Metawatch Warhammer Age of Sigmar – 1: List-building with Dan Street

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I’ve really been enjoying these metawatch articles the Warhammer-community team has been posting! This one is about the Age of Sigmar side of things.

Metawatch is back, and this time it’s packed with great tips and advice for competitive Warhammer Age of Sigmar players! In the inaugural Metawatch, Mike Brandt took a look at the competitive gaming scene for Warhammer 40,000. This time around, we pass the baton to Steve Wren, the Warhammer World Events Manager to talk about matched play tournaments.

The competitive scene for Warhammer Age of Sigmar is cautiously returning amidst the global pandemic, bolstered by a new General’s Handbook, along with new and updated battletomes. Steve had a chat with Dan Street from AoS Shorts to get the lay of the land.

Steve: Welcome to the first Warhammer Age of Sigmar Metawatch article, Dan! As it’s the first of the series, I wanted to give our readers an understanding of what the current competitive landscape for Age of Sigmar looks like. With matched play tournaments beginning to return, what sort of things do you look for when analysing the meta?

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Dan: Hi Steve, I’m looking forward to giving Warhammer Community readers an insight into matched play Warhammer Age of Sigmar! When assessing the current tournament scene, I use a two-day, five-round, 2,000-point General’s Handbook matched play event as my benchmark for comparison – I find this gives the most realistic results. One-day events are great fun, and awesome for playtesting and fine-tuning lists, but the lack of rounds means that matchups can have a larger impact on final results than army selection and player ability.

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Since General’s Handbook 2020 arrived, there have been 25 events with five or more rounds held using 2,000-point armies across 13 different countries. In these events, 21 different allegiances have registered a top-5 placing, comprising 44 different sub-factions – so there are plenty of options for those players wanting to place well at events.

In terms of the current leading factions, both Kharadron Overlords (18 placings) and Seraphon (15 placings) stand out, followed by Disciples of Tzeentch (12), Fyreslayers (9), Ossiarch Bonereapers (8), Stormcast Eternals (8), Cities of Sigmar (8), Orruk Warclans (8), Ogor Mawtribes (7), Idoneth Deepkin (6), Skaventide (5), and the remaining factions.

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When you look at the two leading armies further:

  • Kharadron Overlords have primarily been driven by the success of Barak-Zilfin (13 placings), with additional results for Barak-Urbaz, Barak-Mhornar, and Barak-Nar.
  • Seraphon armies have primarily been Fangs of Sotek (8 placings), with the remainder being Thunder Lizards builds.

Steve: Looking at some of the examples you’ve given above, can you see any common play styles or particular archetypes within the armies?

Dan: There is a mix of effective play styles at the moment, but we’ve certainly seen the long-heralded return of the shooting meta and a new level of magical dominance from Lord Kroak (and likely from Teclis soon). This environment means that lists reliant on small support Heroes or a particular spell for a game plan will encounter some difficult matchups.

Kharadron Overlords – Shooting and Movement

Dan: Kharadron Overlords combine high shooting damage output with the ability to redeploy their skyvessels around the board as necessary, whether to concentrate power at a weak point or to capture an objective when needed.

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Barak-Zilfin is popular for its potential to combine the skyvessels’ Fly High ability (to teleport every turn) with a free hero phase move, There’s Always a Breeze If You Look For It. You can even make a Fly High move – allowing you to redeploy a skyvessel 9” away from your opponent in the first hero phase.

A common trick is to arm an Aether-Khemist onboard with the Spell in a Bottle artefact containing the Warp Lightning Vortex endless spell to drop into your opponent’s lines early in the game.

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Finally, with the Iron Sky Attack Squadron battalion, the Kharadron Overlords can have a low- to mid-drop army* allowing them to dictate the choice of the first turn in many circumstances.

This example army list includes the sorts of units you might run into at any given tournament right now:

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Seraphon – Magical Dominance, Ranged Mortal Wounds, and Board Control

Steve: The Seraphon are a powerful faction at the moment, with multiple strong units and abilities. Seraphon Fangs of Sotek builds combine the magical dominance and long-range mortal wound output of Lord Kroak with the ranged damage of large units of Skinks (standard or Chameleon), Terradons, and Salamanders.

