Aman: Gnarlwood is now officially out, as of this past weekend, and I wanted to start off by saying that as a fan I am ecstatic and hopeful for the future for our beloved game. For those of you who have received your box sets, I hope you enjoyed assembling the miniatures. They’re even better in person, aren’t they?
I hope everyone is able to get some games in as quickly as possible, paint permitting if that’s your jam, and spread the word that this season is going to be great. It’s a great time to come back to the game and recruit new blood.
With that being said, this article is going to focus on a topic that might be a bit more relevant for veteran players: the Championship format. Over the weekend, Games Workshop dropped the updated rules for all of the formats currently playable in the game: Relic, Nemesis, and Rivals. If you’re a newer player reading this, I’ll provide a single sentence, or two, per each format for you to be able to follow along. You can also click on the links to access the official documents.
Rivals is a format that exclusively features rivals decks, these are the preconstructed decks that come with your warbands respectively, and the universal decks made available in core boxes and individually. Nemesis takes things a step further by allowing you to combine your warbands personal rivals deck with a universal rivals deck of your choice. This allows you step into the deck building aspect of this game without it perhaps being too overwhelming.
And this brings us to Relic. Previously, Relic was simply known as the format in which you could play games with cards that were spread across the breath of Underworlds. Literally every card and board is eligible in this mode. It wasn’t very popular. However, there is a twist this time around.
Some of you may be wondering, where is Championship? Well, it is now a variant of the Relic format. What does that mean, you ask? It means the format has unique rules that are different to Relic. So isn’t that just another format? Yep. But, then why is it tucked away under Relic? Exactly.
Seriously though, I imagine it has to do with the fact that 3 formats are easier to manage, digest, and advertise. We’ve had comments that there were perhaps too many formats in the past. Now there will only ever be 3, presumably. Rivals, Nemesis, and everything else bundled into Relic.
So without any further exposition, let’s dig into the latest update to the Championship format and the changes it brings.
The Official Rules:
Feel free to skip this section if you are familiar.
For the uninitiated, here’s the official definition for Championship:
Effectively, for those unfamiliar, you can play with any warband that has ever released but can only use cards that are limited, at time of writing, to the following sets: Essentials Card Pack, Harrowdeep, and Nethermaze. This includes the Rivals decks that were included in those seasons. Additionally, you can use the Daring Delvers and Tooth and Claw Rivals decks. The same goes for boards as pictured below.
In addition to that almost every single rule has stayed the same. You can still only:
Which is awesome because the sanctity of the most competitive format for the game has been preserved, for the most part. Many community members thought that Championship might not exist as a format, partly due to a lack of clarification from official sources. So as someone who loves this format of the game and plays it almost exclusively, like many of you, I’m happy the format still exists.
Did I actually think it was going away? No, I didn’t. But there was a period, maybe a week, where due to the unclear messaging we received, people thought the format had been axed. The hysteria that ensued was incredible. I mean that positively and negatively. We Underworlders, we’re a passionate bunch.
However, earlier I mentioned the words, “for the most part.” With the introduction of the Rivals decks, and specifically their unique mechanics via their plot cards, there has been a further stipulation added to our format.
This is where the meat and potatoes of this article kicks in. Like many of you, I’ve been playing Warhammer Underworlds for over 5 years, since the the game was first introduced with Shadespire. One of my favorite aspects about this game is that it blends two of my favorite ways to play games – miniatures and cards.
There need be no explanation as to why I enjoy miniature games so much. If you’re reading this article, you’ll generally have the same positive feelings about the building, painting, and social aspects of the hobby.
Cards-wise, I grew up playing the Pokemon (well that was more so collecting because no one really played that game in school, it was all bragging rights) and Yu-Gi-Oh trading card games (TCG). I play a ton of Hearthstone and have recently started playing Marvel Snap as well, both virtual TCG’s. I love deck building. It’s a blank canvass or a private laboratory. You just get to mess around, try new stuff, and see if things work. I also enjoy making decisions, drawing cards, and executing powerful combos. And that’s really where my challenges start with this bespoke rule.
So I’ll breaking down my thoughts in segments where I’ll be sharing my musings into 3 categories. In each category, I will most likely word vomit my feelings, concerns, and discoveries in them so fair warning in advance. Also, this isn’t a rant. As a community leader, that wouldn’t be helpful to anyone. In the same vein, I am not going to be overly optimistic either. I’m just going to be candid.
It feels limiting.
As I hinted at above, the card pool is at it’s lowest point in the season as it often is at the beginning. People have historically complained about the lack of variety in the early stages of a seasons life cycle. That is nothing new. In fact most players are perfectly happy just trying out the new warbands and cards knowing that another release will come in the next 45-60 days. But the difference this time is that takes an already limited pool of new options and cuts it quite literally in half.
