Flesh-Eater Courts are one of competitive AoS’ strongest armies. Let’s look at what makes them tick, and where their weaknesses can be used against them.
Formerly one of 2019’s most feared, and once outright over-powered, armies, the Flesh-Eater Court remain a fearsome mainstay of the competitive scene. While rarely owning the big win in the later part of the recent tournament season, FEC were frequently found taking 2nd and 3rd at several of the big events. While its players are unlikely to need a competitive primer, this article is intended for those considering starting this faction, it can also help expose some of the faction’s issues for those who find themselves facing off against them.
Flesh-Eaters have been one of my favorite narrative factions since their AoS reimagining which cast them as the most horrible of cannibals and monsters… who happen to sincerely believe themselves to be a beautiful, and just society of heroes. Their delusion is so strong that even the God of the Dead, Nagash, occasionally sees them, as they see themselves. Not to digress, but their Battletome is a fun read that I wholeheartedly recommend.
The problem with my love of the FEC was largely that, in early 2019, if you played the army, you had a high chance of being “that guy”. An unfortunate bit of wording saw Gristlegore heroes as functionally unstoppable, attacking first in the combat phase, period. This was corrected to only happening during the round of combat after that hero had charged, but by then it was too late. The army had earned broken-tier status, and won enough events that despite now being a much more balanced (over-all) book, that it often remains looked at harshly.
So what is it that keeps them strong, despite the outright exploitative ability that was nerfed? The clear answer is in the incredible allegiance ability “Feeding Frenzy”. This ability allows a hero wholly within 12” of a unit (18” for the General) to spend a command point and immediately allow a unit that has fought, to pile-in and attack again. This level of force-multiplier is just insane for a single CP. Functionally doubling the value of a unit is certainly a fair way to reward positioning of supports when you’re talking about mediocre units such as Ghouls, but becomes extremely (potentially too) good when applied to already excellent units such as the Abhorrent Ghoul King on Terrorgeist.
This Ghoul-King is the second half of the book’s bad reputation. Most commonly taken with a mount trait “Gruesome Bite”, the iconic power of this unit is its ability to roll a base three dice, re-rolling, looking for 4’s to hit. With lengthy attack which can abuse enemy model placement, its real power is that natural 6’s instantly do six mortal-wounds. Having just played my FEC at an event a couple weeks ago, let me just say that a few spikes on your dice rolls elevate this model from very-hard-hitting, to outright frustrating for your opponent.
This is only augmented by the good, to excellent spell-casting (depending on command trait/artifact load-out) of the Abhorrent Arch-Regent. An in-built spell easily gives out d3 additional attacks to a friendly within 24” among other good spells in the army lore, such as that which lets the Ghoul-King run and still charge. With those buffs the unit can comfortably move up to 20” and still charge, with as many as six of its downright horrific bites. It isn’t unreasonable to dish 12-18 mortal wounds, plus a plethora of other attacks…
… and then spend a CP to do it all again.
What I am hoping to convey here is that, it is not the battletome which is problematic, rather that its core conceit is that decent-but-not-great units are meant to be raised up by crafty positioning, support-heroes, and spells. Where this becomes an issue is when a stand-out unit is just as capable of receiving potent buffs, all while being its own aura for a top level allegiance ability.
So what does one do about that? Opposing players, and FEC Generals quickly learn that the lynchpin of nearly any of these lists will be the one to two present Abhorrent Ghoul-Kings on Royal Terrorgeists (AGKoRT). If successfully removed the killing potential, outside of some edge-case lists, is functionally neutered. Ironically, the FEC is a much more objective-playing army, a fact usually lost when the story of a game is largely the work the big scary monsters are doing.
Somewhat notable is that AGKoRT are not particularly durable without their support spell, Unholy Vitality. The unit tends to rely on artifacts such as the common Ethereal Amulet, the situationally excellent Doppelganger Cloak, or Gryph-feather Charm, to feature meaningful survivability. Mortal Wounds from Endless Spells, shooting in general, and abilities to strike-first in combat are all ways to out-range or otherwise dismantle this unit before it can be allowed to do what it does, oh so well.
But let us move on a bit from the obvious combo the book brings, and instead take a little time to discuss other ways this battletome can be successful (as well as what to watch out for).
Hordes of Ghouls are a very real anvil for this army, despite being actually a pretty points inefficient unit. A sort of stock battleline choice, this unit is more expensive than they should be, until you realize that the entire book exists in support of them. Whether it is the dirt-cheap Crypt Ghast Courtier or the solid body-guard, the Vargulf, several units in range will be bringing back an average of five Ghouls per hero-phase. This is likely complemented by the Chalice of Ushoran, a FEC Endless Spell that tallies casualties within 12” and gives them a 50% chance to get right back up at the end of the battle-round. Between these and an Inspiring Presence, Ghouls tend to stick around for a while. To accomplish this requires keeping a CP on hand, as well as protecting very, very fragile support heroes. Both players of FEC and their opponents will need to keep that fragility in mind.
Another meta consideration can be the presence of moderate/large sized units of Crypt Flayers. A fast, objective grabbing choice, with the ability to fish for mortal wounds on 6’s to hit, from a large dice pool, Flayers are a somewhat frequent take in lists (particularly in Blisterskin lists where they become battleline). Due to larger base sizes, I find these unwieldy in unit sizes greater than six. Needing both access to Feeding Frenzy and possibly return slain models via a Vargulf or others, means this unit often outpaces its supports, and then becomes significantly weaker. Small units of Flayers, in my mind, make for effective harrassers and objective grabbers, making them better served as summons.
Speaking of summons, a last core to success in the FEC army is its access to modest amounts of summoning. As it can be done for one CP only once per game from any given hero, you will tend to summon utility pieces like the aforementioned Flayers (to grab objectives), or Ghouls as back-field objective holders. The nigh-auto-include Arch-Regent can summon a Vargulf who is likely his best option as he himself can be a multiplier to other units, while being yet another valuable mid-field hero.
That said, I want to offer one top tip for FEC players, when summoning. Beware the complete trap that is your free terrain piece, the Charnel Throne. Offering summoning for free, for on-foot heroes sounds great, especially as this army is the most CP reliant one in the game, but it is in fact almost a sure-fire way to hurt yourself depending on deployment map. Having EXTREMELY specific placement rules, but requiring a hero to end its movement-phase within 1”, generally leaves key spell-casters out of position. Frequently, its contribution to the game can be the equivalent of 50pts, while denying much needed flexibility.
The Flesh-Eater Courts strike me as an almost meta-fictive sort of game design. As a General you are at constant war with your urges to consume. Instinct almost demands that every CP be spent on Feeding Frenzy, summoning, and Inspiring Presence to keep Ghouls around long enough to be replenished, however all three are required to win games. There will never be enough to sate your hunger, and you will literally never feel like you have enough for everything. Meanwhile, while I, and others see a quirky, fun book filled with interesting list potential, delusions, and Grand Courts, all tournament community can only see monsters.
A parting suggestion to even competitive FEC players. Feel free to experiment, as some powerful options remain under-explored with this battletome. An opponent’s expectation when paired against you can be subverted, and they left without a plan, if you throw something unusual their way. A Blisterskin Grand Court with Royal Mordants battalion can disrupt position more than nearly any army in the game, and a Morgaunt Court with Ghoul Patrol, will require you opponent to play a very different scenario-based game, if they are only an average player who relies on a really static sort of deployment.
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