[This is a guest article by Nickramone, an Italian Underworlds player known for his high level Hold-Objective play. With Nightvault at it's end, he was kind enough to give us a deepdive into the Hold-Objective play style. You can say hi to him on the r/WarhammerUnderworlds Discord server.
If you'd like to write an article for the site, you can reach out to me here. The more content the better! - WiggleFish]
After two full seasons of Warhammer Underworlds the meta is largely dominated by flex warbands, with plenty of score immediately objectives and the end phase combo scorers (combination strikes, Victory after Victory, Superior Tactician).
For new players (and for old ones) playing a pure style like Aggro, Control, or Hold-Objective oriented can be hard because the game doesn’t incentive you to do so, but I would argue that mastering a pure style can help you immensely in becoming a better player and build skills that will translate to a flex play style.
With the seasonal rotation of cards just announced and Shadespire cards going to a dusty box very soon, it might be fun for you to try out a new play style, and you will likely be able to carry much of this information with into the Beastgrave as new cards are released [I also expect this information will also be quite useful for the Online version of the game! - WiggleFish].
Here are some reasons to play the Hold-Objective style:
People don’t expect this play style a lot, may not be able to counter it, and you can surprise a lot of foes.
It’s the best underworld school for positioning, movement, understanding your deck, and learning to plan your actions, which are skills that are not likely to be as fully developed if you only play aggro, control, or flex.
You don’t rely on dice that much. If you lose, it’s because of you (or your deck). This can help you to understand in what areas of the game you need to get better, or what cards don’t really help you.
It’s a completely fresh experience, and it plays very differently from all the other play styles, it’s really refreshing and it’s something more similar to chess than cards or wargames. If the game is becoming a bit stale you should try it for a new experience.
Don’t listen to whoever told you that you can’t win on objective game play: yes you can!
It might be harder, because the skill floor required is a bit higher, but it’s very doable. If Hold-Objective players could win tournaments when great concussion was legal, you can certainly do it now. And you shouldn’t need 20 games to become a good Hold-Objective player. After reading this guide, three games should be enough for it to become a breeze.
This guide will help you to build and play a pure Hold-Objective deck. I suggest you get some practice with this play style and only then, maybe, change some cards in the deck to allow for a more hybrid play style.
First things first: there are only 4 warbands as of now that can go in a full hold-objective play style, and those are Sepulchral Guards, Spiteclaw's Swarm, Thorns of the Briar Queen and Zarbag’s Gitz. You should pick one of these four for your first practice as a hold-objective player. I know, you heard that somewhere in your shop a dude used to run supremacy with Orrukz and won a glass but this is not what we’re doing here. These are the only warbands suited to the Hold-Objective style due to one or more of the following reasons:
They have enough fighters to suffer a couple of kills per turn without losing the chance to score supremacy.
They have very efficient movement abilities.
They can resurrect some of their fighters
We’ll go into specific strategies for each of these four warbands in part two of this series, but it is worth noting that although some other warbands can attempt to play a Hold-Objective style, they are not very good for learning this play style. Eyes of the Nine probably won’t have three fighters to hold objectives at the end of the third end phase. Profiteers can’t take more than 2 kills if they want to score supremacy. In general, just because your warband has a cool Hold-Objective oriented card (like Reclaim the Lamentiri or Seek the Skyvessel) this doesn’t automatically make them good at the Hold-Objective play-style.
The game plan is simple: in Underworlds you win by having more glory than your opponent, and in the Hold-Objective style you primarily gain glory by holding the right objectives at the end of the action phases.
You don’t have a lot of goals in this play style. You have one goal and one goal only: you want to have your fighters on the right objectives when you hear your opponent say “pass” in power step.
This is your only mission, you don’t need to take down that upgraded fighter that seems a killing machine, you don’t need to save your best fighter or even your leader.
