AoS Shorts: Your Essential Guide to Age of Sigmar

Change for Change’s Sake: Guide to Destiny Dice in AoS

Since they emerged from the Silver Tower, Destiny Dice have been a potent (and controversial) mechanic in Warhammer Age of Sigmar. The first Disciples of Tzeentch Battletome introduced Destiny Dice back in Tzaanuary 2017. The second Battletome heralded profound changes to how Destiny Dice operate (2020 Destiny Dice). Tzeentch armies play differently under the second Battletome and 2020 Destiny Dice have contributed to that new playstyle. 

Reading this article will help you to understand the nuances of 2020 Destiny Dice. We’ll explore available combos, nonbos* and counters to improve your games of Age of Sigmar.

This article covers a lot of ground, so I’ve split it into these three parts:

  1. how core mechanics of the game such as Pick, Change, Replace, Reroll, Multiplier and Modifier abilities operate and interact;
  2. the evolution of 2017 Destiny Dice mechanic and their impact on the wider rule set; and
  3. a guide to 2020 Destiny Dice as they operate in the game now.

We at The NicoLab hope that you enjoy this article and survive the puns. You can also check out other articles in the NicoLab series:

*Nonbos in this context are where two abilities combine in a negative manner for the player using them (anti-synergy or lack of synergy). They can also arise when the player expects there to be a combo/synergy but in fact there is no such combo/synergy.

Part 1: Pick, Change, Replace, Reroll, Multiplier or Modifier

You’re likely familiar with Rerolls and Modifiers as common dice mechanics in Warhammer Age of Sigmar.  However, there are also more exotic species of dice mechanic, including Picks, Changes, and Replaces. Let’s explore each of these in turn. 

Rerolls in Age of Sigmar

Since Age of Sigmar Second Edition, Rerolls have evolved from Reroll failed Hits/Wounds/Saves, to you can Reroll Hits/Wounds/Saves. This change has made Rerolls more efficient. Rerolling only failed hits/wounds/saves leaves you at the mercy of debuffs and rend which are applied after rerolls (causing you to fail). Now you can often Reroll dice which would fail after modifiers are applied.

For example, if you can only reroll failed hits, your To Hit is 4+ and you face a -1 to hit Modifier, then you can only Reroll 1s, 2s and 3s. If you roll a 2, 3, 4 and 6, then you can Reroll the 2 and the 3, but the 4 is not a failed hit at the Reroll point in the sequence. The 6 does hit.  After the Rerolls you have a 1 and a 5 together with the original 4 and 6. You then apply any Modifiers and find that the 4 becomes a Modified 3, which is below a 4+, so it misses. You’re left with the 5 and the 6 (Modified 4 and 5) as the only 2 hits. If you had Reroll hit rolls, then you could have also Rerolled that 4.

The Gruesome Bite Mount Trait for Flesh Eater Courts seems to be a deliberate exception. This is a new rule which only rerolls failed hits (perhaps the intention was to limit fishing for unmodified 6s that inflict 6 Mortal Wounds).

Modifiers in Age of Sigmar

Modifiers are additive buffs (+1 to hit), which can affect either a characteristic (+1 to bravery) or a dice roll (+1 to save rolls). They can stack on top of each other, unless expressly prohibited in the rule.

Multipliers in Age of Sigmar

Multipliers are anything that multiples or divides the value of a dice roll. The Core Rules FAQ confirms that Multipliers are applied before Modifiers. In practical terms, this reduces the impact of Multipliers compared to first modifying a value and then doubling it.

Picks, Changes and Replaces

Picks, Changes and Replaces allow you to either:

  • pre-determine a dice roll (proactively before rolling); or 
  • change/replace a dice roll (reactively after rolling).

By convention, Change abilities have been performed by physically turning a single dice to the desired value. For example, at Blood & Glory 2016, Terry Pike (@terrypike84 of the Facehammer podcast) pioneered the combo of:

  • Warpfire Stormfiends, when they spewed out Mortal wounds to any target;
  • Sayl the Faithless, whose spell could (at that time) double their move to pump up their threat range; and
  • Kairos, who could change priority rolls, the casting roll, unbinding roll or any other crucial roll for your opponent.

The Tzeentch Battletome of Tzaanuary 2017 heralded much change (27th pun in this article). One welcome development was that Kairos could no longer change a priority roll:

Oracle has the potent (and very rare) wording “Once per battle” as its timing trigger. As users of the “Laser Pen” (Luminary Rod artefact) know well, this can create all manner of opportunities. You could interrupt your opponent to change a single dice roll. The June 2018 Disciples of Tzeentch FAQ later emphatically clarified this as “Just one dice!” rather than (say) 35 hit rolls or a 2D6 charge roll.

