Troll Tomes is dead, long live Troll Tomes!
Wow July has been a busy month for Warhammer Underworlds. We have had the first ever two day grand clash, a new and extremely powerful expansion released, an FAQ/ Errata update and not one but two updates to the BAR list. The amount of attention being lavished on this game from GW gives me high hopes for its future.
As you can probably guess from the title, this article is going to talk about all the new additions to the BAR list. I’m also going to talk a bit at the end about the overall direction of the game and some concerns that I have but will try to keep it short and to the point.
Heads up I always have this problem when a new BAR update arrives where my gut reaction is one of anger and dismay. A lot of the decks I play don’t just get hurt but get totally gutted and I feel like i need to relearn how to deck build almost from the ground up again. However after time settles I always prefer the state that the game ends up in and appreciate that these updates are definitely for the better. That said I do still have issues with some of the specific card choices that are made. Today I will attempt to be as objective as possible about all the choices made, although my eye might twitch when I get to Acolyte of the Katophranes.
Freya: I’m also here! I thought I’d add to Mike’s ranting with some stats from the last Grand Clash to provide context (I didn’t do all that work for nothing…), and also maybe add a dissenting opinion to some of his. I’ll mark restrictions I agree with with a ✅, ones I don’t with a ❌, and ones I’m not sure on with a ❓ .
Edit – Tom inserted himself into this article as well while I wasn’t looking.
Burst of Speed
The twin brother of Longstrider, who got an even shorter run at being unrestricted. Both of these cards are Mollog specials and this being restricted hurts both his defensive and aggro variants. Mollog has certainly been doing well recently and won the big 2 day grand clash but he is far from oppressively strong. Personally I feel like the best way to hit Mollog is by restricting the cards that cheat the Inspire mechanic, namely Inspiration Strikes/Regal Vision/Blazing Soul, these cards make it trivial for the big troll to hit the magic 4 damage threshold and to charge (ahem activate Tome of Glories) twice in a turn. I do worry that the future mechanics of the game are restricted by those cards, lots of times when I have thought of crazy interesting warband mechanics I get stopped because Inspiring is such an easy cost to pay.
Burst of Speed/Longstrider were also potentially usable by Spiteclaw Swarm/Sepulchral Guard players due to movement tokens disappearing on death. For a look at a crazy deck that abused these shenanigans pop onto this site.
Overall I am happy with Mollog seeing some targeted nerfs, he might not be oppresive but his existence skews the game around him and seeing him at the top tier is a scary thing. I still think they should have gone about it a different way but this is certainly better then nothing.
Freya: ✅ Burst of Speed is pretty much exclusively used by Mollog at the moment (there was 1 Profiteers decklist that also included it for Seek the Skyvessel), and definitely feels very strong when you play against it. It was only in 13.46% of decklists overall, but 86% of Mollog lists, meaning it’s pretty much a Mollog warband card. Restricting it to match Longstrider makes sense, and I think this is generally fine.
I am 100% on board with this restriction. Warning shot was not only far too easy to score for some warbands but its existence helped the disparity in power between ranged and melee attacks. Its also a frustrating card to play with yourself as you can’t rely on it at all. The only unfortunate side effect of this card hitting the BAR is that it hurts Farstriders a fair bit.
Freya: ❌ Strong disagree – I really don’t think this was needed. It’s best for Profiteers (100% usage), who aren’t really dominant at the moment, and (like trying to get Masterstroke etc with re-roll ploys) isn’t consistently scorable. 28.85% of decks ran this, which is really more of a comment on just how many warbands now have range 3+ attacks – I guess it’s too late to do anything about that though.
Tom: This was a nice Score Immediately card for Gitz and Profiteers thats now restricted. I agree with Freya, I don’t think this card was breaking the game. Warning shot has 2 huge downsides. 1) it requires a miss and 2) you have 0 control over scoring it. There are no cards you can equip to yourself to make you less accurate.
