Season 3 of Warhammer Underworlds has been a strange one.
We entered it with the promise of bringing back more interactive play. We’ve also seen a new, more rewarding approach to hold objective play. But also we’ve witnessed a display of dominance by a single warband that was unprecedented. Shortly after their release Grymwatch have won their first Grand Clash. And they’re the first warband to win 3 major tournaments in a row. Most of the season has been shadowed by ghoul dominance that was extremely difficult to break. In fact only major contenders for them were Thorns of the Briar Queen who offered a similar playstyle to ghouls themselves.
Clearly something went wrong when working on synergies to hold objective play. Their dominance was firm and was broken only after Hrothgorn’s Mantrappers entered the scene. Sadly - this was not due to new tools for everyone to counter two undead warbands. Instead Hrothgorn has exhibited a new level of dominance that made ghouls look in awe. His passive playstyle was tough to crack for aggro focused warbands. The ogre was too far back and was nigh immortal with a few upgrades. At the same time his toolkit offered massively powerful objective destruction play that not only completely dismantled the game for Grymwatch and Thorns, but also was bringing him glory for the act of vandalism he was performing on feature tokens. The only reason he did not take any official major events was the fact that COVID19 outbreak did prevent them from happening. So here we are at the end of June 2020 with almost the entire season of competitive play focused on 2-3 warbands. And in those days, when no competitive play is taking place due to lockdown, a breath of fresh air has breezed through stale corridors of Beastgrave. A new FAR List Update has been announced. And arguably this one is the biggest one yet in terms of its impact on the game.
Before we go into the details of every card I would like to touch upon one significant event that took place. Faction cards have lost their privileged status and became a target for restrictions. This single thing is massive. And I’m extremely happy to see this happen. In fact this could’ve happened earlier and perhaps it would help to bring some variety to the meta faster. It is really good that the game designers decided to change their stance and apply balancing touches where they’re needed. And in case of Beastgrave a lot of the problems meta has faced came from the warbands themselves - be it their fighters and their rules or from the faction cards. Or both (I’m looking at you ghouls). Certain universal cards felt overly oppressive thanks to the fact that certain warbands could synergize them with their faction cards on a level that other teams never dreamt about. Restricting those universal cards did impact best performing warbands a bit… but it did put a big damper on the teams that never had amazing support from faction cards. So the end result was a net loss from already under-performing teams. Being able to target faction cards has changed the game entirely. How? Read on.
There’s a new forsaken card in the pool and it is Hunter’s Reflexes.
Why has it become forsaken when there are similar cards - like Drawn to Weakness - that can very effectively stop reactions from your opponent? It is because Drawn is more limited - you have to have a wounded enemy model on the board to draw to. And besides that… having a bunch of bats move closer to you doesn’t sound terrifying. They kind of are an easy glory that comes to you to claim. But when it is a big boy 2.0 inching closer to you with every activation you can be sure that there’s nothing easy waiting there for you. So not only your own after-activation reactions are blocked. There’s also a massive hulk getting closer to deliver pain to your fighters. That was hurting the game too much. Hunter - Quarry interaction is rather lackluster as there aren’t many Quarries and typically there was no downside to being one. Noone has really bothered with anti-quarry tech, as it is pretty difficult to find a quarry in the first place. So why tech for it? That’s probably why no one has really accounted for a situation where there’s a very powerful hunter in the game who treats everyone else as a quarry. This has provided a sneaky buff to Hrothgorn’s already abusive play.
Final verdict: It’s good to see it gone. It wasn’t fun at all to see it on the table.
Restricted Cards - Bailed from Jail
We’ve got two cards removed from the restricted list in this revision.