Other example of Changes are Prime Time (The Celestant Prime) – who can change the entirety of a 2D6 Charge Roll using Orrery of Celestial Fates. However, this is then subject to forced rerolls from your opponent and modifiers.

The sequencing of Pick, Change and Replace abilities

The sequencing of these types of ability is as follows:

  1. Proactive Pick/Replace. This is where you use the ability instead of rolling the dice. For example, 2017 Destiny Dice used “predetermine”. 2020 Destiny Dice is a “would have made”. You don’t roll a D6 first for both of these.**
  2. Rolling the dice.
  3. Reactive Pick/Change/Replace. This timing is the default position, unless there is a more specific timing within the ability. 
  4. Rerolls
  5. Multipliers
  6. Modifiers

** Proactive Pick appears to mean choosing any arbitrary value (1 to 6) for the D6, whereas Proactive Replace is limited to specified values (e.g. the actual Destiny Dice you have available).

Core Rules FAQ

The following Core Rules FAQ makes clear that the rule set recognises distinct categories of Picks, Changes, Replaces, Rerolls and Modifiers and explains the timing in point 3 above:

2017 Destiny Dice were subject to rerolls, multipliers and modifiers. So back then Lord Kroak was the hard counter for Disciples of Tzeentch with his supply of universal rerolls (including forcing your opponent to reroll). He could simply make the Tzeentch player reroll a Destiny Dice.

A few special cases

However, as with many things in Age of Sigmar, there are unique abilities that operate outside this neat characterisation. 

The Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon’s Ancient Shield causes the model to have a 3+ Save (rather than adding 1 to its save roll as a Modifier). Hence, this synergises with the Ethereal Amulet (for a 3+ save that ignores all modifiers like rend).

The Freeguild Shield of the Freeguild General on Griffon no longer works in this way (so the Ethereal Amulet doesn’t synergise – a nonbo).

The Mistweaver Saih’s Glimmermist ability allows it to tank one attack with a 1+ save:

The timing is a little odd here (as the attack could miss or fail to wound, so you could waste the ability). However, this 1+ save is even better than it sounds because dice rolls (unlike characteristics) cannot be modified to below 1.

This means that even a -5 rend Attack from Volturnos will modify a roll of 2-5 to a 1. A 6 will also be modified to a 1 as normal. All of these are ‘‘1+’, so this armour save succeeds. Only a natural 1 fails (from the Core Rules).

The new Bastiladon

The FAQ to the Seraphon Battletome confirmed this position regarding the 1+ Save Bastiladon. With the benefit of hindsight, a Designer’s Note printed in the Battletome may have reduced the confusion over this mechanic.

This is particularly strong in melee due to the All-out Defence generic command ability from GHB 2019 for Reroll saves of 1. But because this is activated in the Start Part of the Combat Phase, cunning Hermdar Hearthguard Berzerkers with Broadaxes could activate first in the Fyreslayers’ turn and hope the Seraphon player rolls some natural 1s and inflict enough damage to drop the save profile of the Bastiladon. Then the HGB could fight again in the During Part of the Combat Phase against a reduced armour save. Or they could just bring Poleaxes!

At the Double

The At the Double generic command ability provides that the run roll is reactively treated as being a 6. This is efficient as you can roll the dice and only then decide whether you need to use the command ability (a 5 or 6 run roll might be sufficient to tag an objective for example).

Part 2: The Evolution of 2017 Destiny Dice

The first Disciples of Tzeentch Battletome introduced 2017 Destiny Dice back in Tzaanuary 2017. This proved to be a controversial mechanic. It’s worth seeing how 2017 Destiny Dice evolved over time, as the rules writers have learned from the mistakes made and taken on feedback when writing the rules for 2020 Destiny Dice. Of course, as with all things Tzeentch, be careful what you wish for….

The Mortal Wound distinction

Prior to 2017 Destiny Dice, mortal wounds and “regular” wounds had been fairly similar (just skipping the wound roll (and sometimes the hit roll) and the armour save). There were lengthy debates over whether ward saves (damage prevention rolls) that worked against mortal wounds also worked against regular wounds and vice versa.

