For players who want to remove their opponent’s models from across the table, shooting-centric armies can be a siren song, but how do these armies fare competitively?
Having done our world tour of the broad categories which Age of Sigmar armies fall into, we find ourselves focusing on one last phase of the game, the shooting phase. The legacy of shooting armies is varied, but frequently the history of gunline armies in tabletop gaming is one of “no fun allowed” mode. I would argue, however, that this is baggage carried over from other games, and in fact shooting armies can be one of the most difficult to correctly execute as a competitive player.
Competitive shooting in AoS is neither 7th Edition 40k Tau, nor 8th Edition Iron Hands. Instead, and perhaps true to the spirit of how such armies should play, these tend to be vulnerable armies which need to emphasize target priority while also knowing how to play a more patient game. These are armies which often have to bait their enemies, while being willing to slip behind on points in an early game, in order to dominate the mid and late games.
Odds are good that you will like shooting armies if you gravitate towards the Amazon/Demon-Hunter in Diablo games, love the thought of Old-World Dwarves manning (dwarfing?) cannons, own a scatter-die, or simply enjoy the imagery of a rain of arrows engulfing a foe.
Pros: Shooting armies check a lot of the boxes necessary to be successful competitively, albeit in their own way. Several of the best shooting units in AoS are rewarded for staying still, and most all shooting units prefer to stay away from melee combat. This means that they exert the absolutely pivotal “board control” more through areas of denial. If built correctly, shooting centric lists need to fairly predictably be able to focus-fire and remove units on demand. If this is the case, opponents not only rightly feel trepidation in committing to move into your kill-zone which can make scoring objectives harder, but it can deeply and fundamentally ruin their strategy for the game. Many a player has over-extended themselves trying to remove a Mortek Crawler, NOT because of something it has done, but because of what it hypothetically can do. That unit has changed the game, without firing its shot, in this scenario.
A proper shooting list needs to also be able to exert overwhelming firepower, with a focus on removing incoming threats first. While it can be tough to ignore a scoring unit you could easily wipe, knowing that your units need to be able to continue firing for as long as possible, it key.
It is worth noting that AoS is exceedingly forgiving to shooting armies, making them tempting for many players. “Shooting into Combat” simply being a non-factor means that chaff/screens are that much more valuable in such lists, and the fact that you can at least shoot into your own combat when engaged means that shooting units aren’t penalized quite as much as they are in other game systems.
Cons: Shooting armies, more than most, need their plans to go flawlessly. As they will often (but not always) be somewhat static in their movement, falling too far behind in score can often create a scenario where it is impossible to win. A shooting army on the back-foot has likely already lost. Scoring early against such armies can quickly snowball a whole game in your favor.
While many shooting armies can muster significant offense, easily removing even hordes, where they will often struggle is against armies with high unit counts. Target saturation is their anathema, so rushing a shooting minded army with several threatening units at once, can often be the easiest way to force a misplay. Ironically the very targeting discipline a good shooting-army-general needs to succeed, can very much be used against many players.
Finally, depending on your list, those playing against shooting armies may simply not be afraid of casualties. Shooting armies very much use the psychology of pulling loads of the enemy models off the table, or the threat of it, against their foe. Playing against a shooting army can mean accepting the bloody nose undermines their key advantage.
Shooting Armies Done Right: A Greywater Fastness, Cities of Sigmar army very much embraces what a single-minded shooting list looks like. It leans into shooting by extending range, which is crucial for creating the no-mans-land you need to force your opponents across. Meanwhile the battletome itself offers some of the most point efficient shooting units in the game, as well as the support pieces needed to make them that much better.
Large numbers of significantly buffed artillery pieces (in their battalion), augmented by Drillmaster Command Traits, nearby Hurricanum and Cogsmiths, can provide withering amounts of fire across the entire non-deployment zone portion of the table, in any scenario. This is essentially to a shooting list which needs to implement its offense immediately, and for as long as possibly without retaliation.
Notably, these are complemented by Handgunners who fulfill battleline requirements, while also being both top-tier shooting themselves who are buffed by units you have already taken, but who are also very cheap units. This is particularly valuable as it provides spare points for a few zippy scoring options such as Gyrocopters, which helps when the game inevitably has to pivot to you outscoring the opponent.
Other excellent candidates for shooting armies easily include Disciples of Tzeentch whose Flamers are impressive to say the least, as well as armies such as Skaven or Orruks who can invest heavily in units like Stormfiends or Arrowboys that mesh very well with support options and/or Allegiance Abilities available to them.
Shooting Armies Done Wrong: In order to successfully run a shooting army, it isn’t enough to seemingly have access to shooting units which seem solid on paper. In order to win as a shooting heavy army you need to consider your book on the whole. Do you have access to multiple shooting units, ideally with similar ranges? Can you produce a volume of shots in addition to the quality of shots? Remember, you will potentially need to shoot down hordes, as well as high-save units, meaning having access to quality and quantity really matters.
On the competitive stage, Longstrike Stormcast (or Shootcast) lists have largely fallen out of vogue. As mobility options increasingly bypass their screens, these very elite shooters are unlikely to outlast their opponents. While yes, they are capable of removing a target at will, these units are so few in number, and leave so few points for support pieces, that they have predictably dropped in popularity.
As a checklist of sorts, your army needs point efficient shooters, access to at least rend -1, volume of shooting, and support in the form of spells, abilities, etc… that can get your shooting roles to be at least 3’s/3’s. If you can’t say yes to each of these, your book may not be a competitively viable one for this archetype.
Now, before we leave the realm of army-archetypes altogether, there is one more topic worthy of discussion. I am referring to what competitive players have rightly dubbed, The Toolbox. Next time we consider those armies who recognize the value of combined arms.
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