A love-letter, or an apology, to those with loads of Old World models, you decide. In either case, the Cities of Sigmar bring AoS 2nd Edition a diverse, and nuanced book full of interesting playstyles.
Regular readers of this series of articles know that I have a deep fondness for books designed with a wealth of possible playstyles, all of which have competitive value, and which require skill at the table. Like my beloved Gloomspite Gitz battletome, Cities of Sigmar embrace this design philosophy fully. This is an army that is unlikely to netlist you all the way to a top-table, but which has loads of subtleties to reward good players, and experience with the book. Fans of EZ-mode need not apply (well, it might have a few nasty tricks), but CoS will encourage you to get serious about your execution, while also giving new life to some very old models.
Before digging into specifics, I do want to say that I believe CoS has serious sleeper-competitive potential. It released as a pair with the new Orruk Warclans book, and needless to say the late drew a lot of the air out of the room. When it pretty quickly became apparent that Orruks has top-tier potential, many simple forgot the CoS whose potential was more gated behind combinations of models many may not have had, and also the aforementioned execution required to wring all of the power out of a given list. For cheeky players at a more regional or local level, the diversity of what kind of CoS list you run can be a real mind-bender for players unlikely to have faced off against each variant.
Onto the book itself, we are presented a battletome whose meatiest choice comes from which City you choose to hail from. Not unlike the excellent Orruk book, this broadly gives you as many as seven(!) different ways to play with your armies, often favoring very different sub-sets of units. I love this, as bang-for-your-buck always feels good, especially when several are worthy of tournament play, without obvious “best choices” ruining the mood, and sense of discovering what suits you as a player.
Not all of these choices are absolutely great, however, and as this is a competitive themed article, we are going to look at three specific Cities.
Hammerhal: This City gets noted for being the most straight-forward, and accessible CoS City due to its resemblance to other popular, competitive AoS armies. In short, a competitive Hammerhal army exists to best utilize its city-specific command-trait, a potent ability to have a unit pile-in and attack an additional time at the end of the combat phase if they are already engaged and are within 12” of a Hammerhal hero. The timing of this means that it is best used on defensive units who were already able to endure a punch which means a little prep work is required to best make this work.
A core of a Hammerhal competitive list will usually be built around a Freeguild General of Griffin. With the right offensive artifact, this model fulfills the roles of being surprisingly killy (thus a model you really want attacking twice a turn), but also a very, very fast hero, ensuring the command ability will always be available to him, and anyone who could keep up. Speaking of keeping up, lance-wielding Demigryph Knights are absolutely devastating on the charge, and few things in the game can take a double-attack from a charging unit. The General’s own Rousing Battlecry will mean that the vast majority of attacks will be hitting, elevating the multiple rounds of attacks that much better still. A Hammerhalian Lancer battalion can further this while helping shrink your drop-count as well.
Keeping these units alive, the second half of this equation, is an accompanying Luminark of Hysh. This speedy wizard can keep up close enough to impart at 6+ feel-no-pain, and has easy-in-built access to a spell which makes a friendly unit -1 to being hit. Combine this with any other wizard accessing the Hammerhal spell which does likewise, and you have a pretty durable death-star able to cause incredible alpha-strike damage.
In short, Hammerhal built around this core is not dissimilar to running Flesh-Eater Court Terrorgeists, and as we know… those armies tend to do alright. Plus, you comfortably have points left to build a durable line of bodies for playing towards the remaining objectives.
Simple, but effective.
Hallowheart: Every Wizard’s dream, Hallowheart is like Hogwarts for adults, and sometimes dragons. Boasting a risk/reward mechanic where d6 wounds can be taken on a Wizard to add that much to every friendly cast from Wizards within 12”, this City bolsters already strong spell-casting units to heights that even Nagash cannot expect to auto-unbind.
Hallowheart list give wizards extra casts innately, so even with a full lore of six spells unique to itself, players of this City should expect to invest points in several Endless Spells. Not coincidentally CoS empower Endless Spells as if they were from whatever realm is alluded to on said spell’s warscroll, making this a preeminent army for using these often-powerful tools. For my money, the best spells for your consideration should include, Balewind Vortex (for surprising range tricks on unsuspecting targets), Umbral Spell-Portal (ditto), Geminids (damage, debuffs and more of course!), Everblaze Comet (extremely disruptive, support-hero killing, but be sure to bring a Stormcast caster), and Soulscream Bridge (for moving, and yet “not moving” Handgunners). From there, anything which does Mortal Wounds and clogs up the table can have great value!
