring), every model gains 1 movement, every models gains one damage on its attack and most models gain accuracy on their attacks. Inspiring a dwarf is like 4 upgrades rolled into one.
The key wielding Fjul is the best fighter in the game when inspired; giving nice access to cleave which combined with his damage means you expect him to one shot most fighters in the game. With all those juicy damage numbers that your fighters can get to you also don’t need to include as many extra damage ploys as other factions. The selected hatchets also have probably the best combination of movement/friendly push faction cards in the game with the Earth Shakes and Treasure-lust, these will help you to reliably inspire.
Here is where things look a bit bleaker for our vertically challenged friends. Not only do they need to inspire in order to get the most out of the faction but their inspire condition is very easy to stop. Your opponent can push models off objectives with successful attacks and cards like Great concussion. When you have to rely on the uninspired side of your fighters… it’s not good. You are the least mobile faction in the game with only an average amount of fighters and so so stats, if your opponent is good then you will be at their mercy all game.
Generally Dwarves play either full on aggro (placing the objective tokens forward and advancing at the enemy) or a hybrid of objective and aggro, where you take some hold objective cards to synergise with your inspire mechanic and then take the fight to your opponent after.
Top fighters by stats
Some of the more astute among you may have noticed that I have mentioned 3 of the leaders as the strongest fighter in the game. Well here is Michael’s totally controversial 100% subjective tier list of the best fighters in the game:
1: Inspired Fjul
2: Inspired Magore
3: Inspired Scritch
4: Inspired Obryn
5: Inspired Gurzag
6. Uninspired Gurzag
7: Inspired Farstrider
8: Inspired Teft
9: Inspired Riptooth
10: Inspired Angharrad
Honourable mentions go to the Inspired Champion, Inspired Saek and Inspired Warden who are all strong fighters but didn’t quite make the list.
Note i am only counting the stats on these cards and not including how difficult/easy it is to actually get the fighter to inspire. Inspired Gurzag actually goes down a bit on the list if you count the fact that he almost always loses a wound to be inspired but then he is a lot easier to inspire then other models.
A tough faction that rewards you for fighting constantly, Shadespire’s Orcs are at home in the middle of a brawl.
The Orcs are a tough bunch to kill, shield defence and 4 health on 3 models with Gurzag rounding it out at 5, this is a faction that can take a hit and keep on going. With regards to Gurzag himself, he is a very strong fighter with 3 damage out of the gate and a reasonably accurate attack once inspired. His 2nd in command is no slouch either, Bonecutters stats speak for themselves and he acts as a nice backup plan if the Gurzag Deathstar fails. The greenskins probably have the easiest inspire condition in the game now that we have the lethal hexes – you can literally charge through a lethal hex and inspire before you hit another model. The faction specific card Kunnin’ But Brutal is a nice trick that you can pull off, especially if combo’d with Quick Thinker.
Inspiring your Orcs might be easy but it also takes away their greatest strength, being tough to kill. While Gurzag and Bonekutta are solid fighters the other two fighters, Hakka and Basha, are weak sauce, even when inspired. You have the same mobility issues that Steelhearts have but you have an extra model so you can’t be quick as tricky in deployment. Your only source of cleave comes from an upgrade that goes on either Gurzag or Bonekutta.
None of these weaknesses are deal breakers but combine them together and it feels like playing orcs is a tricky prospect.
See fighter kill fighter. The Orcs want to be fighting as much as possible and plant their wonky flag firmly in the aggro camp. I have seen attempts to play them defensive, so far that has been unsuccessful. Objective play is actually surprisingly not so bad with orcs, i mean its still not brilliant, but you can certainly surprise an opponent with that style and potentially steal a free game off them as they expect you to play full aggro.
The other starter set faction, a lot of people write off the Reavers after having played them with just the core set. Now we have all the neutral cards of phase 1 the original flavour of Khorne warriors balance precariously between extreme strengths and weaknesses.
Garrek’s boy band are the second most mobile faction in the game and have 5 fighters, if nothing else this makes their objective game pretty strong. Added to their speed are some very tasty damage stats, Saek does 3 damage straight from the get go and Garrek inspires to 3 with Karsus having his own great strength upgrade, helping him become a killing machine later in the game. The feral blood worshippers also have some wonderfully thematic objectives that synergise well with an aggressive playstyle, namely It Begins and Khorne Cares Not, when playing against them be aware of how these cards score as it can lead to a lot of glory for the skull collectors. The global inspire mechanic is worth mentioning, a skilled reaver player will sometimes feed the weaker fighters of Arnulf and Targor into the meat grinder simply in order to make the rest of their fighters better, try to keep track of how close these guys are to inspiring.