Loner - To be frank I’m not sure why this has remained on the list for so long. It is a one glory end phase card that actually requires you to either spend a resource or commit a fighter to score it. It has a cost. There’s a counterplay to it. I would argue it’s weaker than Fired Up! And yet it has remained in irrelevance for this long. I think it is a pretty fairly balanced card - it is easy to score, slow, low yielding objective that can be countered if anyone will want to bother to do it. It might see some play, but I don’t expect to see it everywhere. There are better unrestricted options to gain one glory in the end phase.
Final verdict: It’s nice to have it back, but it will not repeat the resurgence Fired Up has experienced.
Sorcerous Flourish - I think the main reason why this card has seen the restriction was the fact that it came around during the time when Cursebreakers were still not far off from their prime. With people still suffering trauma after being rolled over by Averon & Co. and some new strong cards that CB got in Power Unbound this card received fairly harsh treatment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it after it has landed on FAR list. Coupling it with Sphere of Aqshy could be very painful for the model receiving this treatment. But putting both elements on a restricted list has eliminated that combo entirely. Between Flourish and Aqshy former has disappeared completely while latter is often taken by magic warbands. Will we see the return of Aqshy + Flourish combo? Unlikely. There is enough competition for a gambit slots in the deck to defer this card into irrelevance. But some more aggro oriented builds might consider taking it for some extra damage. It is however tricky, as this card is fairly uninteractive with various surges those aggro magic builds typically run with. Flourish will not score Death from Afar, Sorcerous Scouring or Measured Strike. So why take it?
Final verdict: Whatever. It didn’t really belong on a restricted list anymore and it is doubtful it will make an impact in the meta.
Restricted Cards - New Universal Entries
Moving on to new entries into FAR list… this has been a massive revision with 16 new cards ending up as restricted. Out of 34 on the list in total. The list has nearly doubled overnight.This alone shows the extent of changes applied to the game.
First, we'll cover the universal cards:
Blazing Soul - Inspiration effects are extremely powerful. They should come at a price, so it is only fair to see this card restricted. It can be abused by the likes of Mollog or Hrothgorn pretty badly. My only issue with this restriction is that it does hinder older warbands who already are struggling for relevance and of which some have really slow and hard inspire conditions. Like certain naked dwarves for example. More competitive fighters will have to work for their inspiration now instead of buying it quickly to wreak havoc for free.
Final verdict: Good move. Make those big boys work for it.
Cryptic Companion - When Temporary Victory was revealed I was baffled. Its existence spelled all sorts of problems meta was struggling with for the next few months. So when the next wave Cryptic Companion was revealed I was really confused. Certain cards should come with “restricted” printed on them. Companion (and TV!) is among those. Hold objective play was already having a very solid glory pool in their objective deck. Having an upgrade that can give +3 glory in a perfect scenario was not needed.
Final verdict: Good move.
Frenzied search - Oh. I have been a fan of this card ever since it was released. I love Magic the Gathering. It has taught me the value of card advantage among many other things. And while in theory WH:U is a game where card advantage shouldn’t be such a big deal… It kind of is a big deal. Or at least it was when Grymwatch ruled the table games could be decided by who had more cards on his hand to counter his opponent's play. Why did it land on the restricted list now? Having extra 3 cards drawn - though at a cost of 2 cards - is powerful. It is especially powerful when on top of card advantage you’re able to cash in some glory from objectives centered around drawing or playing your power cards. Too many synergies at once. And again - Hrothgorn really enjoyed it. It will likely still see play in certain builds. Won’t be a bread and butter draw engine for everyone anymore though.
Final verdict: Good move
Nightmare in the shadows - Another distraction effect was needed for a while to help combat Grymwatch and Thorns supremacy. Side effect is that games vs them started to look like a card game and it became a bit silly for everyone else in the game to deal with those extra pushes. Extra level of disruption it could bring versus aggro teams was unnecessary and hard to combat. One distraction is enough, but if you want to go hard this route then spending a restricted slot for that seems fair to me.
