Swarm and Hold: Thorns in Beastgrave
Thorns of the Briar Queen
Tabletop - Post Snarlfangs
When Beastgrave was announced and came out out a few months ago, my thoughts immediately went to Thorns of the Briar queen. Immune to those newly placed lethal hexes? Some great objective-focussed new cards? These guys could just be the next great thing! This guide offers some insight into the process on how I built the deck and some tips on how you could play it. The deck focuses on holding objectives, with a bit of aggro flexed in with a generous sprinkle of control.
Holding objectives is all the rage, and in my humble opinion none do it better than Thorns (fight me, Grymwatch). You can hold three objectives before your opponent even starts their first activation, recover from a Mischievous Spirits in one activation and teleport around the board like crazy. There is no warband that can match you in terms of large scale mobility. So let’s get into it!
(you can click the image for a deck builder link)
deck building guide
Back in October, with a local tournament coming up and the universal cards for Grymwatch revealed, I decided to build a deck around things like Supremacy, Path to Victory and Swift Capture. To make sure I could make good use of excellent fighters like the Briar Queen and Varclav I included some cards that fit a more aggressive playstyle. Anyone who ever played against Thorns will know how incredibly dangerous the Briar Queen can be! That deck won glass at that tournament and I continued to tweak it, playtesting it every week and getting feedback from various sources. When Rippa’s Snarlfangs came out I included some obvious picks to wrap up an already pretty reliable objective deck. I made a final version, packed my bags and set out to participate in my very first Grand ‘Skirmish’ (which is basically a non-GW Grand Clash) in Herford, Germany!
I set a clear goal for myself: make the final cut of top 16! I placed 2nd out of 56 on the first day, and after four more tense rounds on day 2 scored 3rd place overall. I’ll add the disclaimer that I made a pretty huge mistake in the deciding game of the semifinals, which cost me the spot in the finals. I only bring this up to say that I honestly feel the deck was well-equipped to make it to the finals and maybe even win it. Thorns are in a great place right now and are especially effective as a counter to Grymwatch. So, let’s look at the cards!
Treacherous Foe (1): Score this immediately if your warband makes a reaction.
This is a great surge objective and usually pretty easy to score. In this deck you have four ways to score it: Rebound, Endless Malice, Mirror Move and Potion of Rage. You’ll generally want to preserve Mirror Move for a crucial moment, but I’ve used Rebound on a 1 damage attack only to cycle my Treacherous Foe and score a glory. Worth it!
Branching Fate (1): Score this immediately if you roll three or more dice in an attack or defence roll and they all show a different symbol.
You can score this with Briar Queen right off the bat on her attacks, or with Briar Queen, Varclav or any inspired fighter once you give them Spectral Armour. Every time you roll three dice you have a 44.44% chance of scoring it. Don’t be afraid to toss it though, if it’s too much effort after the first or second round. There could very well be better objectives in that stack.
Opening Gambit (1): Score this in an end phase if you scored at least one objective card in the preceding action phase.
With six surge objectives, many of which are pretty reliable, this is a very solid endphase objective and a solid pick for most warbands. I wouldn’t go Combination Strike because I like to keep my objectives reliable, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide how much risk you are willing to take.
Solid Gains (1): Score this in an end phase if you gained at least 3 glory points in this round.
Another end phase staple in the current meta, at least until better endphase objectives come along. With this deck there are very few rounds where you won’t score 3 glory. Just scoring Supremacy is enough.
Shortcut (1): Score this immediately when a friendly fighter is taken out of one hex and immediately placed in a different hex, but not as a result of a push or a Move action.
You have two ways to score this: Confusion and Sudden Appearance. Keep in mind you also score it if your opponent is the one playing the Confusion or Shifting Reflection and he targets one of your fighters!
Coveted Spoils (3): Score this in an end phase if all objectives are held.
You’ll have to decide for yourself if the meta in your area justifies playing this card. It’s delicious against Grymwatch though (and there are a lot of those around). Since I play quite aggressively with my front-line fighters (more on that later), I’m often in enemy territory and able to nab one or two if my opponent isn’t holding the objectives themselves.
Dug In (4): Score this in an end phase if your warband holds three or more objectives, and your warband held three or more objectives are the start of the round.