Acolyte of the Katophranes
For anyone who doesn’t know I am very biased towards this card as I built a powerful and potentially meta defining deck around it.
I can see the argument for this being restricted. If it wasn’t then it is the most powerful turn 3 objective that isn’t restricted in the game. Now it takes its place alongside Superior Tactician as a card you have to pay for.
Unlike Superior Tactician Acolyte demanded you devote a very large chunk of your upgrades (most of them being useless on their own) into making this work and it also requires your tome bearer to be alive at the end of the game AND it also requires you to get enough glory to equip said tomes as the game progressed. The restrictions to make this card work put it firmly in the build around me camp, this is not a card you idly toss into any deck to make it work.
I’m honestly genuinely quite sad to see this card restricted, I don’t think it needed it.
Freya: ❌ I really agree with Mike here. Most of the tomes are kind of… bad? Acolyte can lead to big round 3 glory swings, but having to take 5-7 upgrades (of which you probably only want 2-3) to make it worthwhile is a massive cost. It was also only played by 13.46% of players at the Grand Clash, so it’s not as if the archetype is even an overwhelming part of the meta. Kind of sad to see it go – I don’t think I’d ever take it over Superior Tactician now?
Tom: I echo the above, now Superior Tactician and Acolyte are Restricted, why pick Acolyte? If Tome Mollog was a problem (it is undoubtedly a strong deck) I think the Burst of Speed, Upper Hand and Spiritbond Restrictions do a job of hitting both the passive glory and the reliable counterattack the deck provided, without neutering the deck completely.
Control play appears stronger because most people either aren’t prepared for it or don’t expect it. I think encouraging this style of play will force people to diversify their decks to counter it. This might encourage more diversity than each strong control deck iteration getting restricted.
I wrote in detail in this article about how I would like Calculated Risk to stay unrestricted. I also said that I fully expect it to be restricted despite my inclinations because of its ubiquity. Freya did the stats and it was the most popular unrestricted objective by quite a margin. Counter-intuitively this actually hurts aggro decks/warbands the most and Godsworn in particular. This was a way for decks to get a glory within the first turn to equip a key upgrade with little investment other then picking the correct board.
I think we will see a lot less boards with lethal hexes on now. Oh, this is a slight buff to Mollog and Thorns as well since one of them hated having to take this objective and the other couldn’t score it.
Freya: ✅ I was going back and forth on this – there is a downside to this card that hurts some warbands a lot (the reason I didn’t play it myself), but I don’t think that’s really enough of an issue for most warbands that want it so it does feel a lot like free glory. As Mike says, the stats really support this too, with 65.38% of decks running it.
Tom: I totally get this one, I loved seeing lots of lethal hexes though.
This one is certainly a question mark for me. Freya was the highest placing Cursebreaker at the two day grand clash and didn’t run either this or its newer brother Strange Demise. She was running a build with 6 spells as well so she was playing the exact archetype that would want to take this card… if it was good enough.
I feel like this actually hurts Eyes of the Nine more then Cursebreakers as their most viable build right now was going all in on making Vortimus a crazy spell slinging mega threat.
So yeh, this one is a miss from me.
Freya: ❌ Yep. Immediate objectives that require kills are a lot weaker than the ones you can just score arbitrarily like Calculated Risk and Change of Tactics, and ones that require you to order your damage in a particular way so the right source gets the kill are even riskier. It wasn’t even that widely used, with 21.15% of decks including it. Also, Strange Demise and Death from Afar remain unrestricted?
Tom: Another card I didn’t think was gamebreaking. It required the right gambit spells or a fighter with a spell attack action. A nerf targetted at Ylthari, Stormsire and Vortemis. Two of those warbands are strong, but I don’t think this card was why.
The only reason I can see for this card being restricted is that it has a picture of Vortimus on it and apparently the devs hate eyes of the Nine. Another spell damage related card that Freya didn’t take. I spent a while making a full magic damage Cursebreaker deck and the reason I didn’t take it to the grand clash is because is wasn’t at all reliable. This card is great if at the time it is in your hand you are doing spell damage but even with decks built completely around that its not always the case.
