Having looked at horde and elite armies in competitive AoS, our Gaze (of Nagash) next falls to armies that build around a mastery of magic in their pursuit of wins.
Broadly speaking (and highly reductive), we can say that horde armies win competitive games of Age of Sigmar through mastery of the movement phase, and elite armies through attempting to dominate combat. While most armies make use of the Hero phase, there are those that hang their hopes of victory on it almost exclusively. These are our caster-centric armies, and while often requiring a lot of finesse, they can also be among the most competitively dominant.
Armies led by powerful sorcerers are a trope as old as the fantasy genre itself, and by its very traditional depictions, magic itself is about breaking whatever rules a fictional world lives by. From Emperor Palpatine, to Gandalf, to John Constantine, we have charismatic figures who lead their forces, often from afar. Age of Sigmar is overflowing with similar figures, great and small, who are often a 2d6 casting roll away from changing the course of a turn or even game!
Pros: Casting-heavy armies are incredibly disruptive, often unpredictable, and can offer a lot of powerful, creative, flexibility that allows generals to customize their particular approach to a game.
Casting-heavy can come in the form of using one’s own warscroll spells, and battletome’s spell-lores, to simply investing heavily into the now large pool of Endless Spells. While competitive players often joke about the volume of Endless Spells which are variants of “d3 mortal wounds” the reality is that just as many offer game-altering abilities that can synergize in unexpectedly significant ways with army unit choices you have made. Nevermind the fact that these spells also become physical obstructions which force changes to movement/charge lanes.
Inbuilt and lore spells obviously vary in usefulness, but are also often the support tools, and direct damage which can define an army. Bad units are sometimes a cheeky spell away from becoming meta-defining.
In all cases, players preparing for tournaments are unlikely to be practiced in match-ups against every conceivable combination of spell and Endless Spell, and yet they are forced to build plans in against them. Players may forgo anti-spell defense if they don’t feel they have a chance to themselves dominate the phase, sometimes giving caster armies virtual free reign of a defining portion of their game.
Cons: Caster-centric armies often dance on a razor’s edge. Planning for the phase can mitigate the dreaded bar-dice, but at the end of the day, your key plays often come down to multiple 2d6 rolls. Well build caster armies work around this the very best their book might allow, but there will be days where one bad hero-phase will literally undo all of your hard work, and even the best tactical play.
Your armies often have the lion’s share of their power wrapped about a very small number of center-piece models. Losing a core of your army can and will sometimes happen, and more than most other armies, casters will generally see the writing on the wall as soon as these clutch pieces are removed.
Caster Armies Done Right: Winning and in fact owning the spell-casting side of AoS is in essence, a proper arms race. In order to use this portion of the game to win, you cannot be adequately equipped for it, but rather need to ensure you will dominate it. This means turning your odds for both spell-casting and also dispelling, up to eleven.
The best way to do this will almost always be with finding units that outright have, or can easily gain pluses to their cast rolls. To the surprise of no one, units like Nagash frequently assert their dominance due to not only their huge number of casts, but moreso the insane +4 to those casts. In a Nagash player’s world, rolling a double-one to dispel, basically just put them at dice-average odds of stopping you. Arkhan the Black, while often seen as budget-Nagash, can likewise dramatically shift the balance of casting power in your favor.
Lords of Change and other Tzeentch casters have often less static ways of modifying the probability of spell-casting success, but between Destiny Dice and their abilities, can generally get off spells that they are absolutely counting on.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that some excellent casters are far cheaper than the monoliths above. The modest Weirdnob Shaman can have relatively easy access to casting pluses (thanks to readily available Waaagh points), and has access to a very powerful spell Lore, as does his companion the Wardokk.
It can also be worth digging through one’s available General Abilities and Artifacts, as books such as Flesh-Eater Courts can easily create their own +2 to cast, threats, with potentially devastating results.
Caster Armies Done Wrong: As implied earlier, the most surefire way to fail at building a competitive caster army is to not assume you will meet other casters somewhere in your tournament brackets. I would suggest that to go half-way into spell-casting is actually worse than ignoring it altogether unless it happens to be a side benefit of units you were already taking for another reason. The moment you feel you NEED a spell to go off to enact a key strategy of your playstyle, is the moment you need to go all-in on making it viable.
At this moment, Archeon is making appearances in several meta Tzeentch-flavored lists, where he benefits greatly from using that book’s Agenda mechanic, access to their spells, and casting re-rolls, but ironically, this very same model taken outside of this proves costly for one who urgently needs spells to help sustain his massive point investment. It is these sorts of distinctions a player needs to consider when deciding to go cast-heavy or not.
Casting-Heavy armies are a lot of fun, and are perhaps the Wild-West to the current meta scene. I suspect that there are still powerful combos waiting to be discovered by those willing to explore the less played Endless Spells, and the hunt for odd unit/spell interactions.
With several archetypes behind us, it’s time to set our sights on discussing what makes shooting armies a viable way to build your next list!
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