Final verdict: Good move
Restless Prize - On a first glance this is another hold/anti-hold objective tech. But it is also an excellent tool for more interesting plays - setting up an objective token for a Faneway Crystal or for Bold Conquest charge is a cool use case for this card. So it makes me a bit sad that this card fell victim to hold objective decks. While restricted it will not see the play from more aggressive bands anymore.
Final verdict: I would rather see it unrestricted.
Survival Instincts - One of strongest defensive upgrades in the game - if not the strongest. Not only it provides a very significant boost to success chances on defense rolls - it also prevents your fighter from being driven back. All at the cost of being Quarry… which means it’s literally for free. Adding a restricted slot to the cost seems reasonable.
Final verdict: Good move
Trophy belt - I’m actually pretty happy this has found its way to the restricted list. It is very similar to Tome of Offerings. It is weaker than Tome as you have limitations in range and extra glory typically cannot be spent. But… I don’t like this entire notion of reprinting popular, strong effects with limitation for hunters only. In my eyes this move feels like almost intentional throwing of older warbands under the bus. If you want to play aggro and want that extra push in damage - spend your restricted slot for Pit Trap… or come play new warband with hunters in it and use Snare. Similarly if you want to get more glory from your effort to kill other models - spend Restricted slots for ToO or come play hunters and use Trophy Belt. I’ve found that frustrating - I love some of the older warbands and this didn’t sit well with me. With Trophy Belt being unrestricted S3 warbands had an access for easy double dip in bonus glory. Having Rippa or Hrothgorn score 3 glory per kill at the cost of a single restricted slot was powerful. Overall I do like the design of the Belt - it is far more reasonable and balanced than Tome. But still - I think it’s fair to see it get Tome treatment. It is however concerning to see aggro handicapped. It is an archetype that needs some love for a while now.
Final verdict: Good move, might hurt wrong people though
Combination Strike - I have a love-hate relationship with this card. Like most people in the competitive community. This card is a great example of a double edged sword - it can help your turn be explosive if things line up well. But it can also brick you if you’ll draw not enough surges or if you draw into it too late. And there isn’t much you can do about it. I’ve had games where I couldn’t score it at all due to how my objective deck lined up. Still, this card is played a lot - people are aware of how unstable this card is and yet almost everyone plays it or actively tries to find a replacement to fill it’s role. I think restricting this card is a classic example of trying to cure the symptoms of the problem without touching the cause of it. There are two reasons why Combination Strike is so prevalent in the decks. And it is not because it is an amazing card. Those reasons are:
There’s an abundance of extremely easy surges. Objectives that you happen to score at no additional cost or while doing things you’d do anyway to carry on with your game plan. Things that don’t even require you to succeed in an attack etc.
There is a serious problem to find 2+ glory end phase objectives that are reliable enough to be considered viable for competitive play if you’re not playing hold objective games. And most of those are glory multipliers just as Combination Strike anyway.
Overall restricting Combination Strike will not fix the core issue - getting 2 glory from scoring some objectives/glory this round. Combination Strike has already started to lose ground in favour of Great Gains. GG is in theory harder, as it requires to score 5 glory in the round. But on the other hand you are not bound by surges and draw order of objectives is less likely to hurt you. So what will be the impact? Surges will be a bit less explosive. But I think a major thing is that non-hold teams will have an even harder time to find some decent end phase scoring. And that’s concerning. Loss of KTG was already painful in this department. Now with CB being restricted it is going to be even more difficult for everyone who cannot flex into holding objectives to reap benefits of Supremacy or Path to Victory.
Final verdict: In my opinion this is a mistake. Surges will remain problematic and end phase scoring will remain focused on win-more cards.
Opening Gambit - So this card has always been strong and has always seen play. It was basically +1 glory for your surge. And in the reality of season 3 where we have lots of free glory from super easy surges this card had to go. Similarly to CS - this card fell victim to how broken surges are currently. And this is yet another glory multiplication end phase card. But as opposed to Combination Strike this one was too easy to score. And because it is only 1 glory it will be easy to replace with some other cards that actually expect you to do something with your game.