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Dan: Lord Kroak is currently a game-defining force in the hero phase, so you need to have a plan for dealing with him when you face Seraphon. He’s an extremely powerful caster with almost board-wide presence, especially when combined with a Skink Wizard with the Arcane Vassal ability, a Saurus Astrolith Bearer, and a Balewind Vortex to improve the range of his spells. Lord Kroak can cast four spells and unbind four spells – including +1 to cast, dispel, unbind rolls – and can unbind or dispel spells anywhere on the battlefield. With his Celestial Deliverance and Comet’s Call spells, he can hit multiple enemy units with mortal wounds each turn, allowing him to effectively deal with enemy support Heroes.

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The most competitive Seraphon lists also have a high number of bodies for claiming objectives and screening their key pieces, while having high movement for board control thanks to the Fangs of Sotek allegiance ability, First to Battle. Skinks backed by Skink Starpriests output a high number of mortal wounds for their cost with their boltspitters and the Parting Shot command ability – just make sure you have enough command points!

Finally, Thunder Lizard builds have also had success, largely revolving around Bastiladons with Solar Engines and Stegadons. The Thunder Lizard’s command ability, Trove of Old One Technology, allows Bastiladons with Solar Engines to shoot for a second time in the same shooting phase allowing you to maximise the damage from two attacks.

This list, for example, includes some of the most common elements found in competitive Seraphon armies at the moment:

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Ossiarch Bonereapers – Long-range Catapults and Resilient Battleline

Dan: Ossiarch Bonereapers lists are now commonly built around the Mortis Praetorians, Mortek Guard, the Mortek Shield-corps warscroll battalion, and Mortek Crawlers, with or without the addition of Katakros.

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With the changes to Petrifex Elite in the last errata, players have switched to the Mortis Praetorians legion with its increased damage output from the Counter-strike command ability and generation of additional relentless discipline points.

Mortek Guard still provide the core of an Ossiarch Bonereapers force, often in units of 40, 10, and 10. A block of 40 Mortek Guard backed up by a Gothizzar Harvester will outlast almost anything in the game.

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Mortek Crawlers, taken in twos or threes and supported by a Kavalos Hero, Mortisan Boneshaper, or Mortisan Soulmason, offer substantial long-range threat (up to 40”) to opponents’ Heroes with both the Necrotic Skulls and the Cursed Stele rules.

Nagash is still a great option for some Ossiarch Bonereapers builds, but with the loss of the defensive bonuses of Petrifex Elite, paired with the prevalent shooting meta, he’s not an auto-include.

Anvils of Heldenhammer – Sigmar’s One-drop Shooting Retribution

Dan: You can also see the influence of shooting in the most effective Stormcast Eternals build – an Anvils of Heldenhammer one-drop army using the Vanguard Angelos Conclave, Vanguard Auxiliary Chamber, and the Vanguard Justicar Conclave warscroll battalions. This list has now been unlocked at 2,000 points with points reductions to the Vanguard-Raptors with Longstrike Crossbows in the current General’s Handbook.

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This may seem a heavy investment in battalions, they are worth it for maximising the damage output of your shooting units with increased attacks and re-rolling 1s to hit while ensuring you control the choice of the first turn in almost all matchups. With several units of Aetherwings, this army build can capture objectives and slow down opposing units, all while shooting multiple times a turn thanks to the Anvils of Heldenhammer command ability.

Lumineth Realm-lords – Missiles and Magic

Dan: Finally, the Lumineth Realm-lords have not yet registered a top-5 placing at a two-day event, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw one on the podium soon. It will be interesting to see how well the Auralan Legion armies built around large units of Auralan Sentinels (and their long-range mortal wound output, no line of sight required) do across five games, or whether a Stoneguard and Spirit of the Mountain build is more consistent.

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Archmage Teclis is the most powerful Wizard in the game, with the ability to guarantee a single spell will be successfully cast each turn, or up to 4 spells cast at levels which are very hard to unbind for almost all armies. He can consistently use Storm of Searing White Light and a Spell Portal to put out a substantial number of mortal wounds. However, he has a high points cost and requires the Lumineth army to be very low-drop to ensure he survives the early turns of a Kharadron Overlords match.

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Steve: Are there any armies that can offer up a counter-punch to the armies you have mentioned above?

