2 - Warband Construction Theory: An introduction to keywords, how to use them and what they mean for your play style.
Posted on October 10 2018
Now that wave 2 is almost upon us, the catalog of playable heroes will skyrocket to 28. Because there are no faction limitations for selecting your warband this highlights the biggest, most glaring weakness of Judgement as a game:
"The characters in Judgement are so well-designed, so well-balanced and so fun to play that it is impossible to form a 5v5 warband without leaving dearly beloved heroes out of your roster, like orphaned kittens abandoned in the rain."
I regularly find this to be the hardest part of the game and so I have tried and experimented with different tools that I could use to help my decision making process based on the qualities of individual heroes and their overall contribution towards a particular play style. One of these is the use of keywords. I assign these to particular heroes and then pick my warband based on a reasonable distribution of those keywords so that I am left with a flexible warband that is resilient to bans and can play on the large variety of maps. Let's take a look at some of the categories of keywords that I like to use, and how they look:
1) Fate consumption. Here I use 3 different labels; NoFate, TurnFate & SwingFate.
NoFate heroes are perfectly happy to spend the entire game without having any fate spent on them at all without losing much effectiveness. These are heroes that have good base stats and active abilities as well as fate abilities that are either corner-case abilities for very specific match-ups or situations or just not game-winningly powerful. Some examples of this in my opinion are heroes like Thorgar, Brok, Barnascus, & Svetlana.
TurnFate heroes are the opposite, they want to spend at least 1 fate every turn of the game to really maximise their impact and get the best value possible. This includes fate healers like Haksa, Bastian & Skye, fate damagers like Zhonyja, Rakkir, Istariel & Zaffen and utility fate users like Piper, Zaron, Gendris, Loribella & Kvarto.
The last category is SwingFate. These are the heroes that have good fate abilities that you will probably only use once per game but will have a possibly game-winning impact, meaning that it is advisable to always have 1 fate in reserve for these guys. This includes heroes like Skoll, Marcus, Styx, Viktor, Xyvera, Doenrakker, Saiyin, Brok and Allandir.
Composition wise for a 3v3 PnB warband I want a minimum of 1 NoFate hero and a maximum of 2 TurnFate heroes (one of which will either be banned or dropped) in order to ensure that I don't fate-starve myself. Notice that the TurnFate hero category is large so you must choose carefully!
2) Board position. I identify 4 possible board positions a hero aims to occupy; Front, Middle, Back & Side.
Front are heroes that need to be in melee and that perform well in the chaotic and cramped confines of a multi-combatant brawl. Heroes such as Thorgar, Marcus, Haksa, Brok, Doenrakkar, Skoll & Skye are exemplary of this category. It requires a combination of decent defensive stats, moderate to good damage output, and a decent melee range to qualify for this category. Front fighters are essential for controlling & contesting shrines and protecting your valuable Middle & Back heroes from being engaged or killed by your opponents Front fighters.
Middle is the largest and probably most important category here. They are the ones who maneuver, counter-attack and generally rely the most on good model placement. Heroes such as Bastian, Styx, Thrommel, Xyvera, Zhonjya, Kvarto, Loribella, Kogan, Barnascus and Gendris fall squarely this category. They are heroes who don't like having to tank a enemy alpha strike, but want to be close enough to the action to counter-attack for big damage, or to enable your other heroes to get work done. Their favorite position is in the center, a few inches behind their screening troops in order to retain the ability to react to the spawning of souls, counter attack against enemy heroes and to fill up board space left empty by your opponent and project threat.
Back are the heroes that enjoy working with empty table space and helping out teammates from the safety of their warm little camp fire behind the front lines. Allandir, Zaffen, Zaron, Kruul, Saiyin and Istariel are the exemplars of this category. They enjoy finishing off wounded targets and playing the soul game without being bothered by the enemy. They are also all heroes that can spiral completely out of control if your opponent lets them do their work unhindered and can often win you the game as a result, assuming of course you don't throw them away recklessly. A well-played Back hero should never die and will probably be your first hero to level 3.
Side are the heroes that either enjoy fighting on their own, or want to threaten your opponent's Back troops. They have superior mobility and excel at disrupting your opponents formation. On maps with congestive terrain and flanking shrines these guys excel. Rakkir, Nephenee and Viktor make up this category and they require dedicated focus in warband construction. If you want to use on of these heroes, the rest of your warband MUST be built to take them into account. Otherwise you will play away a potentially massive advantage that you have.
For composition of 3v3 PnB I want a minimum of 2 Front heroes to ensure I can fight for the shrine/soul pit regardless of bans with a maximum of 1 Back or Side hero.
3) Soul gazing ability. Here I identify 2 categories. 1stGaze & 2ndGaze.
1stGaze includes all soulgazers as well as Bastian and Styx. These are all guys that will do a solid job of playing the soulgame and should be gazing whenever it is safe to do so in order to put pressure on your opponent. 1stGazers add 2 Gaze-units(GU) to your warband each.
2ndGaze includes all the heroes that have a soul harvest value of 4 (i.e. the supporters and the defenders) as well as Viktor. These are the guys that can gaze with a decent probability under the condition that they either have a friendly assist (or two) or the fate to spare with the reroll (preferably both). Without one of those two conditions I probably would not gaze unless I had nothing better to do. 2ndGazers add 1 Gaze-unit(GU) to your warband each. I know that Viktor doesn't soulgaze but his ability to choose the soul spawn will allow him to count to your total gazing score.