Final verdict: Good move. But tries to cure the wrong thing.
Restricted Cards - Warband Card Entries
Now let us move to the fresh territory of faction specific cards that have been added to the restricted list. I would like to repeat that I absolutely support this move. I think it will make balancing the game a lot easier and has the potential of saving some of more interesting universal cards from being restricted. So without further ado let's see what we have here:
One of the major offenders ever since they’ve been released. Ghouls represent an explosive mix of inspiration mechanics that forces opponents to act to prevent it, strong stats post inspiration and a very solid pool of faction cards. End result was oppressive to most of the other warbands. Ghouls would auto-inspire unless you’ve taken noticeable effort to stop them. They’d gain a lot of stats from inspiration turning them into formidable fighters. They could score 10-12 glory in a single round without having to interact with their opponent. And they could overrun you once inspired and no longer having to hold objectives. They were simply good at anything. And the amount of synergies they’ve had was staggering. They’ve received two nerfs in their faction card pool.
In the Name of The King - I’m thrilled to see this being added to the restricted list. It is really odd to have a surge objective that is more consistent and gives more glory than most end phase objectives other warbands have to choose from. This coupled with Temporary Victory and Supremacy was giving amazing 7 glory at the cost of 3 objective cards. 7 glory that is fairly challenging to stop when facing ghouls. That’s almost half of the total glory pool a typical non-hold objective team has in their entire deck. 4 of it comes at surge speed. This was waaaay too good. There are games where you’ve lost in round one because all the hold surges lined up perfectly for the ghoul and you’re at 10 glory deficit before round two has even begun. Now having two of those 2 glory surges will cost and will bring back ghouls back to the ground a bit.
Final verdict: Excellent move
Shifting Madness - Almost do-nothing surge for 1 glory, that you score accidentally while aiming for TV, ItNotK and Supremacy (or right after that). Very easy, quick glory to get your engine running. It’s good it is restricted. Ghoul objective synergy is way too crazy. And ease of scoring some of those surges went over the board. Now you’ll have to choose if you want this easy glory or something else from many meaningful choices. Hard choices are what makes games good and healthy.
Final verdict: Good move
Lady Harrow’s Mournflight
Second Nighthaunt warband in WHU has been a solid performer. They’ve received their own targeted restriction:
One Will - So this one is also a very easy surge that on top of the things can be scored right after playing a gambit to move your fighter where it should be. While likes of TV require a little bit of setup due to the scoring window being precisely defined as before the power step, One Will works whenever. This makes counterplay more difficult. Overall this is not a game breaking objective, nevertheless it is very easy and exists within the toolkit of well performing warband, so it received restriction treatment. I would say fairly.
Final verdict: Good move
The new sheriff in town with even greater hunger than ghouls. This guy hit the meta hard. He’s very strong against horde warbands. And his passive build that scored heaps of glory while being virtually unkillable quickly took over any table. Not only ogre kills small models swiftly, he’s also very efficient at destroying objective tokens… and making non trivial amounts of glory from that fact. He’s the sole reason why ghouls and thorns retreated back to their lairs to wait for better times. I personally love this guy, but I see how abusive his passive builds are. He’s able to take lots of benefits from all angles - he’s the single most impactful benefactor of hunter - quarry mechanics. In fact only Hrothgorn has shown us how good it can be to be a hunter who has quarries in his sight. On top of that he can utilize some of the hold objective tools - like Tome of Glories or Cryptic Companion. And naturally he can make a really good use of aggro tech. So it was only natural to see him get some tuning.
Unexpected Cunning - This card is bonkers.This literally is the easiest, cheapest glory in the game. Now comes with a cost of a restricted slot. Free glory is bad for the game, so it is good this has been restricted.