As a result, and following a Warhammer TV episode introducing and discussing Battletome: Disciples of Tzeentch, it was confirmed that 2017 Destiny Dice can substitute 5 or 6 mortal wounds for “D6 Mortal Wounds” on the basis that this was a “Damage roll”. This led to perhaps the worst non-interactive playing experience of AoS – a 1 drop list that surgically zapped 20+ Mortal Wounds into key targets turn 1. Players such as Tony Moore found success with this type of army. This could be followed up by a guaranteed charge by a Lord of Change with a -3 Rend Sword that rarely missed (the Rob Bradley build at The South London Legion). 

A swift FAQ prevented this application of Destiny Dice. The following FAQs enshrine a hard distinction between mortal wounds and regular wounds:

There are numerous examples of this distinction being important in the current rules:

  • Ardboyz’ shields only work on regular wounds.
  • The Godbone Armour (Petrifex) only works on regular wounds (compare with Mannfred’s Armour of Templehof)
  • Scaly Skin (Coalesced Seraphon) does not work on Mortal Wounds inflicted by an attack (Poleaxes, Keepers of Secrets) – as confirmed in the FAQ for Seraphon:
  • Gotrek’s Avatar of Grimnir ability is plainly intended to work on mortal wounds caused by abilities and spells (noting in particular that years have passed since the last spell that caused regular wounds, namely Malagor the Dark Omen’s Carrion Viletide spell):
  • It is interesting to try to resolve Curse of Years against Avatar. The FAQ provides that you roll the 10 dice looking for 6s, apply the Ward saves, then carry on rolling based on the failed Ward Saves looking for 5s, apply Ward saves again, etc. Avatar seeks to aggregate the mortal wounds, reduce them to 1 and then apply the 3+ Ward save, which conflicts with the Curse of Years FAQ.
  • The Curse of Years FAQ should be deleted to fix this. Presumably this arose from player feedback (ignoring the silent evidence of when Curse inflicts zero or one mortal wound). A similar issue arises for Tzeentch’s Firestorm (where multiple D3 mortals are inflicted by a single spell).

The hard distinction between mortal wounds and regular wounds is also easier for new and experienced players alike. 

Using a 2017 Destiny Dice on a reroll and for one of the dice in a 2D6 roll

Originally, players used Destiny Dice on their rerolls. This was efficient for casting as Tzeentch had access to bubbles of reroll casts and reroll ‘1s’ in a casting roll. It was also possible to use only one Destiny Dice for a 2D6 roll (like a casting roll or charge rolls). 

Combining these two gave a decent outlet for those pesky 2s (the weakest Destiny Dice), since for a cast of 7, you could use a 5 Destiny Dice and roll the other D6. If you rolled a 1, then you could Reroll it and then make use of that 2 Destiny Dice. The June 2018 FAQ prevented the use of Destiny Dice for Rerolls.

Part 3: Your guide to 2020 Destiny Dice

Having traversed the background, it’s easier to see how the new 2020 Destiny Dice operate and why they do so. The re-amended Masters of Destiny Rule is as follows:

We’ll summarise the key points here and then go on to consider some of the interesting nuances. Where there is significant doubt over a point, we’ve included a percentage to reflect the degree of confidence/uncertainty.

9 Destiny Dice “at any time”

There is a hard cap of 9 Destiny Dice “at any time”. It seems that gaining a new one when you already have 9 would have no effect (unless the wording of the ability in question specifically caters for this scenario).

Only the 10 types of roll – Kairos hit

Destiny Dice and Kairos’s new Oracle of Eternity only work on the 10 types of dice roll listed above (Dispelling has been added to the previous 9 types). The restriction to these 10 is a significant limit to Kairos – he can no longer rig those critical 2+ rolls or 3+ rolls for your opponent’s abilities that aren’t spells (the Run and Charge prayer Ember Storm for Hermdar Fyreslayers or Prayer of Ash for +1 to save; Blessing of Khaine for Daughters; or changing Arcane Channeling to a 1 against Hallowheart).

Destiny Dice don’t work on mortal wounds from spells

The new version of “Damage roll” makes it clear that Destiny Dice do not work for mortal wounds from a Spell (like Bolt of Tzeentch, which causes D6 Mortals). The mortal wound/regular wound distinction is addressed directly in the ability.

Proactive Replace 

Destiny Dice proactively Replace a dice roll.

Oracle of Eternity is a reactive Replace

Kairos’s new Oracle of Eternity has a distinct timing “Once per battle, in either player’s turn”. Therefore, it can be a reactive Replace by contrast with Destiny Dice (“Instead of making one of the rolls….”).