To reach this goal you’ll need to use your activations and your power cards. Your opponent will try to disrupt your plan, and you should always play like they have a card in their hand that can crush all of your work in the final power step. So you MUST have a backup plan or a save yourself card. If you don’t, spend as many actions as you can to draw that card. Activations are the most precious things in underworlds, if there’s a card who can let you save one, use that activation to draw the backup plan or fish a better objective.
Plan your entire round in your head and think about how you’ll get your fighters on top of those objectives. Try to break down a round with these steps in mind:
If you win the roll-off you are going second. You ALWAYS want to go second. You want to have the last activation in each round all the time. You know what’s frightening? Moving your third fighter onto the third objective and just hoping that your opponent will whiff their attack in the next activation. This is not ideal and you will probably lose the game if you rely on their attacks failing.
Before your first activation check your objective cards, how are you going to reach those objectives during the round? How many activations do you need? What objectives are in charge range of your opponent? Those should be the last ones you go to. Are you able to reach all your objectives? If you don’t have the cards to do so, consider spending an action to fish a better objective card
Do you have a backup plan? What if your opponent has distraction? Will you be able to hold those objectives after all? If not, you should probably spend an action by drawing a power card that will help you.
A crucial fighter is in danger, can you save him from an attack? If not, can you afford to lose him at this stage of the game? You might consider to spend an action by taking him away from danger or to move someone else close to him or even as a meat shield in front of him
If you have activations to spare and there’s a threat, you might consider attacking an enemy fighter. But do it only if you can kill them, you have enough accuracy, or if you push him into a worse spot. If not, don’t bother. You won’t win this game by getting glories from kills. Also remember that you suck at rolling dice, that’s why you play objectives.
As you might notice this is a lot of thoughts to have for your first activation. At each activation your opponent will do stuff and your choices will narrow to less options, so take your time before wasting an activation. As the activations pass you will have a plan clear in your head. If you have more than one option to reach your objectives then you're doing great and you will probably win the game. At some point you might even consider creating a decoy, like putting a fighter on an objective you don’t need but in charge range of your opponent. If your opponent wastes time going for the decoy, you can save one or two activations for the important stuff. It’s ok to lose a fighter or waste last chance on something not crucial. If you use your activations better than your opponent, you will be in a great spot.
Boards and objective positioning
Some people don’t play Hold-Objective because “you can’t score supremacy if you win the board roll-off”. To those people I’ll gladly ask why they play aggro if they lose that roll off.
The truth is you’ll get to set up the boards 50% of the time, and have three objectives on your side the other 50%. But don’t get your soul crushed, there are bright spots for each situation:
If you win boards, you should either place them diagonally with a narrow passage of three hexagons or place them longways. This will prevent your opponent from charging with his entire warband in the first round and cutting you to pieces while you smell flowers and contemplate your feelings. Unfortunately, the other three objectives will probably be very far away, so you will need to have the right tech to reach them (we will cover that, don’t worry).
If you lose boards you have three sweet objective tokens far back on your board. Too bad those Magore's Fiends will yell LEEEROOOOOY JENKINS so loud your head will explode. You might want to have some tech to deal with them or, even better, you should deploy your fighters to protect the crucial ones. Also you might want to spend your first action to move everybody out of the way. Sometimes saving your fighters is the right move.
If you win boards and your opponent chooses a board with some blocked/lethal hexes, you might consider placing the boards connected on the short side, and placing your first objective token in your opponent territory to force them to place their objectives closer to you. They will have a harder time reaching you and you will be able to close the gap to hold three objectives. Here are a couple examples.
This doesn’t feel right at first, because placing an objective token on your opponent territory seems counter intuitive, however if you double check, you’ll notice that now your opponent has no choice but to place his second objective close to you, or even in your territory, at that point you can plant one far back in your field and the last will be on an edge hex (a juicy hidden paths target). Notice that if you don’t do as I suggested, you might end in situations like this:
Yuck, good luck recovering from that. You probably just lost the game because you did not place the objective tokens correctly. Yes, those things you sometimes even forget to flip when you play your aggro macho warbands.