Final verdict: Good move
Toughened Hide - So this is not the first upgrade of this kind in the game. But it is first that can be applied to a fighter who has 6 base HP, 2 shield defense and ability to go up to 8 wounds without losing a restricted slot for it. This makes killing him really difficult. And if you happen to be a horde warband and this upgrade lands you can pretty much forget about getting big boy off the table. So while the effect is not unique, in the context of Hrothgorn it is massively over-tuned.
Final verdict: Good move
Old kings of the tables. Even though they did dominate for a long time, their reign was never so firm as we’ve witnessed with GW and Mantrappers. In current meta CB are still quite okay, but they are not in a position to contend with top decks on a regular basis. That did not prevent them from receiving small nerf.
Harness the Storm - a card that heated up a lot of people. It is still one of easiest objectives to score - there’s no doubt about that. My problem with this move is the context. Cursebreakers haven’t seen a meaningful success for months now. And while the majority of new additions to FAR list help them be better, they’re still in the place where they’ve been. Additionally Beastgrave has not provided an awful lot of meaningful gambit spells, so their spell slinging variant is on a timer. Taking Harness to restricted will hurt their ability to get a quick upgrade in and try to go aggressive with the enemy fighters. Overall I believe that this particular card got restricted retroactively for all it’s past “crimes”. Because it’s hard to justify it otherwise.
Final verdict: Unnecessary, but I guess done for fairness sake
Thorns of the Briar Queen
Only warband that was reliably challenging The Grymwatch for the most of the season. Problem with the Thorns is that they are just so versatile. They have access to excellent hold objective tools, they have an amazing fighter and a wizard within their ranks. With so many tools in your box Thorns were able to fight the ghouls for the victories on most important tournaments. And just as ghouls they were hit by the Mantrappers hard.
Sudden Appearance - This card allowed you to project force whenever on the board. No-one was safe from the Queen with some upgrades on her. SA allowed Thorns player to bring his best assassin in position to attack and kill opponents most important fighter regardless of how far back he was hidden. All that while allowing little counter-play and scoring a Shortcut. This card is an amazing tool, but just a bit too good.
Final verdict: Good move
I really love the calls made by the designers. They were needed and I believe they’ve been very accurate with the nerfs. There are literally 1-2 calls that I could argue with. The extent and quality of the changes to the game state made by this new FAR list update make me ask myself two questions:
What went wrong during play-testing?
Why wait for this kind of action so long?
While I can understand that it is difficult to catch all of the interactions and balance them out before cards are sent to the printers… it was really not that hard to notice how powerful some cards are and how abusive certain warbands can become if they take them. I really appreciate the fact that hold objective play-style is a strong play-style now, but I get the feeling that buffs for it were overdone. Beastgrave up to date feels like a set that has put all of the eggs in one basket: hold objective/control one. And many of the tools more aggressive warbands would like to use… has been locked behind Hunter requirement. It is also the set that has seen some serious power creep. Some of the cards are so blatantly powerful, that they should be printed with “restricted” keyword on them. It would certainly help keep things a bit more stable and the players would not beg for a new FAR update to be able to play something that 1-2 warbands if they want to have a legit shot at winning a tournament.
Second thing is the frequency of updates. I fully understand that designers want to be careful and gather as much data as possible before making a call. It’s a wise approach. But in this case I feel that long periods of time between the updates have hurt the game more than restricting a card too soon would do.
On a bright side - I believe that the decision to restrict faction cards is a very good one. This enables the team behind the game to tweak the power of a warband in a far more targeted and accurate way. This makes me happy. Also the play-styles that were impacted were very powerful and stood head and shoulders above the rest. So it is good to see them toned down.
How will this impact the meta? We will see - it’s a bit early to tell what new styles will emerge. Hold objective play - while prime target of this FAR - remains strong. Grymwatch still have a lot of synergies they’ve enjoyed before FAR. And with Hrothgorn being forced to go a bit different route they might see some sort of a resurgence. Good news is that they will not be as versatile as they used to be before this update. They will not be able to pack all those powerful objectives, defensive upgrades and some aggro tech into a single deck. There are hard choices to make before players who will play them or the Thorns. And that is a good thing. There’s a hope it will open up a playing field for other warbands as now it will be easier to actually kill those models.