This seems to be a controversial pick, and your mileage may vary. People seem very vocal in dismissing it as being a bad card. I include it because:
- You’ll always want to be holding three objectives anyway, might as well be rewarded for it;
- It does take people by surprise, especially if you already scored Supremacy and just leave your chainrasps there while you draw attention to your frontline wreaking havoc;
- If they know you have it, they will desperately spend resources (activations, ploys, etc) trying to deny it, even if you don’t have it in your hand.
- When it goes off, it makes a massive four glory difference. This is huge, both in terms of glory difference as in psychological effect on your opponent.
Arguments made against Dug In include: ‘No one will ever let you score it’; ‘it’s a dead card in turn 1’; ‘it might be permanently dead by turn 2’; and ‘there are other better cards’. Again, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. I like it and scored it quite a few times. I’ll concede that if more people do play it, its effectiveness might diminish of course (but still not drop to 0 because sometimes people just can’t deny you your three objectives, even if they want to).
Path to Victory (2): Score this in an end phase if one or more enemy fighters were taken out of action in the previous phase, and your warband holds two or more objectives.
A solid card, though it depends on the matchup. Against elite warbands it might be tough to score round one, but once you get a fighter down, holding two objectives is peanuts.
Scrum (1): Score this immediately after an activation if four or more fighters on the battlefield are in a single group in which each fighter is adjacent to at least one other fighter in that group.
You can often score this after your first activation by being smart about placing objectives and positioning your fighters. Remember that enemy fighters count as well!
Supremacy (3): Score this in an end phase if your warband holds three or more objectives.
It’s supremacy. What can I say? If you don’t include it, you’re playing a very different deck.
Swift Capture (1): Score this immediately after an activation if your warband holds one or more objectives in friendly territory and your warband holds one or more objectives in enemy territory.
Sometimes you’re lucky and you can score this quickly in round one. Other games you might score it later when fighting in enemy territory. Either way, it’ll probably happen. Be sure to hide your excitement when your opponent places an objective within four hexes of your starting hex. Tip: there’s a reason he’s called the Everhanged. Dangle away, my bro.
Temporary Victory (2): Score this immediately after an activation if your warband holds three or more objectives.
Oh man. Praise the arrival of Temporary Victory for Thorns. Score this after your first activation if you have three objectives in your territory, or just score it later. Getting unto three objectives is kind of your main thing, so it’s good to immediately get rewarded for it.
Keep them Guessing: I don’t like being restricted in what I do. It’s a psychological thing. I want to be able to adapt and improvise, be unpredictable and be able to attack twice if needed. Either you include it and play every turn as if you have it, or you leave it at home in my opinion. But it’s an option if you don’t like Dug In, for example.
Strong Start/Martyred: In the end I did not find them as reliable as the cards I included now. But feel free to swap out Branching Fate or Shortcut, for example, if you like. I’d go with Strong Start over Martyred for this playstyle.
Endless Malice: Reaction: Play this after a friendly fighter's Attack action that fails. That fighter can make another Attack action that targets the same fighter.
The first of our reaction cards. It’s absolutely great to get a do-over on a failed attack, whether it is to kill something with Queen or simply knock someone off an objective. I don’t think any Thorns player should skip this one.
Howling Vortex: Gambit Spell (Focus): If this spell is cast, push all enemy fighters up to one hex.
It’s our only spell, which means it can fail or be a dead card if Briar Queen is taken out. But oh boy, when it does succeed, it’s massive. Push them off objectives, push them next to your fighters for inspiring, push them into lethal hexes; I’ve yet to be in a situation where it isn’t useful. I’ve even used it to score Coveted Spoils.
Sudden Appearance: Choose a friendly fighter and place them on any starting hex.
It’s Illusory Fighter, but better. I honestly feel this is one of the strongest cards in the game. Again, the versatility is just amazing. You either use it before your turn to put a key fighter in a great position to inspire and attack (I like putting Briar Queen deep in enemy territory for my opponent to worry about) or use it after a charge to take a fighter back to safety (“The Yo-yo"). I’ve even used it in combination with Sidestep or Restless Prize to score a crucial objective token near the end. Oh, and of course it scores Shortcut!
Mirror Move: Reaction: Play this after an opponent pushes a fighter. Choose a different fighter and push them the same number of hexes.
As you might have guessed, I like cards that are versatile. Mirror Move is another one of those cards. It scores Treacherous Foe, but beyond that, it just has so many applications. Got attacked and driven back? Push an enemy off an objective or into a lethal hex. Or push one of your own unto an objective or a better position to inspire or attack. This card loves Commanding Stride and Inspired Snirk (you can interrupt his chain by pushing Snirk after he pushes an enemy once).
