What a weekend. 116 players, right at the heart of the Game Workshop universe, all vying for the crown of Grand Clash Champion.
Errata: A MASSIVE congratulations to Mike from Steel City Underworlds for his victory over the weekend, I know how much this means to him, and everyone from the Sheffield community can be extremely proud of its humble champion. Commiserations also to second place Phil with an impressive showing of his Curse of the Briar Queen
Now I’m all for playing Underworlds in the back of a Vacuum shop on the kitchen table, but Warhammer Worlds. Damn was that place purpose-built to provide the perfect tournament experience. When you think about a tournament with more than 100 players, for a tabletop of all things, do you think of queues? delays? the smell? (I attended a Pokemon TCG Tournament a few months ago and had to momentarily leave the building to get a breath of fresh air…)
…Nothing of the sort was the case here, everything was in order, games started on time, the service at the Bugman’s bar and restaurant was on-point, and there was always room to swing a Git. I know not every venue can be a custom in-house build (Although with the surge in growth of the scene, who knows what the space looks like in a couple of years) but it really was an absolute joy to have played in such a welcoming, open, not to mention beautifully thematic place. To anybody thinking about attending Warhammer Worlds Nottingham for a day trip, a play session, or a tournament, I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Errata: Specific examples from games I played over the weekend are woven into the below. If you see a comment referring to a game that we played, please don’t take the comment as being negative or directed at you as a player. I have the upmost respect for everyone at the tournament, and my opponents were always polite and courteous (One removed a glory he had accidentally given himself like an entire round later, I would never have noticed, but that’s the kind of sportsmanship I’ve come to expect of the Underworlds community!) and were a contributing factor to me having the most amazing time over the weekend
Before getting into my own personal journey, I wanted to talk about about the tournament structure as a whole. Obviously this is a constantly evolving programme, and with the extra investment in Beastgrave marketing, and tournament support, and rule changes to help facilitate tournament play, GW have indicated strongly the direction in which they plan to take competitive Underworlds. Hopefully, this is taken as me giving something back in the way of constructive criticism, and not out-and-out whining!
Challenges I think we as a community should try and solve so that the scene remains a healthy, fair, and attractive prospect for the future:
The time limit in the final: Let’s start with the big one. There is no way that a best-of-three final, of a 116 player tournament, should end after an ‘arbitrary’ amount of time (arbitrary as in it was a tournament rule, not an Underworlds rule.) If you want your sport, any sport, to have a spectator angle, then there is naturally going to be a focus on the final, and to wrap up before all the games had finished, was anti-climactic at best. There were several factors the fed into the time-limit actually being imposed, not least because everybody actually had to leave the building, but I think if we want Underworlds to have that spectator angle, GW are going to have to look at enshrining a ‘fully-played’ final into Beastgrave law.
Time-limits in general: The biggest reason we have time-limits, is to ensure that games can start and finish on time. That’s crucial to a smooth tournament experience. However, it looks like 90-minutes for a best-of-three is becoming a real struggle for some people. I have my sympathies, what appear to be very simple activations can have game-winning, or game-losing consequences further down the road. I’ve heard several solutions, increasing the time-limit (I would not like to see this, I think something like 2 hours is a lot to ask for for a game of Underworlds, would slow down every game as people’s pace would change to match the round time, and would ruin any chance of us seeing tournaments with more rounds in the future.) Another solution is a chess-timer, but in my opinion, there is just too much back-and-forth to find a workable solution, you don’t interrupt your opponents turn to take your one of your own in Chess!
As for actual solutions, I think, partly, it’s our responsibility as players to be able to complete a series within the allotted time-slot. Whether that’s understanding board placement so that it doesn’t take 10 minutes to place a board, or taking even longer between rounds deciding what to discard. We all have turns that are the start of something bigger and take longer to plan, it doesn’t need to be every turn.