There were 64 new universals that released with Gnarlwood. Nethermaze and Harrowdeep both had 86, respectively. That’s roughly 25% less cards than the previous 2 seasons of the game. Any player, returning or otherwise, who is looking to replace the cards that have lost through rotation will have a harder time doing so. Any player who is looking to experiment with newer cards is going to be limited in their experience. They can only use 32 cards. When compared again to the previous 2 season box sets, the percentage of available cards shrinks to a further 37%.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that most of the popular cards from Nethermaze and Harrowdeep were tied heavily to the cover mechanic. With the changes to objectives starting face up, the lack of additional feature tokens, and stagger being a penalty for delving, most of those cards are nowhere near efficient as they need to be. This again severely limits the card pool.
If you enjoy perusing through the championship card pool and stumbling upon niche cards that could work in your deck, you won’t like this change. If you like to constantly throw cards in and out of your deck in order to find the perfect combo, that exercise won’t last very long. If you like you to challenge yourself by coming up with something unique, or even meme-ish, you probably won’t.
This is why this change feels so limiting. Again, I understand it is the beginning of a season but that doesn’t matter because we don’t know how many Rivals decks will have plot cards associated with them. And since Rivals decks are the only universal releases moving forward, it throws a lot of ambiguity out there.
We do know Fearsome Fortress and Beastbound Assault are coming out over the next 4 months. If even 1 of these decks has a plot card associated with it, this limits the card pool tremendously. For conversation’s sake, lets say 1 of them has a plot card and 1 of them doesn’t. That means out of the 128 universal cards available in the Gnarlwood season, you could in theory only use half of them – 32 cards bound to a plot and 32 cards that aren’t. Having only 64 cards eligible for building a deck in the most competitive format for the most competitive miniatures/board game out there doesn’t seem very competitive, nor exciting.
Furthermore, if one of the decks containing plot cards has clearly the best cards for a particular archetype or strategy, then again there is further limitation because there isn’t really a choice. For example, I’ve mentioned this quite bit on the discords, if you have a slower warbands with 3 or less movement, I think you might be shoe-horned into picking Daring Delvers. Conqueror’s Circlet is just that good. Warbands like Chosen Axes, Thundrik’s Profiteers, Magore’s Fiends, Exiled Dead, Wurmspat, to name but a few, will thrive off of it. Some of that may be by design though given how the deck also specifically calls out Khorne fighters. Gorechosen of Dromm also like it for the domain cards.
A casualty, potentially, is warbands from previous seasons. Players who have latched onto a particular warband, or prefer to play older ones (you special snowflakes <3), might also complain that their warbands can’t hang. Generally that is true, most older warbands can’t hang with the newer warbands, outside of Beastgrave. That’s due to mechanics, balancing, developers learning lessons and implementing them, etc. But if all the warbands only had access to the same limited pool, then the warbands who are newer, have perhaps more innovative mechanics, or are designed with the new rules in place, will perform better.
There is an argument on whether or not we should care about older warbands who stopped being sold over 2-3 years ago. I’m sure we’ll address it on the podcast at some point. I won’t be opening that can of worms here though, at least not today.
Last thing here, this ruling also contradicts the rule book. Not much as else to say except that that’s also super confusing for all players but especially newer ones.
Simple equals less complicated rules.
On the flip side, this change is perhaps great because it undoubtedly future proofs the format. In theory of course, we publicly are not aware of the details surrounding future releases.
How does it future proof?
Well let’s say there is a Rivals deck in the future that works really well within it’s own ecosystem. If the plot card is designed to perhaps be a resource management system, then there could be cases where cards could be constantly buffed and de-buffed through the course of a game. If you were able to take cards willy-nilly, as we were able to previously in Championship, then this would throw that buff/de-buff mechanic out of whack. This could lead to some cards being potentially too good and/or perhaps even being not worth playing.
Another example is if we look at the Hunger mechanic. [Feral Symbiote] is a card that has a a clear plus side and a down side if your fighters starts making more attacks. Let’s say a new deck’s plot card introduces a mechanic similarly to that. If there is no base mechanic to rely on in the game, then you might be able to take advantage of the pros without facing the repercussions of the cons.
So if we take those examples into account, we would have a bunch cards flying around with unchecked power levels. It could potentially create environments where some warbands may be performing heads and shoulders above the rest. In the past when there have been too many “good cards,” community members have expressed frustration and concern in terms of balance. Some even take breaks. This leads to negative sentiment in the community which isn’t fun for new players who happen to show interest in the game.