I don’t want to fully detail how to setup your fighters, because it will depend on multiple factors, such as your objective/power hand, your opponent’s warband and deployment, and the position of objective tokens in the battlefield. I’ll just point some tips:
If you have an important fighter (the Warden, Skritch, Varclav) give him the best protected spot. He shouldn’t be in charge reach for first round nor easily gankable with hidden paths (unless you have some power cards to save him from that). It’s OK to lose fighters, but losing the most vital one to your game play early on can be devastating
Consider how you’ll reach the objectives and which fighter is going to hold them, place them accordingly to that, minimize activations spent going there, and maximize your space of recovering
Don’t your opponent too many good targets. Try to deploy far enough away or place some higher wound models in turn one range charge, then consider spending an early activation to bring your fighters out of the danger zone. Even if your fighters are not holding objectives and are not netting you glory at the moment, you should try to make your opponent work harder whenever possible.
Prepare your hidden paths. You may want a fighter to hold that objective on the opposite side of the battlefield, or need a killer-decoy-distraction (Briar Queen or Snirk are the designed buddy here), so be sure to place them on an edge hex. Just because you don’t have hidden paths in your opening hand doesn’t mean you won’t draw it eventually.
Use those blocked hexes. They’re way too overlooked in this game. Breaking line of sight for gambit spells or ranged attacks, or just making your opponent to move a longer distance is crucial. Don’t stress too much about having a closer reach to the other objective in your opponent territory. You know you have the tech to reach them but you don’t know if your opponent has the tech to reach you that easily.
Alright, let’s go to deck building theory. There are a lot of good cards for playing hold-objective, and sometimes it’s fumbling down to personal preferences.
I don’t want to give you specific examples for a deck in this stage (I might give you some examples in the next article), but I want to express some crucial points in this game play and try to mark down what are the staple cards in here and why.
Since most of the game play rely on planning your full round in advance I strongly suggest you to not include any score immediately objective in your deck.
I’m dead serious (at least if those are your first games in this game style).
Score immediately objectives are awesome and makes flex-aggro a blast to play with. And with some experience I would gladly put some of those in your hold-objective deck. But score immediately will change your objective hand, sometimes drastically, in the middle of a round. For the very first games (the three I told you at the start of this article) you don’t want to stress out on rethinking the entire round because you scored martyred and drew a tactical supremacy you might reach but tweaking your perfectly crafted plan.
If those are the very first games as a hold-objective player pick ONLY end phase objectives. No third end phase, no score immediately. We are trying to learn a play style and we must get some practice in.
Once you have a grasp on the game style you might add some score immediately objectives, but I still suggest to not exaggerate and only take 2-3 of those.
First of all we are not trying to score Victory After Victory, Combination Strikes or Superior Tactician (probably), and we don’t need glory to upgrade a fighter to make him a killing machine.
Another big issue is that we aren’t piling a lot of glories from kills. Plan as if you’re not going to kill anyone. You don’t have accuracy, range or damage output to do it. Therefore we don’t want small rewards for objectives, we want to have a lot of glories from our objectives (aim for 20-22 glories from objectives cards). Also, as I said in the golden rule, our only goal will be to go on the right objectives in the end phase, and sometimes we won’t be able to reach them so we need to cycle an objective, and the worse feeling in the world will be to discard a juicy two glory end phase objectives and fishing an immediate one glory that you might not be able to score. Your focus must not be on that fast reward glory, we’re aiming to a bigger picture here.
