Welcome to second part of my article on how to be successful in tournament. This time I will be focusing on the game you play. In case you've missed the first part you can find it here.
What you’re playing
“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” - Sun Tzu
So now that we’ve cleared the part about you, let’s talk about what you’re actually going to play. So… your warband and your deck.
Why have I separated them into two topics? It’s because often there’s more than one way to play a warband. Many warbands are blessed with having an option to how you want to play them. And it is equally important to choose both your warband and the play-style for it.
How to choose a warband?
I mostly look at three factors:
How I feel about the warband
What is the local meta
How viable are the options offered by the warband
You might go full meta slave and choose the strongest warband out there and still fail. You must “feel” it. You must understand it and enjoy playing it. It is a lot easier to win with something that you genuinely enjoy playing. The game flows more naturally then. It’s easier to improvise. You feel more confident (this really helps reduce stress!).
Before the last Grand Clash I’ve made a last minute change. I’ve been intending to play a warband I was having some fun with, but I’ve had this tingling feeling that I don’t really feel it. That I didn’t feel fully confident with them. If you’re not 100% confident in your warband it’s probably a sign you should look for something else. I ended up deciding to go with a deck that felt good to me—even though it was mostly untested—for a warband I really enjoyed and felt comfortable with, and it turned out to be an excellent move (though I generally wouldn’t recommend doing such a last minute swap!).
It is also very helpful to get a read on your local meta. If you see it is full of aggro Mollogs then Farstrider and Steelheart are probably best to be left for another time as their chances are looking bleak in that match-up. Knowing what play-styles (Aggro, Objectives, Control) are popular is also very helpful when you decide what deck to play and how viable it will.
So, viability. You might love a warband. You feel great playing them. You like the flavor, you remember how many skulls your model bases contain, but you’re loving Steelheart or Sepulchral Guard (or Farstriders if you’re me). Oh boy. You might want to go ambitious and try to win anyway. It actually may be possible, but you need to be aware that you will be fighting an uphill battle, and prepare accordingly. It’s possible you are in the mood for a challenge that would grant you an achievement similar to climbing K2 if you did win it all with a more difficult warband. A very high level of familiarity with a warband might be very helpful—you might be ready for many things that will come. You might be able to surprise an unsuspecting opponent. But it might also be hard to pull off a win against the best opponents. So it is important to evaluate what the chances of success are on paper. Sometimes it is worth picking another warband that offers a similar play-style, but is innately more powerful in the current meta.
How to choose a deck?
So you’ve chosen a warband you intend to play. Now it will be a bit easier, the list of options will usually get narrower now. The best idea is to build a deck that capitalizes on warband strengths and uses the best available tools. Decks and their power levels tend to shift with releases of new expansions and Restricted lists, but in general I have one rule: if I don’t like the play-style I don’t build a deck for it.
For example: if there’s a situation where an aggro deck for Thorns of Briar Queen is very strong but you’re rather a cautious player who prefers to play it safe and control objectives instead, then you might not want to play that deck. Sure, you can give it a go and see if you can enjoy and pilot it correctly, but you might simply not have enough experience and not be as willing to commit your fighters correctly when the time comes and the stress is mounting. Usually, it is better to play to your strengths.
Having a read on meta is also very important for deck building. It allows you to tool your deck with the cards necessary to respond to the main threats and disrupt the key strategies of your potential opponents. For example, if you expect lots of passive tome decks then it is probably worth investing in movement power cards and One Step Ahead. Movement powers will help to actually get to those passive guys and kill the tome bearer. One Step Ahead will disrupt their scoring. It would be pretty bad to have OSA versus a meta of aggro Mollog, Wild Hunt, and Despoilers. Even though you might sometimes stop an objective it is generally not worth it.
Again, you might choose a way of playing your own stuff and perfecting it regardless of meta. But in general, while it is possible to have success with it, it might be much harder than it has to be. Focus on learning what others might play and how you can address it. Practice so you’re confident in how to do it. Don’t fall into the trap of taking some winning deck from the web and going in with it thinking it will play itself. Those decks often require experience and knowledge about how to play them. So even if you take a proven deck: practice, practice, practice.