This is slightly more restrictive than the old wording (“once per battle”). Oracle cannot be used:

  • in the start of a battle round or
  • to rig a run roll for a unit making a scout move in the start of the battle.

However, you can still wait to see if your opponent fails a roll, then only Replace it if they succeed.

Destiny Dice before Rerolls, Multipliers or Modifiers

Destiny Dice operate before any Reroll, Multiplier or Modifier (both from the wording of Masters of Destiny itself and consistent with the FAQ discussed above under The sequencing of Pick, Change and Replace abilities). This maintains the status quo that you cannot use a Destiny Dice for a Reroll.

Oracle can Replace a rerolled dice

Conversely, it seems (60%) that you can use Oracle to Replace a dice that has already been rerolled. This is particularly useful if your opponent has rerolled a charge roll for example and succeeded. This maintains the status quo for Oracle.

This probably works because the specific timing of Oracle (point 5 above) is a possible exception permitted by the Core Rules FAQ on Pick, Change and Replace. That FAQ accepts that the general rule can be overriden (“Unless noted otherwise in the ability”). Kairos can wait until after the Reroll has happened, which is still “Once per battle” and still in “either player’s turn”.

Destiny Dice are “unmodified”

As confirmed in the re-amended FAQ above, a dice roll replaced by a Destiny Dice counts as unmodified. This is significant for rules that operate or trigger on unmodified rolls of 1 or 6. The re-amended FAQ helpfully gives the specific example of the Icon Bearer for Horrors of Tzeentch (which returns Horrors to the unit).

You can’t reroll Destiny Dice

A dice roll replaced by a Destiny Dice cannot be rerolled. We refer to this as “unrerollable”.

A Destiny Dice can’t be modified

A dice roll replaced by a Destiny Dice cannot be modified. We refer to this as “unmodifiable”.

There are two narrow exceptions – the “Casualties Exception” for Battleshock rolls and the “Rend Exception”. 

The Casualties Exception

A Battleshock Test is a comparison between the Battleshock Roll (replaced by a Destiny Dice) plus the Casualties (which is a modifier to that Roll that still applies due to the Casualties Exception) against the modified Bravery. The Bravery is not a negative modifier to a Battleshock roll. You don’t ignore the Bravery if you use a Destiny Dice for a Battleshock Test.

The Modifier in the Battleshock Phase for every 10 models in a unit is a modifier to the Bravery of the unit. This Modifier is not a Modifier to a Battleshock roll either. 

The Casualties Exception is narrow. It only applies to casualties, not to any Modifier to a Battleshock roll, so any ability that adds to or subtracts from a Battleshock roll would still be overridden by the use of a Destiny Dice.

Both exceptions still apply to Kairos

It almost goes without saying that the Rend Exception and the Casualties Exception for Masters of Destiny are intended to apply equally to Oracle.

If Kairos Replaces a save roll, then the rend would still apply. If Kairos Replaces a Battleshock roll for 40 Marauders, you don’t ignore the 21 casualties suffered as a modifier.

Oracle is meant to be an exceptional ability, but not in this regard (particularly given the visceral reaction of the Community to this aspect of Destiny Dice).

Replacing other dice rolls

There is no core rule that you cannot Replace a Change, Replace a Replace, Replace a Pick etc.. We’ve discussed the core rules relating to these abilities above.

It follows that there is no reason why Kairos in Tzeentch Army X cannot use Oracle to Replace a dice that Tzeentch Army Y has Replaced using its Destiny Dice. (85%)

Furthermore if Tzeentch Army Y also has its own (pretender?) Kairos, then it could use its Oracle to Replace the dice a third time! In practical terms, similar to “Vecting a Vect” in 40K, the first person to use or rely on Oracle usually loses out in this scenario. All of this preserves the status quo as far as Destiny Dice being replaced by Oracle and competing Kairoses.

Considering this point further, players did ask the FAQ team whether Oracle can replace the opponent’s Destiny Dice. The question wasn’t answered in the FAQ, suggesting that it may have been considered clear that it can. It remains possible to assume that the FAQ team meant to write: “Cannot be rerolled, modified or changed or replaced” in an errata that has itself already been amended. It is not possible to put this down as an unlikely or obscure interaction either given that Kairos is the most significant named character in the faction. In other words – the FAQ team didn’t just forget to say that Destiny Dice can’t be replaced again by the iconic named character.