Transfixing Stare: Choose an enemy fighter within two hexes of a friendly fighter and place a Move token next to them.
One of the best shutdown cards now. It can be annoying to get into position, but it’s often worth it. Notable targets include Skaeth, Mollog or aggressive Stormsire (often followed by a Varclav push to get those chainrasps to safety!), but any strong fighter will hate being frozen on the spot for an entire round.
Confusion: Choose two fighters that are adjacent to each other and switch them.
Scores Shortcut and it’s another card to help you control the board and control objectives. Mind that you must target at least one of your own fighters to score Shortcut of course.
Frenzied Search: Play this only if your warband holds one or more objectives. Discard one power card. If you do, draw up to three power cards.
You’ll always want one or more control cards in your hand to make sure you get those objectives. This card lets you ditch an upgrade or dead card and dig for that Sidestep, Restless Prize or Quickening Greaves.
Restless Prize: Pick one objective token and move it into an adjacent hex up to two times. You cannot move it into a lethal hex or a hex that includes a feature token.
This card is practically mandatory, simply because everyone is playing it. You either use it aggressively to score something, or as a counter to your opponent's hate. You’ll learn when to hold it and when to use it from experience and knowing your opponent and his deck.
Sidestep: Choose a friendly fighter and push them one hex.
I almost didn’t include this and went back and forth a few times, but then Distraction came back in the game and made the decision for me. I wouldn’t feel safe without it really, though there are alternatives.
Rebound: Reaction: Play this during an enemy fighter's Attack action, after the defence roll, if that Attack action would succeed. Roll one defence dice. On a roll of Dodge or Critical success the attacker is very annoyed for the rest of the round.
Ah yes. What can I say? Can you rely on it to work? No, absolutely not. But at the very least it scores Treacherous Foe and will likely tilt your opponent somewhat, even if it fails. And if it does work? You just protected a fighter, prevented him from being driven back and did some damage to your opponent. I’ll understand though if people want to cut this for something else (but make sure you have enough reactions).
Two Steps Forward: I wanted to include this but just did not find the space for it, and I preferred Sidestep in the end. It’s great for coming back from a Mischievous Spirits in the final power step though.
Drifting Advance: I generally do not want to push my chainrasps closer to enemies. Its a mass push though, which is good, and there are definitely situations where its very powerful and you end up pushing them (back) unto objectives. "Situations" being the key word here and main reason I did not include it.
Distraction: Another great card I wish I could include. If you can find a slot for it, go ahead! Just make sure you have enough ploys to move your own fighters onto objectives as well.
No Time: Why come back from Mischievous Spirits if you can prevent it? In the end I didn’t include it and I’m glad I didn’t (only saw 1 MS the entire tournament).
Pit Trap/Abasoth’s Withering/Lethal Ward/Encroaching Shadows/etc.: These ploys are very good in pretty much every deck. In the end though, I simply don’t score much off killing things and I need the slots for cards that ensure I score my objective cards. These cards have a place in Thorns decks I think; just not this one.
Inescapable Vengeance: When this fighter makes a Move or Charge action, instead of moving them normally you can place them on any starting hex.
It’s a great card that increases mobility. I usually prefer not moving or charging with Briar Queen but push or place her into key positions, so she stays a threat, but you’ll find this upgrade useful more than once. For example, to move or charge near (or sometimes even unto!) an objective in enemy territory near the end.
Potion of Rage: Reaction: During this fighter's Attack action, before any dice are rolled, discard this card. The Attack action has +2 Dice until the action is resolved.
It’s a great upgrade that is also a reaction. Use it on a Queen with Great Strength, and see your Cursebreakers or Rippa’s opponent get very nervous. Beware of the infamous WHU curse though: the more dice you roll, the more likely you are to fail. 'A sure thing’ does not exist in this game.
Sudden Growth (Restricted): -2 Move (to a minimum of 0), +2 Wounds.
I’ve been unsure about this and I wouldn’t blame anyone swapping this out and using the R for Pit Trap, for example. Fact is though, it takes a chainrasp out of one-hit territory. Put him on guard and suddenly that objective token he’s holding feels pretty safe. It can also increase the durability of an Everhanged or Briar Queen in enemy territory. The more activations your opponent spends hitting them, the less activations they can spend going for your chainrasps.