I think GW can play a part here too, Beastgrave, while it has tried to simplify rules on card and steps within attacks, has also added setup with lethal placement, which in turn increases the complexity of deployment. As an aside, I really think GW need to get to a place where all cards activate in chronological order, and have a rule enforcing this. Reducing player confusion, and occurrences of mechanics that are open to interpretation, would increase play speed, and help reduce the stress of games as everybody remains on the same page.
Communication: I think there has been ample time between the release of Beastgrave, and the Grand Clash, as well as the appetite from the community for there to be a new errata/ Developer FAQ/ Restrictions list (not counting the addition of Ready for Action or the removal of S1 cards, they were obvious changes that needed to happen.) Accessing any information about the rulings of the new Beastgrave cards has been difficult, and we’ve received mixed responses regarding Grymwatch’s ‘Muster’ ability (The more conservative response of ‘can’t revive if there’s nothing to revive’ was made official on the day, bringing Crakmarrow’s ‘Action’ in line with our friends Ammis and Rastus)
I think we need more communication from GW, on an official channel that’s open to everyone. I think the official blog posts from community member John Rees have helped in that regard, but only at a very high-level, introductory sort of way. Even if it’s a twitter post saying something along the lines of ‘We are aware of the following, and are discussing internally’ it shows prescience, it shows the community that the work it does to bring these things to light is understood and appreciated, and it helps maintain that connection between player and company. I know people will call this out ad-infinitum, but I don’t think a couple of tweets and a regular rulebook update are too much to ask for.
Stormsire’s Cursebreakers, HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I’ve been playing Cursebreakers exclusively since joining the Underworlds community back in June, this is my 4th tournament, and my first Grand Clash. After taking a month out due to illness, I put a little over a week into building something that could consistently move around the board (although not very far) and score kills on every turn, while teching into cards like ‘Earthing Stone’ that would prevent players from mass scoring capture objective cards in places I couldn’t reach early on. My Objectives are mostly easy scorers and rely on kills and glory gain. For ploys, I run mainly spells to inspire Ammis and Rastus in power phases so that activations can be focused on bringing the pain. Here are my favourite, and most-hated cards from the deck:
- Lightning Whip: Unexpected MVP, bringing the extra damage I needed in so many situations it’s hard to count. I actually included this mainly to interact with Seeking stones, giving me a second 3-range attack that also helped deal with pesky dodge enemies, I only managed that combination once throughout the tournament sadly, but even without the seeking stones, Lightning Whip stood alone as the champion of the righteous.
- Gather the storm: Another Cursebreaker-only card that’s totally busted. A very new addition to my deck (why did I not see this earlier?) but it just does so much work for such a simple ploy.
- Damning Pact: Very rarely did i score anything of worth with this, either Stormsire was too beat up, or I didn’t draw it alongside a ping spell and something to support the cast with. Currently, I think any ping is better than this, and there are multiple I could have chosen. I did attempt it once with Cry of Thunder (It’s the main reason for inclusion) with Stormsire, Well of Power, and an innate, only to roll three Focus, I’m not salty.
- Terrifying Visage: this was a mistake, In the one situation where it would have actually helped, I forgot to call it out, for three turns (In my defence, this was sat on Rastus, while Stormsire was the target of my enemies attacks, so I didn’t notice the interaction.) Focus to cast + too many 2/3 range attackers (I think if I’d once had thought about larval lance, I’d have removed Terrifying Visage immediately)
- Stand and shoot: Amazing card, being able to put Stormsire near wounded targets with the explicit aim of utilising this to save the day, priceless. One of the few ways to sneak in an extra attack without an activation.
- Inspired attack: You wouldn’t believe the number of times I needed something to help Stormsire’s damage and this was in-hand. Ammis and Rastus just do not attack often enough for this to be worthwhile, I think I’d have preferred Sphere of Hysh, which would have provided both an extra spell and an extra dice.