As units go, a Hurricanum is the Hallowheart auto-take. Its healthier wound pools makes it safer to be the army channeler, and it provides some of its own buffs for whatever spell-casting it intends to do. From there you have more flexibility. Luminarks can be another unit to channel from, a source of damage, and some support to the handful of non-magical elements of your army. Cheap Battlemages and Sorceress’ are value-rich, costing just a few points for several, often incredibly buffed, castings, as well. A Whitefire Retinue battalion just makes your casting dominance more comical, but more importantly helps over-come the large number of drops all of those cheap heroes added to your count.
What you build around these casters will change based on personal tastes, but blocks of Handgunners or Darkshards can be natural fits, as can Pheonix Guard, some CoS MVPs I will discuss shortly.
Greywater Fastness: Now while I will be speaking to a specific build I enjoy for this City, just know that a range of shooting focused lists are available and viable. Horde handgunners can make great use of the city command ability, combined with other easy buffs, and the already amazing Gyrocopters can become absurdly effective horde-clearers with the freely added 3” range. The list I want to pay a little attention to, though, is artillery.
There is something about massed artillery that players of WHFB will recall, which AoS hasn’t quite let us do, outside a few edge cases. Greywater Fastness rectifies this by combining solid artillery choices, with increased ranges, and access to the artillery battalion which takes what works in the list, and for a brief shining moment, doubles its effectiveness.
For raw competition, if you’re nice to the dice-gods, the Hellblaster Volleygun, firing all three barrels, is mathematically the winning choice so long as you are re-rolling the number of shots. Keep in mind this list is very reliant on its support heroes so you will want first turn, and you will want to have been withering to your opponent in that turn. The battalion goes a long way to helping you get that first turn, but you need to use it wisely, removing anything that can snipe your essential heroes first.
The game beyond the first turn is going to rely on effective screening which provides a few options, and which must be played well. Handgunners allow one to double-down on the black powder theme, and make a unit that not all players will want to charge. They’re also fairly points efficient, tarpitting more valuable units just long enough to get chewed up by shooting. Dipping into the Duardin unit offerings is also not terrible, as Irondrakes are another solid shooting unit than can be buffed by things you will already be taking, and might be able to endure a round of combat. Of course you could just take Pheonix Guard as a screen.
Finally, a well positioned Hurricanum is terrific. Buffing all of your artillery pieces AND the screen for them is very attainable in your first move-phase. Additionally, mobility can be an issue, so to play the objective game, the earlier mentioned Gyrocopters can be a strong unit for scoring with, especially if you can focus down a single flank of the battlefield early.
This is a unique army that can cause some real match-up anxiety depending on the opponent. Nervous gamers need not apply as a steely resolve to “Hold the Line” is a must!
Now, before I wrap, a quick note. While the book is one of the better internally balanced 2nd edition battletomes, a few outliers did sneak in. By now you have seen my mentions of Pheonix Guard, and point-for-point they are some of the most efficient bodies in Age of Sigmar. While I will always encourage build diversity, pure mix-maxers will never be wrong in using these screens for any City of Sigmar army. Also, rather surprisingly, the Scourgerunner Chariot, a unit I guarantee few of us own in bulk, is shockingly efficient for its points. Its ultra low cost, fair shooting and gigantic foot-print create a unit that will often add surprising value to any army. Go figure?
In closing I will just say that this article has been the briefest glimpse at the potential of a wonderful book. The sheer volume of options means it will be quite some time before someone really optimizes the various cities to perfection, which pleases the game designer in me to no end. If you find yourself with a decent portion of the options in this book, I feel like you will be mining it for ages. As with all things gaming that “pro” players never want to suggest… finding the optimal units/list/etc… is only half of it. Marrying an awareness of your own playstyle and habits during games, with that other knowledge is going to be how you elevate a book like this one, and start winning events!
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