The impending wave 2 release, increasing the hero pool to 28, will mean selecting a Warband for competitive play will take a lot more thought. The no-faction selection system provides a huge number of hero permutations and, for new players, selecting a tournament level Warband can be daunting. To kick off my new blog, I thought I would share my thought processes when putting together a Warband capable of winning a tournament, which I actually did today with heat 2 of the King of the Grove Tournament Series.
To help frame this discussion, this particular heat was 3 rounds, the first two being 3v3 and the final round 5v5. All rounds included pick & ban and the 5 heroes you used in the 3v3 games had to be a subset of the 7 you used in the 5v5. Each player was allowed a single wave 2 hero "paper doll" in their 7, however I decided to not do this, and stick to wave 1 for this heat. The main reason for this was simply because I wanted to play with physical models rather than a tactical thing.
Where to Start?
My standard Warband selection method incorporates a bottom up approach. So in this case, I started with the 3 heroes I would want to field if there was no pick & ban, the 3 heroes that I would take every single time if given the opportunity. In this article I am not going to go into the tactics around which heroes I picked too much, because really, anything can work if you have a strategy, are able to stick to it, and know your heroes inside out. However the 3 heroes I wanted to base my Warband around were Skoll Bonestorm, Bastian Oriel and Thorgar, so these 3 were locked in.
Pick & Ban Strategy
From this point I think about the heroes I would include if each of them was banned. The obvious pattern players often fall into is to pick heroes that can fill a similar role, however I don't necessarily do that. No 2 heroes in the game are like-for-like, so instead of trying to replace a hero with something similar, I usually look for opportunities to move the Warband into another direction, if possible, while still taking advantage of its strengths.
The Skoll/Bastian synergy is legendary, and was identified from the very early days of Judgement and opponents will normally ban one of them whenever they appear together. As mentioned earlier, the temptation is to replace Skoll with another defender, Doenrakkar or Thrommel perhaps, however neither of them provide any real synergy with Bastian. Doenrakkar rarely attacks 3 times in an activation, often wanting to use Stone Form, and Thrommel only attacks once each activation, so neither gets much benefit from Bastian's Heroic Ballad aura. Marcus has better synergy with him but still not great. Fielding Bastian in 3v3 battles results in a dramatic drop in damage output, so you really need the two other heroes to benefit from his Heroic Ballad to make him worth taking.
If you take a step back however, other than Skoll, the other hero that has a wonderful synergy with Bastian is actually Piper. The combination of 3" reach and Heroic Ballad means that the two of them together are an incredible fighting force, raising Piper to an effective MEL of 8 and a 3/4/5 damage grid via Back Stab. I typically equip Piper with the Vorpal Blade artefact, making those statistics even better, and lets not forget Bastian's Enhance Magic. So that means Piper is in, leaving one more spot to fill.
This is perhaps the most common ban, in fact in the King of the Grove tournament I only got to use him in round 1, and he was banned for both rounds 2 & 3. Without Bastian, Skoll drops off a fair bit, however he is still a very handy hero. Bulwark is immense at level 1 and the sheer number of attacks he puts out, even when attacking with a single dice, can result in decent damage. Thorgar is similar as he can still operate ok without Bastian, and normally means I will give the Vorpal Blade to him when Bastian is not around.
This is where I pivot my strategy in terms of hero selection. Without Bastian I still have two high health melee heroes with decent damage output, however dealing enough damage can be an issue. In this case I opted to slot in Istariel. Quite obviously she plays nothing like Bastian, however Istariel gives me a great ranged option with high damage output and fantastic mobility. Her inclusion means there is less pressure on Skoll to do damage, and she provides a fantastic target for Bulwark. So that rounds out my 5 heroes, and gives me a clear strategy to implement if Skoll or Bastian are banned.