- Blessing of Hydragos: Another MVP, this is how you increase the threat range of Ammis and Rastus, if you can get an attack off without gaining a charge token, you can get potentially 5 hexes on your next attack (2 immediately after the attack itself, and 3 on the next charge), multiple times I had Ammis dancing around ghouls with move tokens getting kill after kill. This is the way I like to play and I wish I’d have focused my deck more around getting into those positions, than expecting them to just sort of occur (hint: they didn’t)
- Sphere of Chamon: I think if I’d have played Curse of the Briar Queen, this would have been the MVP, unfortunately, nobody I played was stacking defence, leaving this out in the cold, twice I used it to no effect just to inspire.
Oh? You’d like to know how I performed? Badly, thanks for asking. I decided to go with a thoroughly aggressive deck for this tournament. I put together a deck that could kill lots of things very quickly, I very quickly noticed the glaring flaws in my plan:
- 26 cards are too many: At least for the minute. Maybe we’ll get to a point where draw engines are more viable, but for the above deck, I’d bloated it with tech cards, tried to make up for it with situational draw cards, and made my deck doubly unreliable. I’ve written about this before, I do feel there are actual use-cases for +20 card decks, but I’m not sure they can outweigh the simple math of more cards = less chance of drawing the thing you need when you need it. For the skirmish the following day, I reduced the deck to 10/10 and everything felt much more consistent.
- Cursebreakers have got bod-all threat range. This has a number of wide-ranging implications, but basically it means that, on top of having to wait until I’m sure I can kill something before engaging, I ALSO have to make the journey. Any activations that I don’t spend attacking feel wasted, any activations that I spend charging leave me extremely vulnerable, any start of round rolls, leave me with 2 characters, it’s a tricky space to operate in and my deck didn’t do me any favours.
- Move tokens are amazing: I love running up and hitting things, who doesn’t. But something that I only very briefly prepared going into the tournament, was moving Stormsire and a friend into positions where Stormsire could be globally dangerous, and it would be hard to attack Stomsire without giving up support rolls and giving Ammis/Rastus a free attack. A couple of downsides to this: A: Stormsire isn’t invincible, there were a few times where he just died, and I felt like I’d wasted multiple activations for a setup that never came, B: There was one occasion, where I moved Stormsire upfront, and had absolutely no follow-up, no extra dice, or pings, so he just sat there, and I watched as he was devoured. I guess my point is that it’s a dangerous game to move without the payoff of making something dead, but really that was just a terrible play and I should know better. Live and learn!
- Move ploys are worth it: I had completely overlooked move ploys, only taking the single one in ‘Two Steps Forward’ Sidestep would have won me a game or two this weekend I think.
- People are not scared of 40% hit percentages. Most of the attacks I make, I like to be in the 70-80% hit chance range. This is about as high as I can get with a safely inspired warrior in round 1 and little-to-no glory. Anything less, leaving my trope uninspired for instance, and I may as well be flipping coins. When you have a larger Warband however, the danger of charging in and leaving a member vulnerable becomes less of an issue, and so you can care less about making every hit count. I learnt this the hard way.
- I’m bad at choosing boards. Not once did I consider that lethal hexes would restrict my starting locations. I chose the most aggressive flush-boards I could, and that was that. I always let people present first, so that I could force a flush-board with aggressive start situation, irrespective of where the lethals were placed (because, the plan was, I was going forwards, and nothing was going to stop me). After Stormsire died to a turn 1 Gristelwel + lethal charge, I realised that mistakes had been made. I also didn’t consider long-boards, more on this later.
Spiteclaw’s Swarm – Win
4-13 loss/ 13-1 win/ 8-0 win
Very bad start for me, uninspired Stormsire died early, and Ammis/ Rastus struggled to score, my opponent however scored Annihilation Game 1. Once I knew the lay of the land, I drew into Grievous/Devastation game 2, and with the help of a decent hand, gained 12 glory round 1. As there was very little left of the swarm, we quickly moved into Game 3, where a very similar massacre occurred. While I’m gaining full glory for killing the swarm, and can reach/ kill multiple rats early on, it’s generally a favourable matchup.