Then everyone starts clamoring for a FaR (forsaken and restricted) list. Those lists aren’t ever perfect, despite having many people working on them. There will be people that are happy and people who will complain. Then the process repeats. It’s a vicious cycle, but alas the way of things.
Well, maybe not anymore.
This new championship rules sidesteps all of that. You don’t need a FaR list when you have a set of cards that are balanced within their own plot card and ecosystem. This makes balance easier. This makes accessibility easier. And it keeps things simple.
However the hardcore players, don’t like simple. But that is clearly not who GW is catering to anymore. Warhammer Underworlds events have tanked in terms of participation at major events in the US. And while this a whole wide world outside of the US, the Warhammer Events Team plans 99% of their events in America and in England. The UK numbers are strong overall, but that’s also because most of them are at Warhammer World which I believe skews the numbers greatly. It’s the Mecca for Warhammer – it’s going to have great turnouts regardless, especially when staff are playing. I view them as an anomaly.
If you want to get the US events back to their pre-pandemic numbers, things needs to change. You can’t blame the pandemic anymore either, every other major GW game is booming. I applaud Games Workshop for trying something new. It means they care and experimentation will ultimately lead to a working solution. I’m not sure if this Championship change is the change we need to reignite the scene, but we need something and this is a start.
The Warhammer community is largely made up of players who like to play miniatures games, not card games. Deck building can only be scary for people. Making the game play a bit simpler allows players to graduate through the multiple formats while still having a solid core of rails guards to fall on. Does it “dumb down” the game like people say, potentially yeah. Will it lead to more people playing the game and showing interest? I’m not sure. I would hope so.
Here’s what I would do!
I see both sides, and so now I’m here to share my actual opinion. Personally, I don’t like the rule. I think I am concerned with the diversity of the game. Some people will argue that Championship is all about picking the one of the top 5 best warbands and cramming as many of the top 25 cards you can into your deck. I think they’re wrong. There is plenty of data to back that up prepared by some awesome community members.
And also, like that’s every meta game. There will be strategies, units, or cards across all games that will rise to the top. They get nerfed, or restricted, and then new cards arise to take their place. That’s not a Underworlds “problem,” that how every game functions inside and outside of Warhammer.
I also think this move risks alienating the veteran core that has helped promote Warhammer Underworlds for the last 5 years. This fundamentally changes the way the game is played at the highest level. People will crib and complain, loudly. That risks turning newer players away from the game as well. We can’t afford that.
So I propose a happy medium. I think the rule should change to say that you can only players can use any card they want to when building a deck EXCEPT for a certain, limited number of cards that either specifically mention the mechanics the plot card introduces or are tied to the deck in some other way. You can still only use 1 plot card, outside of your warband plot card of course.
That way, you can avoid the overlap between savage (Tooth & Claw) and explorer (Daring Delvers), but still allow players to use cards from each respective deck that don’t mention those keywords or refer directly to their plot cards.
The benefits here are that players gain access to a much larger pool of cards as there are many cards that do not mention plot card keywords. It also limits things just enough to keep things simple. We just need the official documents to state which cards would not be eligible, to avoid ambiguity, and then we’re off. Problem solved!
In fact, this could also be a way to soft restrict cards as well. If you think certain cards are a bit too powerful in the wild, add them to the list of cards that are tied to the plot card. That way, you can’t use some of the more obviously, dare I say busted, cards that those Rival decks contain.
But even if they didn’t do that part, the idea would still work. And for those concerned about balance, there is nothing a FaR list can’t fix. And GW has shown they’re willing to print those more often – which is a comforting feeling.
Does any of this matter?
Probably not. Games Workshops is going to do what Games Workshop is going to do. And honestly, our community will always adapt. If more people come into the game because of how accessible the game is becoming, no one is going to be upset about that.
Communities can also take charge and make their own rules or formats, people do that everywhere. It’s nice to follow the official rules for sure, but outside of official GW events, which largely happen in America and England, it doesn’t matter.
Do whatever makes you happy. It is YOUR hobby.
I mentioned that Underworlders can be a passionate bunch. We’ve supported the game through all it’s ups and down. We survived Mollog, the Grymwatch, lethal hexes, overpowered healing, innate spell triggers, and many other things. We’ll survive this too if things don’t change. We have a dedicated community that allows us play against each other across the globe and when that community puts their minds to something, it always works out in the end.
But I urge you to care because what does matter is your reaction. A majority of people there don’t like the change. They’re letting GW know. If you don’t like it, or like, you should let them know too (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We Underworlders will continue to survive, thrive, and support our game, and make the most of it. But you knew that already. 😉
Best of luck on your [Path to Glory],