Hrothgorn might be able to replicate his passive scoring potential, but it will be less reliable. Ogre himself will be easier to kill or will have to make some trade offs - like losing 2 Move for those 2 Wounds extra. He won’t have the mobility from Hunter’s Reflexes and you’ll be actually able to make a reaction against him in your own round. His aggro toolbox remains untouched except Reflexes though. And there’s enough scary stuff in there for him to remain a threat.
My main concern is that while it will be harder for those 3 dominating teams to do everything they’ve done before - they’re still in a very good position. Hold warband glory scoring potential is still high, Hrothgorn still can go and mutilate hordes or one shot almost anyone. And other warbands, who remained largely unaffected by this round of FAR have lost another 2 glory end phase objective card. As I’ve mentioned before - the card pool in this area is fairly shallow making 14-16 glory a normal thing for those warbands. Will it be enough with ToO and TB both on the restricted list? I’m not sure, but I sure hope so. The gap between top 3 warbands and the rest is smaller for sure. The game will open up and I think Lost Pages will get revisited again, as the magic archetype with pages has a pretty decent glory potential. Aggro will have an easier time to hit those key fighters and to be relevant during the game… but then again, aggro still is bound to your dice. And that has typically proven to be inferior to a more controlled sources of glory. We’re now in an exciting phase of the season where there is a lot of room for innovation. And that’s the best part of this game. To look for new ways of playing and to see what the community has come up with.
I just hope we will see a new FAR list soon after new Orruks and Witch elves release. Experience has taught us that it might be needed right away.
Over the weekend we’ve had a large online event that was using new FAR rules. This is super early since the update to the list, so results will not be 100% representative for the upcoming meta - people simply haven’t got a time to innovate and play-test. However we will take a brief look into results after the first day of the event as they’re very interesting.
Top 16 are:
Thorns of the Briar Queen
Lady Harrow’s Mournflight
Skaeth’s Wild Hunt
The Eyes of the Nine
Key points to notice are:
Diversity! Top 12 are all unique warbands. In Top 16 we’ve got only 3 repeats - two of which are S1 warbands (The Farstriders and Spiteclaw’s Swarm) - and a total of 13 unique warbands. I don’t remember such a diverse standings so far in any previous event.
Neither Grymwatch nor Mantrappers have made it to the Top 8 cut.
Thorns are still fine.
More flex/control oriented warbands are well represented.
There’s very little aggro.
Season 2 warbands are the most represented.
This is very early on and I think we will have a more tight group of best performing warbands. This FAR list however should be able to bring closer most of the warbands - especially those that were already solid performers if you look at the tier list our friend Aman from Hexes and Warbands has created:
We will notice that most of the top warbands from current event are the ones from tiers from S to A- from before the update. There will be a small shuffle and the power level between previous S and A- will be more even. I also believe that we might get some contenders for advancing in the ranks - magic build Ylthari or CB might rise.
The Grymwatch and Mantrappers performance is not great in this event, but this is not surprising. They’ve received the roughest treatment and people have a LOT to figure out now. I believe those two warbands will be back to a strong performance - we just need to do some research to find correct ways to play them in a new landscape.
I’m hoping Thundrik’s and Rippa's will also get to a much better performance. I think issues with end phase objectives will be more visible: Warbands like Thundriks, Farstriders, aggro CB and other more aggressive pre-S3 warbands will be hard pressed to get enough glory unless the S3 orruks and witch elves expansions bring something to the table.
Overall this first event brings us a gust of fresh air. I’m hopeful that once the dust settles we will have around 10 warbands capable of winning the event without too many struggles.