Dan: Absolutely! The shooting and magic meta doesn’t have events completely locked down:

  • Idoneth Deepkin is the ultimate anti-shooting army, with the Forgotten Nightmares battle trait requiring your enemies to target the closest visible enemy unit. They offer very effective checks on top armies, with their multiple units of Akhelian Morrsarr Guard offering lots of damage output in High Tide and very high mobility. Recent lists have also included allied Aetherwings for more mobility, board control, and anti-shooting (by forcing the enemy to target them instead of your aelves). These Idoneth Deepkin builds also don’t care about the strong magic meta because their success is not dependent on casting spells
  • Fyreslayers are another evergreen choice thanks to the single deep-strike, extreme resilience, and powerful attacks at the start of the combat phase by Hermdar Hearthguard blocks. While the meta is more challenging for their support Heroes, The Nulsidian Icon artefact provides a protective bubble allowing your units to ignore spells and endless spells on a roll of 4+. Fyreslayers forces can also now include two allied Kharadron Overlords Gunhaulers to access their high mobility and (some) shooting to mitigate conventional Fyreslayer weaknesses.
  • Big Waaagh! and Ogor Mawtribes both bring high-speed combat punch and, in the case of the Big Waaagh!, additional bodies to screen out the board. Boulderhead is the most popular Mawtribe for its ability to maximise the output of the army’s Behemoths.

Steve: Do you think the current battleplans influence list design in any way?

Dan: The new battleplans, and changes to old favourites, have two consequences for list design. First, the average number of objectives in Age of Sigmar battleplans has increased slightly, reinforcing the importance of movement and board control (either through bodies or power projection). Second, this General’s Handbook also introduced bonus victory points for holding objectives with certain unit types, in particular Leaders, Battleline, Monsters, or Behemoths (see Total Conquest, Scorched Earth, Focal Points, Shifting Objectives, and Places of Arcane Power). These additional bonus points provide a small further incentive to have a mixture of unit types across your army.

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Steve: That’s a good point; it’s always nice to see a variety of units in lists. Finally, do you have any thoughts on how you would go about designing an army list that would work to counter some of the things we have discussed here?

Dan: To start with, it’s important to reiterate the essentials of successful list building, including faction selection, your play style (aggressive, reactive, defensive, ranged, melee, etc.), the strengths of your chosen faction, and your local tournament scene. All of these are likely to have a much greater impact on your likely success than modifying a list to face a particular threat. Tournaments feature a wide range of potential opponents, so you might never even face the faction that you feared, and may have weakened your army in the process.

Anti-shooting Options

Dan: If you’re looking to counter high-movement or long-range shooting options in list-writing, consider these following:

  • Units with pre-game move abilities, which allow you to react to your opponent’s deployment and widen the screen protecting your vital units, either through warscroll abilities such as the Unleash the Beast ability of the Untamed Beasts or by utilising bonuses found in warscroll battalions, such as the Spell Hunters command trait of the Hosts Arcanum.
  • Armies with the ability to deploy units off the table also have an advantage. The unit is safe from the first turn of shooting and can often force your opponent to deploy conservatively to avoid losing their key units.
  • You can reduce your deployments (through warscroll battalions) so that you can try to choose who takes the first turn and remove the option of an early double turn for the shooting army.
  • High model-count armies which can rush across the board to engage (120 Chaos Marauders in a Plaguetouched warband, for example).

If you’re running a Slaves to Darkness or Chaos army, then Be’lakor’s The Dark Master ability (which can prevent an enemy unit from acting) is a powerful tool for stopping your opponent’s key unit. Armies from the Despoilers Damned Legion also can block line of sight by giving terrain features the Pitch-black rule.

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Anti-magic Options

Dan: Finally, what do you do to counter magical dominance armies? You’ve got a choice:

  • Rely on your shooting and combat threats, combined with a low-drop army, to remove the magical threat early – for example, Teclis needs to cast Protection of Teclis if he wants to survive a concentrated shooting attack.
  • Incorporate an auto-unbind artefact or ability – for instance, a Knight-Incantor or an Aetheric Navigator with a Voidstone Orb. While these abilities are single-use only, they may be crucial to stopping that one vital spell.

Steve and Dan have given us a lot to think about when it comes to building a strong army list for Warhammer Age of Sigmar. We reckon we’ve heard enough about low-drop armies that we might see an entire article about that someday soon. Did this article give you a killer idea or new strategy to try out? Head to our Facebook page and let us know all about it!

Our next Metawatch article will bring us back to the grim darkness of the far future with Mike Brandt. Stay tuned for more, or sign up for our email newsletter to get the latest updates delivered straight to you.

* If you’re not hip to the lingo, a ‘drop’ refers to the portion of your army that you deploy all at once – the units in a warscroll battalion can all be deployed at once in a single drop. The player who finishes deployment first has their choice of taking the first or second turn, conferring a tactical advantage. An army with a low drop number is generally a good thing.


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