Freya: ❌ I will admit that I had like 5 minutes to look at the Power Unbound cards before the Grand Clash, so I may not have given all of them the attention they deserve...
I probably wouldn’t have taken this anyway, even in a more aggressive deck – it’s not spell damage, and it’s not dealt by one of your fighters, so the only objective it’s really good for is Masterstroke. It appeared in21.15% of decklists so not everyone agrees with me, but that’s still not a huge number.
The lack of synergy with objectives – and the fact that it’s only marginally better than Encroaching Shadow, Lethal Ward, etc – really reduce it’s power level and make it a questionable choice for restriction.
Tom: As with all combo cards they feel great when they go off but rubbish when they sit in your hand and stop you drawing. The impact of a ‘bricked’ hand is often much harder to appreciate than the feeling of one shotting a Git with Sphere of Aqshy though. I don’t have a huge amount of experience playing with or against this card, it’s possible many of my opponents were running it and it just sat stuck in their hand all game long. Not sure this needed restricting. I certainly don’t think ALL these spell cards needed restricting.
I’m on the fence with this one. It is unarguably the most powerful accuracy ploy in the game (yes it does work on 0-0 ties) and gives Mollog a scary amount of accuracy with very little investment. On the other hand I like powerful accuracy cards existing, the only reason I don’t play more aggro myself is due to the unreliability of dice which cards like this can offset. It is totally not a coincidence that I took aggro Mollog to the last grand clash while this card was unrestricted.
This is a slight nerf to aggro in general and a larger nerf to aggro Mollog. It’s actually a big nerf to defensive Mollog as it gave him an easy way to be accurate with very little deck investment as well.
Freya: ✅ Yeah, I agree with Mike (again). This is unquestionably the best accuracy boost in the game, and the only downside it has is that it doesn’t make you more likely to crit for cards that care about that. It kind of feels like a no-brainer for aggressive decks now that people have access to Power Unbound and GW have clarified how it works, so despite only 30.77% of decks including it I think this is a sensible move. It’s a shame, though, because I was just about to put it in my Guardians deck…
Tom: Go back to not rolling your defense dice.
Sphere of Aqshy
Another card that I am 100% happy being restricted. One damage in the power step which goes off 95% (I’m counting the fact that people rig the magic dice so often in those unquestionably correct stats) of the time and has no restrictions on fighter placement except needing line of sight from a Wizard. Oh and for Cursebreakers it also scores Harness the Storm and inspires a fighter. Oh and unlike Abasoths Withering it counts as your warband doing the damage so will trigger any kill objectives like Advancing Strike/Strange Demise. Oh and it can be buffed by Damning Pact/Sourcerous Flourish if you so choose.
Yup, very happy to see this on the list.
Freya: ✅ The second most commonly used non-restricted gambit shouldn’t be a spell, given that only like a third of warbands can even cast them. There’s still a bunch of other options so making this restricted isn’t too bad for magic decks, but as the simplest and most straightforward damage spell this feels right on the restricted list alongside Trap, Twist the Knife, etc. 40.38% of decks overall, 100% of Cursebreakers, and 88% of guardians.
Tom: This I feel is the only magic based card on the list that needed restricting. Easy 1 damage autocast that is restricted to certain warbands and super reliable on Cursebreakers. Good call.
If you are going to have Helpful Whispers be a restricted card then you should also restrict this card, as overall its actually better. Personally I would like both to be unrestricted for reasons I have said above as its another way to boost the accuracy of an attack which makes aggro a lot more fun for me. The fact that Spiritbond is an upgrade and restricted means it will be played in less then 1% of decks now, which is sad.
This restriction makes sense based on previous decisions and is a fairly reasonable one but again I’d rather have not seen it.