Finally, I have to consider if Thorgar is banned, and he also does draw out a lot of bans. However this actually opens me up for arguably an even stronger combination of Skoll, Bastian and Piper. In fact, in round 1 against Evan Ferris, he banned Thorgar and mentioned after the game how surprised he was in the damage output from the Bastian/Piper combination. With those three heroes I sit Bastian behind Skoll and Piper and let those two go nuts. All Bastian has to do is remove conditions, heal and provide his aura.
The Play Book
I now have a solid play book which lists the Warband I will field depending on the hero my opponent bans.
- Skoll banned -> Bastian Thorgar Piper
- Bastian banned -> Skoll Thorgar Istariel
- Thorgar banned -> Skoll Bastian Piper
Expanding to 5v5
The 1st thing to understand is that 5v5 is a very different game to 3v3, and heroes have different power levels in each format. It is at this point that I look at the 5 heroes I have already, and considering whether they can be decent as a 5 strong Warband in their own right. Let's have a look at them again.
- Skoll, Bastian, Thorgar, Piper, Istariel
It just so happens that this is a very solid Warband in 5v5s, in fact I would be happy to field this every game if given the chance, which is a fantastic start. If, when you consider your 5 heroes in the context of a 5v5 game, you find it lacking, then you will be forced to pick heroes that fix the problems you perceive it to have. In my case, I simply wanted to fill any holes that my opponent's ban would create.
In the 5v5 game there are already 2 heroes, in Thorgar and Piper, that benefit from Bastian's Heroic Ballad so if Skoll is banned, slotting in another defender is viable strategy. In this tournament I chose Doenrakkar. I pretty much want to use him to protect Istariel, context objectives and generally be a pain in the butt for my opponent.
Bastian getting banned is another pivot opportunity. The loss of his aura will drop my damage output down, and the lack of healing will mean I won't be able to compete so well in prolonged battles. To maintain my damage output, and potentially shorten the game length I actually replaced Bastian with Rakkir. A high damage dealer with a lot of mobility, Rakkir is a great addition and provides multiple threat vectors on every turn.
That means my Warband is now complete and includes:
- Skoll, Bastian, Thorgar, Istariel, Piper, Doenrakkar, Rakkir
Thorgar, Istariel or Piper Banned
In all three cases, the ban will have a negative affect on my damage output, so it is a no brainer to slot in Rakkir to bring that damage level back up and maintain my threat vectors. All the different combinations of Warbands look very strong and will be fun to play, which is always a good feeling when going to a tournament.
The Play Book
Here is the play book for the 5v5 version of my Warband.
- Skoll banned -> Doenrakkar Bastian Thorgar Piper Istariel
- Bastian banned -> Skoll Thorgar Istariel Rakkir Piper
- Thorgar banned -> Skoll Bastian Piper Rakkir Istariel
- Istariel banned -> Skoll Bastian Thorgar Piper Rakkir
- Piper banned -> Skoll Bastian Thorgar Istariel Rakkir
I am by no means anti-soulgazer, in fact in the past I have had great success with them, however in this particular instance, whenever I tried to put one in, it seemed to upset the balance of the Warband. I actually successfully soul gazed in all my games at King of the Grove II. Bastian has a Soul Harvest of 5 and Skoll is 4, and both of them can grab souls in a pinch. In fact, I won 2 of my games with Istariel soul harvesting the final soul to win, she has a Soul Harvest of 3 so with 1 or 2 friends around it is definitely doable.
At the very beginning of this blog post I mentioned how putting Warbands together will become more challenging once wave 2 ships, however you can put together very strong Warbands evening limiting your hero pool to wave 1. I was the only player in the tournament to not take a wave 2 hero and I won my 3 games, however even with a hero pool of 28, you can use the same techniques I described in this article and focus yourself to a strong Warband.
The Judgement meta is still very new and, while growing, the tournament scene is small. It will be so exciting to see how the meta develops once we get more players involved and have much bigger tournaments. I am planning on publishing blog posts on a regular basis from this point forward, so if you have a topic you would like me to talk about, please reach out and suggest it. I would be only too happy to.