Alright, let’s start with the basics. Supremacy and Our Only Way Out are your pillars. You want to have both and play all the time like you have both in your hand. Even after you discarded them or already scored them, you want your opponent to believe you have a third Supremacy-like card in your hand. If in the first round you don’t draw any of them, you’ll probably want to act like you had in any case. Make your opponent use all of their anti hold-objectives cards early on and enjoy the rest of the game when they won’t be able to stop you from scoring them as easily. Also if you spread targets around the board will be harder for your opponent to capitalize on the kills. If he moves Magore way back to kill one of your little Skaven, he won’t be a threat for Skritch in the front. You don’t ever want to discard Supremacy in your hand and you might consider only to discard Our Only Way Out in some very extreme cases, but generally speaking you want both of these and want to play according to them all the time.
Those are garbage. Throw it in the can, use it to proxy other cards (don’t do it, I’ll feel bad), forget about those. Holding three objectives it’s really hard on itself, having the right numbered three objectives is hard as hell to pull off.
This is the good stuff. Tactical supremacy are the real deal. Take ALL of them and plan your round accordingly. If you plan correctly you might end in these situations:
You have one Supremacy-type and two Tactical Supremacy; try to go for both tactical supremacy, probably your opponent will stop one of those two, but you’ll probably score the other and supremacy.
You have one supremacy and a tactical supremacy; try to go for scoring supremacy including your tactical supremacy. You might have a spare activation in this case that you might try to use it for attacking or drawing cards (or change the third objective). Hold your backup plan for the objectives necessary for the tactical supremacy. Your opponent will try to deny you the Supremacy but won’t realize you have a sweet two glory as a backup. If you have the tech, go for holding 4 objectives, it makes much more harder for your opponent to read what are your real targets. Before your first activation try to understand if you can score tactical supremacy with the cards you have in your hand, if not how consistently can you draw a card for scoring it? If the answer is negative, don’t hold on these, discard them and cycle your objective deck. You won’t burn it fast and you have enough backup glory for not scoring a couple of those. In most of the cases you will have an easy time to score 1 of those in each game, 1 will be hard as hell and a couple will be tricky but doable. Value your options and plan accordingly. Hold only on the can’t miss one and go find a better target. Always remember the right combinations for them (1-2, 3-4, 1-4 and 2-5) and before you draw your first hand understand which will be easy to score and how.
Hold single objectives (1 through 5) are just fine for the purpose of learning pure hold objective play. They are frequently overlooked at this point of the game because there are better alternatives, especially if in your game you’re trying to do something else, but generally speaking they require one activation or less to score them and you want to control those objectives in any case, it’s close to master of war/opening gambit territory, but people take the other two because they do things differently. For your first three games as practice I suggest you take 3-5 of those, then replace them for something else once you have practiced the game style. Discard them with one of your activations if you wish, don’t waste your tech for one glory only.
Take these two. You’re going to score them even if you don’t plan for them. Be wary that escalation will be hard to score on round 1, because you’ll likely spend your first four activations without a single glory point, otherwise it’s so easy you can’t miss with those.
Add to these some faction-specific objectives, March of The Dead, Mad Scurry, Treacherous Foe (I know is a score immediate one, but come on, it’s so good it’s stupid) are valid examples. Keep them guessing is really solid, but keep in mind that often it forces you to attack/charge/put someone on guard in a couple of activations per round, might not be ideal for what we’re doing it, but take it and don’t fear to throw it away, it’s as valuable as a tactical supremacy, no more, no less.
Let’s split the discussion between gambits and upgrades, but they will be very close to each other. You really want to go with 20 power cards, you need to plan accordingly every time and you can’t take the chance of not getting the right card for the right situation (or the right keys), so try to stick to 20. Don’t bother going for the card-draw cards, you need to plan in advance and you can’t really control when you are going to draw with those cards. Stick to 20, learn your deck and things will go smoother.
For what we’re trying to do here we need:
Movement, pushes, teleport. We need to minimize activation cost, keep most of the fighters safe and reach that objectives down there.
Backup plans. The power step is the land of the hold-objective play style and you should dominate it and dictate the game on it
Defensive options. We’ll lose a lot of fighters, but we aren’t willing to let them melt at first sight
With this in mind let’s see some useful gambits.