Freya: ❓ I really don’t know about this, to be honest? I’d probably lean towards agreeing with this decision – the card is very good, especially for warbands with a lot of fighters that don’t lose anything from leaving one safe fighter at the back. 26.92% of decks included it, although that may have been higher if there was longer between Power Unbound being released and the Grand Clash.
Tom: If Helpful Whispers got restricted then this should be, its almost always better. You have to decide whether you want your aggro deck restricted slots to be spent on hitting harder or hitting more reliably, which I think is a cool deck building challenge. The fact that this card actually boosts defensive stats as well as offensive ones is probably what pushed it over the edge, no one needs to see this on Snirk.
Exactly like Spiritbond, another strong accuracy upgrade that gets restricted. This in combination with Warning Shot being restricted might be just the soft touch we need to see non ranged warbands make a comeback. For that sake alone I am very happy with this restriction.
Freya: ❌ Unlike Mike, I don’t think this should be restricted. It’s a lot less flexible than Awakened Weapon, Helpful Whispers, or Spiritbond and only 21.15% of decks included it, even with the popularity of warbands with range 3 attacks. This hurts Guardians and Profiteers most (gotta get them crits), both of whom tend towards more aggressive playstyles too.
Tom: Super accurate Stormsire lasers boosted by this card and Well of Power were the bane of many underworlds players. This levels the playingfield for horde warbands that struggle to bring down the 2 damage 3 range threats in the game. Warbands that can dish out 3-4 damage easily probably never struggled into the abusers of archers Focus, but Gitz, Guard and the like will have done.
Well of Power
Wow they really wanted to hit spell-casters with this BAR update. Well of Power was an undeniably very powerful card but you could generally only play it on fighters with spell attack actions (it wasn’t really worth it on other wizards) limiting its use to one specific fighter in 3 different warbands. If those fighters died then this was a dead card which seemed like a reasonable balance for just how powerful this upgrade was.
Its a shame nerfs to magic cards like this that seem aimed at Cursebreakers also hurts Eyes of the Nine so much. If only there had been some useful warband specific card for Eyes in Power Unbound…
So Cursebreakers, Guardians and Eyes legitimately get hurt quite a bit by this. Two of those warbands are at the top of the game right now and this is nice way of tuning them a bit. I just weep for poor Vortimus.
Freya: ❓ This restriction hurts aggressive builds more than controlling ones – the innate channel upgrades and Tome of Incantations/Arcane Familiar are a lot better when you just want to cast spells for Magical Storm etc.
This is kind of contrary to the stated reason for these restrictions, and I don’t really think this was warranted – this is a card for warbands that want to get stuck in, not hold back. It was used in 36.54% of decks though (including 91% of Cursebreakers and 100% of Guardians) which is a lot…
A Response to Dave
In the warhammer community article Dave Sanders, who I believe is still the lead developer for Warhammer Underworlds, gave some reasoning for the updates to the BAR list. Something he said stuck out like a sore thumb to me and I’d like to address it, first here is the particular quote that got me riled up:
“We also want to encourage dynamic, fast-paced play where positioning and tactics are key, rather then sitting back and relying on sorcery to win the battle every time.“
The obvious rebuttal to this statement is that defensive spell focused Cursebreaker are so far from dominant that they are practically unicorns at this point. As mentioned above Freya was the only one running that type of build in the top 16, another Cursebreaker player in the top 16 (Nick Bayton – solid chap) was actually running more damage cards in his deck then Freya and yet played a totally aggressive play-style.
The more nuanced and potentially very disturbing take away from this quote is that Dave doesn’t want control/defensive play to be a part of the game going forwards. This is what upsets and angers me.
Literally the main reason this blog was started was to both explain defensive play to the community and to show how to beat it and trust me aggro players like our own Tom, John from canyourollacrit and Bryce and Jamie from Katophrane relic all know the tricks and tactics to take the fight to defensive decks. The only time in this games history that defensive play has been dominant is during relics short stint and that was ‘banned’ fairly quickly.
I love that defensive play exists.