You must use two Destiny Dice for a 2D6 roll

In contrast to 2017 Destiny Dice, for a 2D6 dice roll (casting, charges) you must spend 2 Destiny Dice to replace the entire roll. This seems more consistent with the Lore (the result is completely set in stone – subject to the named character Kairos further pulling on the strings of fate). This also implements part of the author’s stated intention, namely “to control unruly casting rolls and other exploits….” Intention is discussed further below. This is a substantial nerf to the efficiency of Destiny Dice (see 2017 Destiny Dice above). You can no longer replace one dice with a 6 and then roll the other one when you’re looking for an 8. You can’t reroll the entire roll, which prevents you from rerolling if you rolled a 1 for a (6, 1) – a casting roll of 7.

Oracle still works with 2D6 rolls

Oracle replaces only a single D6 (including one D6 from a 2D6 roll). Significantly the unrerollable and unmodifiable rules apply to the entire roll (not just the D6 of the 2D6 that was replaced).

This means that if Kairos replaces one D6 in an opponent’s charge roll or casting roll, then the entire roll cannot be rerolled and no modifiers apply even though the other D6 has been rolled as normal.

The FAQ from the Skaventide Battletome regarding Warpstone Tokens is consistent with this point as neither the 3D6 and the resulting 2D6 roll can be rerolled or modified.

This creates useful counters against abilities such as Marauders charging using Boundless Ferocity (after they change the lower D6 to a 6, you replace it with a 1 and also turn off their +1 modifier to charge from Barbarian Drummer, capping them at a 7” charge (if they rolled at least one 6 in the initial roll):

Master of Magic is a Change rule

Lords of Change and Kairos also have the Mastery of Magic ability, which is a Change rule (not a Replace). There is an FAQ for how this interacts with Destiny Dice, preventing the Lord of Change/Kairos from Replacing both dice in a casting roll with Destiny Dice and then Changing the lower one with Mastery. You cannot use Destiny Dice to replace a casting roll with (6, 2) and then use Mastery to change this to (6, 6).

There is no reason to generalise the above narrow FAQ into a general rule that you cannot Change a Replaced dice roll (75%). Had this been the intention, then it could have been expressed in general terms here in the FAQ. We’ve seen that Games Workshop are happy to set out global changes in faction-specific FAQs before (e.g. Gristlegore and The Activation Wars, see here 

It is very likely that Replace abilities can be used to Replace a dice roll previously affected by a Change ability, e.g. Oracle can trump Orrery of Celestial Fates, Boundless Ferocity etc.. This preserves the status quo. (90%)

It seems that if Kairos uses Oracle to replace one D6 of a casting roll, then he can still use Mastery on the other normal D6. This is powerful, but it’s a once per game ability for a named character (75%)

Arguably a Multiplier could still affect a dice roll that has been Replaced using a Destiny Dice. This could be relevant to an ability that halves or doubles weapon damage for example. One could argue the other way that this is an oversight (noting that Multipliers are comparatively rare) and that there’s no reason to distinguish a Modifier and a Multiplier in this specific regard. (55%)

Despite the unusual wording of At the Double (discussed above – A few special cases), Oracle should still be able to Replace a run roll that has been treated as being a 6.

We can speculate as to whether Destiny Dice should perhaps have been a Pick ability with Oracle remaining as a Replace. This could have made it easier to distinguish them as proactive and reactive abilities. On the other hand, using significant amounts of wording in common (except for the timing trigger) has its advantages in terms of consistency and clarity.

The Casualties Exception and the Rend Exception

Upon the release of the Battletome, 2020 Destiny Dice provoked a visceral reaction in players (particularly at Heat 1 at a Warhammer World) due to two particular interactions. 

As 2020 Destiny Dice are unmodifiable, an opponent’s unit’s rend was ignored as a modifier to the save roll itself (noting that it is not affecting the save characteristic). This allowed a 2020 Destiny Dice of 5 to bounce a -3 rend attack off a Flamer of Tzeentch. Furthermore, the number of casualties is a modifier to a Battleshock roll, so 10+ casualties would be ignored if you used any 2020 Destiny Dice for Battleshock (not only a 1 that triggers the Icon ability).

Ignoring rend and casualties seemed unintended in the players’ opinions. Destiny Dice have been controversial from the outset (even in the Warhammer Quest Silver Tower game). Games Workshop responded swiftly to this feedback.