“No plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force” - Helmuth von Moltke
Now you’ve got your warband, your deck. You’ve already done some mental exercises to ensure you go into the tournament smoothly. But what next? The game plan.
Usually you’ve determined the basic outline of your game plan during deckbuilding. You’ll have a general idea on what you need to do to win and how you’re going to do it. You’ve chosen the right objectives and a power deck to support them. Now comes the part where you have to put those things to use. Usually you will execute the plan a bit differently depending on who you are playing and what is the board placement etc. This is the part where practicing with the deck helps. It is important to have some experience with the deck against various other warbands. This helps you work out the game plan in more detail. To anticipate what the opponent might want to do. How to disrupt them and protect yourself from disruptions. Before placing your boards you should already know what setup you would like. If you plan to hang back this time around or simply go HAM on enemy models. What to do next, what game state you would like to achieve. What are your weak points, who are the main threats on the other side, and how to manage them.
Having a plan is super important, but even more important is the ability to execute your plan. You will often find that after the game has been set and you are about to start the first round you will have a plan on what you want to do in that round and beyond. But that plan will get thrashed after the first activation. This is because your opponent has their own plan and will do their best to disrupt you while playing his own game. They might surprise you by playing differently than you’ve anticipated, or by taking some key small victories earlier than you’ve expected. Or that your dice had a different idea on what symbols are successes during the important rolls.
You will win games if you learn to adjust to the situation enough to carry out your plan successfully, or to form and execute a Plan B. Warhammer Underworlds is not a static game. You need to think and adapt on the fly. In the end you have only 12 activations to ensure victory, and even less when the first change of plans takes place.
It is also important to note that you have to manage another resource. Yes, you have 12 activations per game, but you also have only 90 minutes to play your whole match. This is super important: keep track of time. Try not to delay the movements too much. And if you see that you won’t be able to finish the last game adjust your plans so you win in 1-2 rounds. You will have less objectives to score and less activations to achieve your goal. Think of that. It is increasingly common to see matches go to timeout because the game becomes increasingly complex. There’s more options, more interactions. More stuff to consider. So be mindful about this as this is a really important factor that can cost you the match.
Warhammer Underworlds is a game of luck. At least to an extent. We do roll dice. We draw cards from a randomized deck. It is entirely possible our game will be foiled by really bad dice luck. It is also possible that we will have a bricked hand. Yes, it all matters. However, that’s why we’re playing best of three matches: to reduce the luck factor. If you have lost 2 matches in a row because of bad dice rolls or because of bricked hand, then it is the time to ask yourself some important questions:
Were my rolls really that bad? Or were they statistically normal, but my deck actually requires superb rolls?
Do I have enough accuracy improvement options in my deck?
Why did my objectives brick? Maybe I have too many of those that can brick my hand in the deck?
Have I simply misplayed my game and I needed an unrealistic scenario to happen to save the day?
Those questions are critical to understand if you’re having an inherent problem in your deck or game-plan. It is possible that you will drop a game because of bad luck in dice. It has happened to me in the past—once has lost me an almost-won game and as a result, a trophy. But if it happens more often than every now and then it is probably something wrong with what (or how) you’re playing.
There’s also a small factor of luck during the tournament—you might get an easier opponent because of some unexpected results. Someone might drop out and allow you to advance. Your dice might become really hot. Those tiny things help. But don’t count on them. It’s nice if it happens, but it should never be a part of your plan. Same with “bad luck.” If you’re having one grizzled veteran player after another as your opponents…it usually means that you’re not having bad luck, but simply having a really good run and you’re paired with people who are an equal match for you. :)
So having read all of that you should be ready to get your tournament campaign going. Choose what you want to play, get a game plan and start practicing.
Before the tournament grab some decent sleep—it’s super important to be fresh and rested. Even the best plans can get ruined by weariness. The longer a tournament is, the more it is about endurance. So relax and go win some games. And if you lose, spend some time to reflect on those games. And learn from it. Every tournament—be it won or lost—is going to add to your experience and improve your chances for success in the future. So don’t consider any of them as a waste of time. Take small steps, remain focused, and you’ll get there.