It brings such a depth to deck building that would disappear from the game if we reduced it down to just aggro. Right now objective decks are even rarer then their defensive counterparts and both are lost within a vast horde of aggro players.
I very much agree with the sentiment that ‘positioning and tactics are key’ but by far my biggest issue with Nightvault is that with the increased threat range of the new warbands positioning is becoming less important. It used to be that making a charge was a big risk as you exposed your fighter to counter charges, now everyone can hit everyone and you can almost use every single activation to charge.
Ok calm breaths.
Its much easier to criticise then it is to create. If you have read Freya’s comments above then you can see that even two people who generally enjoy the game on a very similar level can have big differences of opinion on what changes should be made. I strongly believe that Warhammer Underworlds is the best game that Games Workshop has ever made and I salute Dave Sanders for his part in that (I believe he pretty much solo made the whole first season which is crazy) but I also believe that defensive play is a strong part of the games identity and shouldn’t disappear. For positioning to be important in this game it should always be strong to be able to deny your opponents charges, the fun gameplay lies in how they get around that.
Tom: Defensive play is shamed and shunned by a minority within a community, whose brief experience against a new playstyle has left a bitter taste in their mouths. Determined to show Mike and Freya I could take games off them, I’ve played regulalry into control decks.
They are very very beatable. They just require adaptation.
Willingness to engage in different playstyles will allow greater deck diversity. Natural counters will emerge, new cards will grow in power, and different warbands will find a niche in the game. More design space will be explorable as players grapple with the various strategies within underworlds. Experience against control removes the mystique around “unfun”decks, and learning the playstyle to counter them will undoubtedly be a crucial string to the bow of anyone hoping to compete successfully.
If players don’t adapt to control, Mike and Freya will get undeserved free wins at future tournaments from unprepared players, and Mike loves salty opponents.
Overall this BAR update is definitely a good one and it will certainly make the game better going forwards. In my eyes it could have been done differently but if you reach perfection then you have nothing left to strive for.
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I see a darker motive: GW wants to reign in magic so that the Beastgrave warbands become the new hotness, just like they did when they nuked Farstriders at the end of season 1 to make way for the Nightvault warbands. The NV warbands had their day in the sun. Maybe GW will attempt to make all warbands potential tourney-winners, but I’m skeptical of the idea that Nightvault warbands will maintain their dominance once Beastgrave arrives.
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I don’t think GW are that bad. The pay model of this game is that you have to buy pretty much all of each season to play competitively, so their main job is to make the game good enough that you want to keep playing. I honestly think season 1 warbands gained a fair bit from this BAR list and that a lot of them are in a decent place right now.
I really see this as GW simply having inexperience in managing a banned and restricted list. Having worked on the play test side of CCGs I know that it is a delicate process and that sometimes the developers visions and the community desires clash. I think that this is an instance of GW taking a heavy hand unnecessarily in an attempt to preserve design space ( need those light conductor hands). Some Of these cards definitely needed restriction but I think that it hurt the weaker warbands more than the dominant meta. Are eyes and Godsworn even playable now? Mollog and cursebreakers still have a well of power to draw from. Season 3 and dreadfane will likely illuminate the design space they were attempting to preserve.
I appreciate your perspective on defensive play being micromanaged too. It is something I did not necessarily see, and really appreciate this blogs thoughts on.
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Eyes got really hard nerfed by this update and that’s sad – I think GW have got themselves in a tough corner with regards to Eyes as the best thing they do (magic) is simply done better by Cursebreakers and in order to nerf Cursebreakers Eyes are seen as acceptable collateral. Godsworn are definitely still playable, the Calculated Risk restriction either means they lose a different card or they value Spoils of Battle even more now, playtesting with Tom shows that they are still a very scary Warband. I know I big Tom up a lot but seriously playing vs him forces me to reevaluate a lot of matchups.
Overall I genuinely think this BAR is going to help the game but I also agree that GW were a touch heavy handed and restricted some cards that didn’t need it.