Composition wise for a 3v3 PnB I would want to bring at least a total of 3 GU's. This is to ensure that after bans I still have at least 2 GU'sleft on the board, whether that be a single 1stGazer or two 2ndGazers. Because of my undying love of the supporter class I frequently have more than 3 Gaze-units in my warbands pre-bans, making my potential for soul-game fairly stable
4) Dependancy. Here there is only 1 keyword, but it's an important one. Dependant heroes are the ones who have such strong synergistic interactions with specific other heroes that having one of them banned almost always means you end up dropping the other hero because they lose so much effectiveness once their best friend gets eliminated. One shining example here is Thrommel & Kvarto. If Kvarto is banned I almost always end up not taking Thrommel because of the loss of 50% of his damage output. Styx & Svetlana are in a similar position. Svetlana's Dependancy:Styx means that if Styx gets banned (common occurance) then Svetlana becomes that much harder to move around the table and be effective and I will be drawn so strongly towards dropping her as to in essence give my opponent a second band, for free.
Composition wise I try to avoid Dependant models in 3v3 PnB. If I do bring a Dependant hero I make sure that the 3 remaining heroes I have left form a Trinity of Synergy amongst themselves. In this case I will pick the two hero combo with the Dependant and then alongside that an entirely separate and self-contained 3-man warband. An example of this would be to put down a Kvarto/Thrommel pair first and augment that with a strong 3-man team such as Zhonyja/Thorgar/Kruul
Putting it into practice:
Below is an example of a warband that I designed using the keyword system
Total Gaze-units(GU) = 5
Min 2 Front? = Yes
Max 2 TurnFate? = Yes
Max 1 Back/Side? = Yes
Skoll (Bulwark) --> Piper / Styx / Thorgar : All of these heroes have 0 RES and equally appreciate the extra 5 HP.
Haksa(3" melee) --> Piper / Skoll : Both of the heroes enjoy the assist bonus that Haksa's considerable melee range gives them. This will allow for Piper to act as an aggressor in case Thorgar gets banned.
Styx(Ethereal Passage) --> Thorgar / Haksa: Getting the extra distance is great for Thorgar because it allows him to dive a monster with 2 attacks, giving you a decent chance of killing it. Haksa enjoys Ethereal passage as a way to quickly take a controlling board position on the centre of the table or a shrine with a double totem start.
Thorgar(Mancatcher) --> Haksa / Piper: Being able to pull enemy heroes into Haksa's considerable 3" melee forces people to deal with parting blows, and also makes Thorgar's attack more likely to crit/throw if needed. Piper greatly enjoys having Thorgar activate first and mancatcher in a suitably squishy target, so that when Piper activates he can simply stand the and pump out 3 quick back-stab's in a row and duplicating himself in the process to avoid any kind of retaliatory charges(on the killing blow like a pro, as damage & level up trigger before the maneuver symbols resolve, allowing you to trigger the ability you just learned).
Let's take a look at some ban responses:
Thorgar ban: My only aggressor so he may end up catching a ban. Should this happen I will endeavour to have Piper take over the DPS role and will recruit Haksa to be his melee enabler. This will take Piper out of the flanking/shrine contesting role meaning I am best off picking Skoll to contest the shrine as well as dropping bulwarks on piper whenever I get the chance. Getting Piper to level 2 to enable his Duplicate as a combat maneuvre is important here because it allows me to spend more actions on attacks whilst keeping him protected.
Haksa ban: Unlikely to be banned with so many other good ban targets, this may get targeted by people who know how I feel about the orc shaman (he's one of my favorite heroes in the game). I would resort to a 2 & 1 strategy with Skoll & Thorgar teaming up and Piper going for the flank. This works well on maps with a flanking Shrine, where Piper really shines.
Piper ban: A solid ban target for my enemy. Having one of my premier mobility pieces taken away would mean a Styx pick to gain board space and to enable flank switching should it be necessary (Astral split can be incredibly powerful on the smaller 3v3 maps). I would combine him with Haksa to provide defensive capability and put up a good fight for shrines (Haksa will be the Ethereal passage target turn 1 for sure). Depending on my opponent's team composition either Skoll or Thorgar is a solid third pick. If my opponent has a lot of RES, Thorgar with armour shredder takes preference, if he brings elves or soulgazers then maybe Skoll might be a better pick.
Skoll ban: In this situation I would engineer Haksa toward a more defensive role with a quick Lvl 2 if possible and a Glyph of Warding if I can get it on him. He will be backed up by Thorgar who will provide damage and throws. Piper will be picked to bring up the flank and make shrines plays. On maps that feature Ashtooth or Inferno Styx may get picked purely because of how fun it is to charge and enemy squishy and Astral split a monster straight into the heart of the enemy team.
Styx ban: Another likely ban, people rightfully fear him. I probably would respond with the above mentioned Thorgar/Haksa/Piper combo unless there was a heavy central focus in which case I might exchange Piper for Skoll to provide even more beef and staying power. Skoll would also see the table if my opponent had a particularly good Piper combo (let me know when you figure out what that is)
This leaves me with a warband that enjoys playing the maneuvre and capture game, trying to utilize a fate advantage leveraged through shrine control or monster kills with a solid opportunistic soul-gazing strategy. I have some of the best movement-based heroes in the game featuring teleports, blinks, tramples, throws, pulls and place-switches. It also features two fantastic death-rays, the double-tap combo of pain-reflector and equilibrium for those crazy 2 fate auto-hitting instant kills (oh, you play elves? . . . . ..... sorry). I think this overall playstyle of strong maneuvre play backed up with pin-point damage suits my personal style very well
So that's it for now. This was the method I used to come up my new warband this afternoon and I thought I would share it with you whilst it was fresh.
I'd love to hear your own try-outs of this method to see if it works for you guys! Comment below to let us know!