Tome of Offerings (Restricted): If this fighter takes an enemy fighter out of action, gain 1 additional glory point.
Still one of the best upgrades. It puts a big target on your fighter (which you want) and helps you score some extra dough. Usually goes on queen, but don’t be afraid to hit someone else with it if they’re in a more favourable position.
Quickening Greaves: In each round, you can do one of the following: push this fighter one hex before the roll to determine who has the first activation. or push this fighter one hex after the final power step.
I’ll just start by saying that this card has won me a lot of games. Play it in the final power step on that fighter your opponent just spent his Distraction on. Or on that fighter standing next to an objective that your opponent thought was safe. Just make sure you save it until you actually need it so you can select the right target for it.
Spectral Armour: If this fighter's Defence characteristic is Dodge, they have +1 Defence.
Great for keeping things alive, especially when combined with other upgrades such as Spiritbond or Survival Instincts. Best of all, it often helps you score Branching Fate.
Spiritbond (Restricted): When you apply this upgrade, choose a friendly fighter other than the one who receives this upgrade. While the fighter you chose is on the battlefield, they are always considered to be supporting this fighter.
Another great upgrade for offense and defence. Usually goes on Briar Queen with Varclav as her buddy, but I’ve also used it to give a chainrasp better odds against incoming threats.
Great Strength: +1 Damage to this fighter's Range 1 and Range 2 Attack actions.
This will push an inspired Queen or Varclav to four damage, which of course is the magic number. A teleporting queen with 2 range, 4 damage and support can dominate a game. But Everhanged with cleave and 3 damage can also be quite nice.
Larval Lance: Attack Upgrade, range 2: This Attack action's Dice and Damage characteristics are equal to the current round number (e.g. 1 in the first round). They cannot be modified.
A great endgame upgrade that can take people by surprise. Suddenly, everyone can be a threat. Can also score Branching Fate. Just don’t accidently forget that it has range 2 in the semi-finals of a big tournament.
Survival Instincts: This fighter is a Quarry. If this fighter is a Quarry, this fighter is on Guard.
The value of this card might diminish when more fighters or cards are strong against quarry, but for now, it might as well just say ‘this fighter is on guard’. Having better odds at defence is great, but best of all, fighters on guard cannot be driven back!
Gloryseeker: Good card, but not good enough to replace one of the others for my specific playstyle. Your mileage may vary, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for trying to include it.
Faneway Crystal: I can see its uses in this deck, but objectives are often occupied, your advancing fighters have decent movement and it does cost a glory. Maybe a bit too situational, but again, definitely not a bad card to include if you find room for it.
Shacklegheist Chains: This is a very interesting card and I know discord user and famous Skaven Strategist MadSkullz has had some success with it. While I personally do use Varclav aggressively, I did not feel comfortable including an upgrade just for him, and I’m not generally going for loads of kills anyway. But please, give it a try and let me know!
Crown of Averice: After the nerf it just wasn’t worth a lot anymore in my opinion. It can still be nice of course, but there are better ways to spend your glory and card slots in this deck I feel.
You passively score massive amounts of glory while actively controlling the board and directing attention to your strongest fighters. Your goal is to make it hard for your opponent to get rid of the chainrasps by applying a lot of pressure with your frontline fighters, who are very capable of dealing a lot of damage and are very mobile.
Playing the deck can be mentally taxing. You have seven fighters and positioning is very important for all of them. Each turn there are a lot of possible actions and movements you can do, especially when factoring in your many control ploys. Success depends on how well you can read the board and make decisions concerning your pushes, ploys and attack targets. However, I feel it is very satisfying to play this way and the deck offers you a lot of opportunity to pull off amazing stuff.
Boards and deployment
First, you always want to have three objectives in your territory when given the chance. This allows you to score so many things very easily. I cannot think of a single situation where you want to give your opponent three. I generally pick boards that have two or three hexes up front, where I’ll place Briar Queen, Varclav and Everhanged. I also like boards that have some blocked hexes to hide behind. Picks I like include Shattered Refractor, Molten Shardpit, Shrine of the Silent People, Penitent’s Throne and Soul Refractor. You can reference the boards with their names here.