Arguably, this focus on Destiny Dice distracted attention from deeper issues in the Battletome such as reliably stacking +3 to hit and +1 to wound on an undercosted shooting unit (Flamers) and the power of army-wide no-retreat in a combat-driven game, where you can 2.9” enemy units to take them out of the game. I must admit recommending in the past that dedicated anti-horde shooting be a bigger part of the game (and not of the 2D6 vs 10+ models variety, as D6 Damage is rarely desirable compared to flat damage), however Flamers are too efficient against almost any target and Tzeentch didn’t need the help!

On the other hand, as we’ve seen before with Gloomspite Gitz (“Skragrott is so undercosted!”), FEC, Slaanesh, Petrifex Elite and others, subsequent releases often tone down or soft counter an army or combo. Seraphon (Scaly Skin Salamanders and Bastiladons), Lumineth Realmlords and Sons of Behemat may soft counter Tzeentch’s shooting builds. The Battletome has tremendous depth so this is manageable.

The intention behind 2020 Destiny Dice

Rules in a game should be interpreted in their context and taking into account both the author and their audience (as with any other document in any other context). The key question to ask is what the audience would understand the author to mean by using these words (in context). This is distinct from the meaning of the words that the author uses.

Rules for a game are not written in legalese, nor with the mathematical precision required for engineering or physics. They may use vivid or poetic or fun language rather than dry, specific and less ambiguous words. 

Normally we can piece together the intention of Games Workshop by looking at similar rules and earlier FAQs, listening to podcasts from the Rules Writers and reading their articles in White Dwarf. We know, for example, that Games Workshop has used more extensive templating for Battletomes since at least the Beasts of Chaos Battletome. We’ve reaped the benefits of this, for example – none of the recent fight twice abilities allow you to fight for a third time (other than fighting twice and then fighting on Death, which may be possible).

That it may be impossible (or very difficult) to find or prove the definitive intention of the author to a 99% standard or a beyond reasonable doubt standard is not a good reason for adopting literalism or “rules as written”. If you and your opponent conclude that the author’s intention is (over 50% or more likely than not), then naturally you would use that one. The literal interpretation should not be elevated (when it is quite possible that it’s absurd or there may be multiple literal interpretations). If it’s close to 50-50 or you can’t agree with your opponent, then roll off or ask for the kind assistance of the overworked and underpaid TO.

Rules as written/literalism also falls down when common English words are regularly used to convey two or more different meanings. Words like “including” or “during” or “until” are inherently ambiguous. We’ll not risk a discussion of “wholly within”, where I’ve seen other players invoking advanced mathematics. The word “a” can mean “one” or “any” or “all” in normal English usage as the venerable Gnarlroot Wargrove FAQ illustrated:

Tying this back to Destiny Dice, we now see an acknowledgment of the importance of “intention” in the Designer’s Commentary for the Tzeentch Battletome, which twice refers to the Designer’s intention and spells out what that was:

The change to make Destiny Dice unmodified and unmodifiable reduces the power level of Destiny Dice significantly – especially for casting (Beacon of Sorcery, Arcane scenery and Mastery no longer allow a single Destiny Dice of 6 to yield a cast roll of 14 for a Lord of Change). This seems to be part of the intention to contain “unruly casting rolls”.

One can see how this is simpler to understand (“straightforward”)  for newer players who don’t have any baggage from the old Battletome and 2017 Destiny Dice. They aren’t having to unlearn combos and aren’t finding nonbos.

2020 Destiny Dice are also consistent with a broader drive towards abilities triggering on unmodified 6s (rather than modifiable 6+), which limits the power of a buff stack of +2 to hit or more and a 6+ ability (like old Murderhost Bloodletters).

What can I do against Destiny Dice?

Possible Counters

While one can see the appeal of the intentions behind the Destiny Dice changes, one consistent feature is that a number of soft and hard counters simply don’t work against Destiny Dice. This may be frustrating for the other player. 

  1. The Khorne Hexgorgers ability (-2 Modifier to cast) will not work against a Destiny Dice casting roll (as the roll is unmodifiable by either player).
  1. The Slaanesh Discordant Disruption ability (Enrapturess) will not force a Reroll of a Destiny Dice casting roll (it’s unrerollable).
  1. Suppressing Fire (-1 to charge rolls) from Raptors (Hurricane Crossbows) will not work against a Destiny Dice charge roll.
  1. Arguably (55%), the Khorne Daemon Prince Command Ability Bloodslick Ground will halve a Destiny Dice run roll or charge roll. This is on the basis that a Multiplier (or Divisor) is distinct from a Modifier. See point 25 above.
  1. The Hornblower rule for Bloodletters and many other Daemons (including Horrors themselves) do not force a unit of Horrors of Tzeentch to reroll a Destiny Dice of 1 for Battleshock (so the test is passed and this returns D6 Slain Pink Horrors back from the Icon Bearer). 
  1. While we’re on the subject, query whether you can bring back an Icon Bearer using the Emerald Lifeswarm if there are fewer than 10 Pink Horrors in the unit. It’s also worth remembering that the rule against returning models to within 3” of enemy units that aren’t already ‘tagged’ is a global one (so it applies to Emerald Lifeswarm too).