Ready For Action
Best backup plan and movement card. Use it to move on an objective after your opponent kill someone on it or to reach something you wouldn’t be able to. It is also useful if you need to kill something with a second attack. It might be troublesome to use in the first round, but is still worth it.
Sidestep, Quick Advance, Two Steps Forward
Those are good cards for saving you activations or keeping someone safe. I don’t like Two Steps Forward a lot because it gives your opponent a free sidestep, but if your leader dies a lot it might be better than Quick Advance.
Duh. You defend on dodges, ⅔ of chance to save your fighter. Duh.
Confusion, Mirror Move
Those are two solid plan B cards. If your opponent moves one of their fighters onto one of their objectives you’ll likely have to spend two activations to move them off and get on it yourself, that’s a lot of work. Confusion let you counter that quickly (and also can score Shortcut). Mirror Move is amazing, is a free sidestep or distraction. If you have mirror move try to bring another fighter next to one holding an objective, watch your opponent push that fighter away and you Mirror Move the next onto that objective. It’s also extremely powerful against Varclav (push one of your dudes two hexes before one of his does or just push away one of their fighters in a very bad spot, even the first fighter he pushed feeling safe) or against Snirk, since it stops him in his tracks after the first time he pushes one of your fighters per the FAQ.
Remember this? Take it, no one will suspect you use it, you’ll save a lot of activations and you can setup your fighters away from objectives and just pop everybody onto them in the last power step as a surprise.
Ah, Mischievous Spirits. Someone call it the worst card possible for objective play style, it’s really the best blessing you can have. You want to use it as soon as you draw it to move objectives around the field with this priority:
On a starting hex, if you’re a ghost it’s a free teleport (sudden appearance, inescapable vengeance), if you’re a skaven/skeleton you can resurrect on top of those, if you’re a skaven you can resurrect on top of those on the other side of the field, that’s really powerful!
On an edge hex. Heyo hidden paths.
In no one territory. Heyo shadowed step.
Away from an opponent fighter who moved on top of it, thank you but I’ll take it back.
Be wary that your opponent might move an objective token over a lethal hex (but not onto a blocked hex anymore, thanks Nightvault rulebook). It’s fine, just don’t take a two wound fighter on it and you will be alright. Or send the Crown Of Avarice danglebro [AKA useless fighter] on it for doubling down on that damage.
You can move three objective tokens with it and start always with the one it’s harder to reach. If instead your opponent use that card do disrupt your day you can still place two tokens on spot and you should have a plan B in your hand no matter what.
Extremely powerful card, use it to take a better objective for your tactical supremacy or your keys. Use it in final power step to watch your opponent be played by thinking you had a whole different Tactical Supremacy in your hand.
A 50/50 chance of just saying “Nope” it’s way to good. It can stop Ready for Action, Trap, a Hidden Paths gank, or really anything that can crush your plan. It will fail half of the time, but when it works it’s just way to good. Take it.
You know what’s better than +2 movement? x2 movement. You can make a skeleton or a Gitz run like a motorbike with this (and can score you Cover Ground). Yeah you can’t attack or charge with it, but really who wastes their time rolling dice?
No Time was better before when Great Concussion was around and everybody was saving it for the last power step, but it’s still really useful.
Remember the golden rule? You job ends when you have the fighters on the right objectives and your opponent says “Pass”. With this card you don’t even need him to do it. Move on the objectives with your last activation and play it. They can take their disruptive tech back home because you don’t take any of that crap. It is also useful as a safe card, if your opponent is planning on a Hidden Paths + upgrade-Ready For Action assassination, play it after Hidden Paths and watch him get stuck in there like a fool.
Hidden Paths, Illusory Fighter, Shadowed Step
I mean… duh.
I really don’t like this card, I try to never play it and often I’m able to. It really ruins everyone’s fun, yeah you laughed that first time it worked, then only pisses people off. But if you like it it’s really solid. I will blame you, I will judge you, but I understand.