With great damage comes
great rubbish survivability. The Reavers defences are tissue thin, with one dodge dice at all times, and their health is also very low, Garrek is your only 4 hp model. All this combined means that the majority of their fighters die in one hit and that they are likely to be hit as well. Arnolf and Targor are exceptionally weak and need Shadeglass weapons to pose a threat. For me the biggest weakness of the scarlet clad warriors is their exceptionally limited access to cleave. Only inspired Saek has cleave and due to the inspire condition it usually comes late in the game, cleave is even more important for Reavers playstyle then other warbands as you really want to connect with every charge you make, if Saek misses then he will be mincemeat next turn.
As mentioned Reavers have a decent objective game but where they really shine is in aggro. Their high mobility lets them pick fights so they can surgically strike at their opponent and (hopefully) stay out of counter charge range. I can certainly see a hyrbrid deck of aggro and objective Reavers working – perhaps with mostly aggro objectives but squeezing in hold objectives 1-5 in there?
It can be tricky writing about objectives in Shadespire as it actually means three things:
- Objective tokens that are placed on the board at the beginning of the game
- The cards that go in your objective deck and score you glory
- The term used to describe a playstyle or deck that mostly scores glory from sitting on objective tokens and scoring glory from objective cards that count you controlling objective tokens…
Wonderous wordplay aside, what actually makes a faction suited to objective play? The key to objective play is in controlling as many objective tokens as possible at the end of each turn. High mobility and high model count are your staples here, being able to reach the objectives and being able to continue taking them even after some of your models have died. Outside of that the resurrection ability of the Warden and Scritch are both exceptional at bringing models back onto the board, where they can cheekily be pushed back onto objectives through the use of ploys like sidestep.
Whoa we are almost there. Take a deep breath as we talk about the final faction.
The Sepulchra Guard
7 fighters. 7 Fighters! THE SEPULCHRA GUARD HAVE SEVEN FIGHTERS!
Note i may be up late and on a lot of coffee at the point of writing this.
Not to beat around the bush here, but the Sepulchra guard do have seven fighters. This actually really helps objective play as you can set up all over your board and have any friendly objective tokens surrounded by your models. The Wardens ability to move 2 fighters with one activation means that the faction is incredibly activation efficient, you can spend one activation to get onto 2 objective tokens and then still have 3 left for a turn.
Something a lot of players underestimate is the power of some of the undead fighters, both the warden and the champion pack a punch with the champion having inbuilt cleave and the warden inspiring to a very accurate 3 damage attack. I have mentioned the resurrection ability above as a great trick to help you get fighters back onto objectives, if you are really tricksy you can use Shifting Shards/Mischievous Spirits to move objective tokens onto starting hexes so that models can resurrect straight onto an objective token.
Petitioners are rubbish. The uninspired prince of dust is rubbish (hes ok when inspired). The Harvest is pretty rubbish when inspired or not (hitting multiple models at once often just makes you less accurate as you give them support results on defence dice). So that means you have 2 ‘good’ fighters who still don’t make it onto my objective and 100% correct top 10 fighters list.
You are about as mobile as Dwarves, hint not very. The Wardens ability to move two fighters with one activation is amazing but very limited by this low movespeed. The resurrection ability, while a fantastic trick, also uses an activation, often when using it you constantly feel like you are playing catch up instead of proactively winning the game. The boney fighters die just as easily as Reavers but due to having SEVEN FIGHTERS you have to set up on every starting hex, there is no hiding at the back from an early charge here.
Despite my constant harping on about their abundance of objective taking friendly abilities the post living swarm is actually ok when played aggressively, your fighters can keep coming back and their are some good faction ploys to support this type of play (Ceaseless Attacks + the Necromancer commands). They are mainly played as treasure hording objective takers though. As for defensive decks? The Warden and his merry men need not apply.
We made it!
I apologise for the length of this article. When starting i don’t think i realised just how many words i would have to devote to describing each of the factions. I could certainly have written less but i feel like it would have been to bare on details to actually be useful to players.
Thank you to everyone who did manage to read this far. I hope you found it enjoyable and useful to your understanding of the game.