These examples are often the mirror image of a nonbo for the Tzeentch player (e.g. that Arcane or Beacon of Sorcery don’t modify a Destiny Dice cast roll any more).

The removal of Lord Kroak’s forced rerolls mechanic and the unrerollable and unmodifiable nature of Destiny Dice reduces interactivity and counterplay. Ultimately, there isn’t much you can do other than ally in Kairos (which I’ve been doing for Slaanesh), try to bait out the Destiny Dice (e.g. through the threat of Unbinding casting rolls) or give your opponent opportunities to make errors or mismanage their resources (for example using Destiny Dice, when rolling the dice was the correct call in the circumstances). 

A Silver Tower Lining?

There is a positive to this. While 2020 Destiny Dice remain a powerful allegiance ability, they aren’t as potent as 2017 Destiny Dice (in the current meta). Players rarely build entire lists around using 2020 Destiny Dice or generating more of them (though it does happen). James Page’s CanCon list leaned heavily into Endless Spells where Destiny Dice were arguably more important.

In this context, the Darkfire Daemonrift is extremely powerful in Tzeentch hands using 2020 Destiny Dice to cast it. It can lead to an area of effect of D3+10 Mortal wounds (or more) to multiple enemy units. After this carnage, a Lord of Change can then simply pick it up off the table using Spell-eater as this rule is intentionally worded as in the Hero Phase rather than in the Start of the Hero Phase (90%). Contrast this with the distinct Myrmourn Banshees’ Spell-eaters wording, which is a dispel “in the same manner as a WIZARD” (rather than causing the Endless Spell to be “dispelled”).

I’ve suggested that the bonus damage should only affect Wizard keyword (rather than just capping the damage – this is more fun and you live by the sword and you die by the sword). My own Heat 2 Syll’Esskan Host Slaanesh list sought to use an allied Kairos to rig the cast roll for Darkfire Daemonrift from a Sorceror on Manticore (or to rig an otherwise successful unbind).

Shooting or board control (Hosts Duplicitous) armies are the go-to options for Tzeentch with Destiny Dice largely smoothing out the random element of the game and increasing certainty. Typically, players allocate 2020 Destiny Dice to a key 9” or other charge, one or two casts and a clutch unbind of their opponent’s key spells. This is quite different from the T1 barrage of Gateway and D6 Mortal Wounds spam (early 2017 Destiny Dice, for example or Endless Spell spam (late 2017 Destiny Dice).

Even if you have five 6s and a 1 staring back at you (as my Slaanesh army did in my first game against new Tzeentch at the inaugural Bucks Club Clash), you can still deploy defensively, try to bait out a mistake and give yourself a real chance to win the game in the late-game. I lost this one against my opponent Ed Hamon but we managed to make it a meaningful and enjoyable game for us both. 

NicoLab: The Activation Wars Part 2

Today is a follow up in the NicoLab series on rules issues in Warhammer Age of Sigmar – the Activation Wars Part Two. You can check out the original article, where Nico dissects the rules of sequencing, activation and combat in Age of Sigmar. Feel free to drop a comment at the end of the article with your thoughts, reasoning and ideas for future articles in this series.

And, as always, check out Dark Fantastic Mills for great 3D printed terrain perfect for wargaming.  Its super versatile and light so worldwide shipping is inexpensive. Use the “aos shorts” discount code for a further 10% off the already decent prices.

Age of Sigmar

Of the six new Battletomes since the original article, some have brought new tools for the Activation Wars. The Arms Race continues with the emergence of clear winners and losers.

Slaanesh’s impact on the activation wars

The first article was being edited as the Fyreslayers and Slaanesh books were dropping. In that first article, I noted that the special rule in the final paragraph of Locus of Diversion (now called the Slaanesh Proviso) would be “very interesting” and so it has proven:


Slaanesh proved dominant off the back of their excessive summoning and Locus. Now Locus (and Slaanesh in general) are reeling from changes to the dice roll to trigger Locus (and summoning changes). However, the Slaanesh Proviso remains intact, which should keep Slaanesh in the top tier of armies (if no longer dominant).