Really underrated card that no one uses anymore because there are better options. However, it's never a useless card: you can close the gate for your opponent, break line of sight, or even block a lethal hex (no death/calculated risk/moving an objective on it fella).
It also synergizes really well with Earthquake (to avoid moving 1 fighter) and Mischievous Spirits. It’s a really solid defensive card.
Upgrades follow the same rules as gambits, but the most notable difference are keys.
Keys are upgrades that let you score two glory at the end of the third action phase if a fighter who has the right one is holding the right objective. There are 5 keys (one for each numbered objective) for two glory each, plus the Formless Key, which is worth one glory for a generic objective.
These are HUGE glory boosters and can win you games. Sometimes it’s better to plan your third round around keys rather than objectives. The problem with keys is they will clog your hands in first rounds and they will take tech space for doing something else.
Are they worth it? HELL YEAH.
My suggestion is to take all the Keys for objectives 1-5 but not the Formless Key. If you need more tech bring only 4 keys (but no less, because it will be harder to draw them and you’ll end up prioritizing half of the objectives that might all be on the other side of the board), if you don’t need as much tech then take the Formless Key. Use keys on fighters as soon as you have the glory to upgrade them but don’t use them in the third round until your opponent’s last power step, because you’ll need your fighters alive and a key makes them a giant target. If you don’t have glory you can discard a key linked to a hard to reach objective to make room for other cards. If you have plenty of glory give it to a fighter and try to move him there later in the game. Keys are also great decoys for saving crucial targets and you can give the wrong key to someone and use Confused Priorities for the GOTCHA moment.
Other useful tech to bring with you:
The best teleport for objective in the game.
It became worse since it’s restricted and only works for attacks, but can save your crucial piece a lot of trouble and you can teleport him on a starting hex, where you Mischievous spirited an objective on it. Also can score Shortcut.
Crown of Avarice
Arguably the best upgrade in the game. Abuse it with resurrections, it is a huge deterrent for an opponent to leave a fighter on an objective alone.
Deathly Fortitude, Sudden Growth
Keep you buddies alive. Be wary of using it with Skeletons, since they won’t move anymore.
This is my signature move. You won’t rely on killing things a lot, but sometimes a fighter in the wrong spot can really ruin your game. Pop this beauty on a petitioner and watch your opponent get into panic. The chance to reliably one-shot someone is way too good to pass on, especially when you consider that you only want to attack when you absolutely have to.
+1 Speed Cards
More movement bring those objectives closer, but there are better things in my opinion. Skeletons have a +2 movement card on their own. Skaven move fast enough on their own, Goblin will benefit for moving again rather than moving faster and ghosts will just push themselves around. I think it’s a pass on those, Sprint and Tantalizing Prize work even better.
+1 Health Cards
Your 2 health fighter that might be dead now is a 3 health fighter that might be dead. Pass.
If you suffer against Cry of Thunder or just ping damage Cursebreakers, take it. It’s not a bad card, just dead against some match-ups
It’s OK, sometimes it plays really well when you give it to someone and at the end of the power step you push them one hex, the problem is is a really slow card and it’s highly readable. Only if you have space for it.
+1 Defense Cards
Good with an asterisk. I think they work better as a deterrent rather than a true defensive cards. A target with three dodges is not so tempting to attack, but it’s not so solid so as to resist anything. If you are not sure between those and keys, take the keys. They’re not bad, but are the first target for replacement.
I think that’s it for part one. We covered a lot and I hope you find it useful, I really recommend you to try this style of play if you haven’t because it’s really rewarding and will help you immensely at playing all other styles in this game.
Next time we’ll focus on some of the factions I talked about and we’ll try to refine a couple of decks for them.
[Thanks, Nickramore! Lots of great info here, and we are looking forward to the second part! - WiggleFish]