Start with placing your chainrasps, working from back to front and making sure they are within 2 spaces of an objective token. Keep in mind you have two ‘special’ chainrasps: one gains Cleave and one gains Knockback. If you can set them up so that scoring Scrum can be done within one Varclav push as well, go for it. The board that has three starting hexes in the middle is nice for this. For Briar Queen I’ll see if there’s a hex up front within 2 spaces of an enemy and place her there. This puts an immediate pressure on your opponent to adapt or risk losing a fighter. For Everhanged I’ll see if I can get him in a position to charge an objective token within four spaces.
Not only is he set up to score Swift Capture this way, but with 3 wounds and 2 dodge when inspired, your opponent usually must waste at least 2 activations to kill him, quite possibly more. This is worth it in my opinion. Varclav is usually just behind Queen and Everhanged, ready to jump in if needed. He has four wounds and two dodge and people generally want to kill him, so he makes for a nice lighting rod.
Playing the deck
I’ll start with an obvious disclaimer that there is no one formula on how to play this (or any) deck. A big part of the game is adapting and improvising, especially when playing a flex deck like this. That said, there are some staples that are worth mentioning.
Your first activation will often be to use Varclav and push your chainrasps unto objectives and/or together for scoring Temporary Victory, Scrum and setting up for end phase objectives such as Supremacy and Path to Victory. Even if you don’t have those objectives in hand, make sure you end the turn on three objectives if possible, for Dug In. If I have Swift Capture or only two objectives tokens on my side, and I fear my opponent will move onto his own objectives, I might charge in with Everhanged first to try and secure an objective in enemy territory. I’ll often then just leave him hanging and use the second activation for my chainrasps. The exception to this is if your opponent has a fighter with 3 damage off the bat like Despoilers, Grymwatch or Steelhearts. In that case I might be a bit more careful with Everhanged. One dodge uninspired is not very reliable and I do want him to survive for more than one round.
As for the Briar Queen, I’ll first see if I can push or place her in a position to inspire before I take my activation with her (hopefully scoring Shortcut), and then start applying pressure. If I can’t, I’ll often either leave her or charge next to an enemy in the final activation and hope to inspire her start of round two.
The end of round one is generally quite important. It’s worth using ploys to make sure you score Supremacy and/or Path to Victory. Hopefully you’ll already have scored some surge objectives like Scrum or Swift Capture, or ideally Temporary Victory. Getting a massive amount of glory round 1 can really snowball a game in your favour.
After round one, just keep applying pressure on your opponent and create situations he can’t safely ignore. Use your ploys and mobility to direct the battle where you want it, making sure you keep scoring a steady stream of objective cards and holding your tokens. Scoring Dug In in round 2 goes a long way towards winning the game. It’s usually okay if the Queen dies somewhere near the end of round 2 or round 3, if you’ve secured a big enough lead by then.
Final things to keep in mind:
- Although killing is not the focus of the deck, keep in mind of course that you can kill stuff and sometimes must. Stormsire, Mollog, Skaeth: either shut them down or kill them, because they will wreck your day. Just don’t lose sight of how you score your own glory: objectives.
- Do not make the mistake of trying to keep your 'important fighters' safe by placing Varclav in the back. He'll survive long enough to do what he needs to do. Your chainrasps might not. Protect those babies!
- When moving and charging around the board with your frontline fighters, still try and end up on or near objectives as much as possible, in order to:
- Keep multiple options open! Think in scenarios and have multiple answers ready. You have three guys on objectives? Make it four and keep a fifth next to one. Make sure you keep a glory for Quickening Greaves on your Queen who's standing next to an objective if needed. Put Varclav within 2 squares of an objective so you can use Restless Prize in case the chainrasp dies. Always keep the board and potential phase spaces in your head so you can adapt.
- You can only score Temporary Victory, Scrum and Swift Capture after an activation. That means you cannot use a ploy to push a fighter and then score it that same turn. Either:
- Use the push in your turn and score the card after your opponent’s activation. This means that your opponent has one activation to try and deny you, for example by charging and knocking you off an objective, or;
- Wait and use the push in your opponent's power step. However, this means your opponent gets another action first and might just move onto the objective himself!
It’s up to you to decide what the best timing is based on the state of the game and your opponent!
- Special mention when playing against Grymwatch: make sure you end round one with two fighters in their territory! Denying them their inspiration round one is half the battle.
As mentioned before, I think this deck and Thorns in general are very satisfying and challenging to play, and I hope many of you will be tempted to give this deck and playstyle a try. Any feedback on the deck or this guide is more than welcome, just leave a comment below or talk to me on the Discord!
And if you decide to give the deck a try, let me know how it performed!
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