Stormsire’s Cursebreakers – Loss
4-12 loss/ 3-5 loss
I did not expect to be facing a mirror so early on into the tournament, I have no-one to help me prepare for this, and was heavily teched into defeating swarm/ dodge warbands. I knew immediately that this was not going to be a good day. My opponent was nothing less than an expert, and although I played a screaming game 1, I was out of position with Stormsire (a failed charge) and uninspired with Rastus. Stormsire didn’t survive another turn, and it was all over.
In game two, my jaw dropped as I was long-boarded, I didn’t stand a chance. I reached my opponent by the end of round 2, but couldn’t follow up, I did about as well as I could to make game 2 as close as it was. Perfectly played by my opponent and gave me a lot to think about regarding the thematics of aggression.
Spiteclaw’s Swarm – Loss
19-10 win/ 13-13 loss/ 3-9 loss
Game 1 went to plan, keep on killing, nothing out of the ordinary. Game 2 was going well too, but I lost steam early on into round 2, sometimes i just don’t have the cards to keep everyone alive, and once Cursebreakers start losing warriors, their options are severely limited, Stormsire dying with Strange Demise and Harness the Storm in hand was a complete killer. I ended up drawing on glory, but with nothing on the board, and my opponent holding an objective.
Game 3, my opponent went into turn 2 with Expendable and Crown of Avarice equipped and 4 minutes on the clock, I could not reach any other rat. With nothing to score, the game ended early due to the round timer. Crown of Avarice acting the way it does, and not being restricted is a travesty and I demand justice! Obviously, this is an extreme edge-case where not only did every glory matter, every minute mattered, and my deck put me in the position where my only out was to kill, however, I do not think there’s any merit in being able to ‘take’ a glory from your opponent who has, at that moment, by the chronology that the game sets out in its rules, no unspent glory to take. At worst, Crown of Avarice is a 2 glory-differential, or it protects a chosen target from death… that, is, busted. Salt over, I had no chance to win this game.
The Grymwatch – Win
14-23 loss/ 16-2 win/ 4-3 win
Game 1 was an absolute bloodbath, and it was all my fault. Once Stormsire was dead, on turn 1 (I lost the roll for turn order, even with +1 crit) Ammis and Rastus struggled to take control. See that 3 on Gristelwel’s attack action, I’m fairly sure somebody at GW put that there by mistake, it changes so many dynamics about how the Warband plays and gives them damage reach on top of all the awesome cards. My opponent finished with a 6-tome Acolytes and i was done.
In Game 2, I had my second occurrence of scoring ‘Grievous toll’ and ‘Devastation’ simultaneously, from which there is no return. Here, Ammis went off with ‘Blessing of Hydragos’ visiting each of the ghoul’s in-turn.
Game 3 was super awkward, neither of us had much we could score, and we were severely over the time-limit after what had been a very long day. There was no way we could have fit in another round, which was a blessing for me as I don’t think i could’ve handled going 1-3 over the day.
Bonus Roll: The Grymwatch
Errata: I just saw that Crakmarrow has 3-damage, 2-range cleave, why does Crakmarrow have 3-damage, 2-range cleave?
On the Grymwatch, I think this is the first real step-up in power we’ve seen in Underworlds in my time in the game (Although, that hasn’t been long, and i can certainly see the cracks forming in some of the S1 Warbands.) Personally, I’d like to see all warbands have a very similar baseline power, but with such simple Warband cards, it’s an extremely difficult ask without simply boosting the numbers. I also understand that new Warbands have to remain appealing over old new Warbands purely from a profit, marketability, and future of the game perspective.
I think GW’s unwillingness to restrict/ change Warband specific cards shows the direction we are heading here, GW will produce new, more powerful warbands, balancing attractive new prospects against community ire (Not all power creep is bad, but all power creep can feel bad).
Thank You to Games Workshop for hosting an amazing event this weekend. I’m looking forward to competing in many more Grand Clashes over the years to come, and hey, who knows, one day I may place higher than 74th!