Recap: phase dependent rules and subphases

We can briefly recap the key principles set out in the previous article. Some have been refined since then by FAQs.

  1. The Start, During and End parts of a phase are important distinctions which can be likened to discrete subphases.
  2. Abilities that are used “During” the phase cannot be used in the Start (e.g. Morathi).
  3. Many abilities (7 or more from both players) can be used in a given Start of a phase. 
  4. The Active Player (the player whose turn it is) does all of its simultaneous abilities in an order of its choice, then the non-active player does all of its simultaneous abilities in an order of its choice. 
  5. The phases and sequencing rules have been interpreted strictly even where this leads to odd results.
  6. The Slaanesh Proviso (see above).
  7. The Triggered Exception. During part abilities can be triggered in the Start part of a phase. For example, Savage Strike (Strike First in the Start part) does count as happening  in the During part for the sole purpose of triggering other abilities such as Feeding Frenzy (fight again in the combat phase) or No Respite (Blood Warriors’ phase-dependent fight on Death). It’s worth emphasising that the Triggered Exception is a narrow one – this doesn’t allow During abilities to be used in the Start part turn normally.
  8. Units of the Active Player that Fight Last and move within 3” of enemy units that did not fight earlier in the During part of the combat phase, will make those enemy units eligible to fight in the End of the combat phase. This is not true of units of the non-active player’s units that have been made to Fight Last and then move within 3” of non-activated enemy units. This is because of 4. above – the Active Player has to do all its end of the combat phase abilities first. 
    1. This is a bad ruling that is overly complicated. There should be no eligibility to fight in the End part without a specific ability. Tough luck if you’ve missed your chance. There is no reason to restart the selection of units to activate which was already completed in the During part.
  9. If there are two contradictory abilities affecting a unit, then the second to be applied takes precedence. The most recent ability trumps.
    1. This is not a new rule (originating in the Beasts of Chaos FAQ for the Taurus and High Tide), but the December 2019 FAQ has granted it greater prominence. Contradictory abilities could include Strike First and Strike Last but also Strike Last and a triggered ability to Strike (e.g. Smashing & Bashing or Tyrants of Blood). See below:

A more recent Strike Last may not help?

You would think that a Start of the Combat Phase Strike Last would be pretty good right?

The Alvagr Ancient Command trait is triggered in the start of the combat phase and causes enemy units to Strike Last. However, in the Alvagr Ancient player’s turn, he must use Strike Last before the opponent in the start of the combat phase (because Active Player abilities go first). So the opponent can immediately trump this with its own Start of the Combat Phase Strike First (e.g. Hermdar).

On the other hand, in the opponent’s turn, the opponent uses Strike First and… resolves this activation – before the Thundertusk can use Alvagr Ancient. It’s lose-lose.

One sliver of good news is that the Lords of the Lodge fight again ability merely allows the Hermdar unit to be selected to activate for a second time in the combat phase. There’s no hook for it to activate for a second time in the Start of the Combat Phase. Hence, in the Fyreslayer’s turn, the order would be:

  • Start of the Combat Phase
    • Hermdar (Hearthguard Berzerkers fight)
    • Alvagr Ancient Applies to HGB
  • Combat Phase
    • Other activations alternating order (starting with the Fyreslayers).
  • End of Combat Phase
    • HGB fight again (Lords of the Lodge)
    • Any other End of Combat Phase abilities of the Mawtribes player.

A Hierarchy of Abilities

With full credit to Vince and Tom of Warhammer Weekly fame, here’s a fleshed out list of weapons for the Activation Wars.

  • Start of the Battle
    • Immortal Champion (S to D)
    • Halo of Blood (Khorne)
    • Swift as the Wind (Tempest’s Eye)
  • Start of the Third Battle Round
    • High Tide (Idoneth) 
  • Hero Phase
    • Itchy Nuisance (Gloomspite Gitz)
    • Soul Cage (Nighthaunt)
    • Binding Damnation (Slaves to Darkness) 
  • Shooting Phase
    • Flinger (Gloomspite Gitz) 
  • Charge Phase
    • Wave of Terror (Nighthaunt) (not subject to the Slaanesh Proviso)
    • Savage Strike (FEC)
    • Spear of the Hunt (Cities of Sigmar)
    • Helm of Many Eyes (Slaves to Darkness) 
  • End of the Charge Phase
    • Locus of Diversion (note the Slaannesh Proviso still applies if this combines with a Strike First ability). 
  • Start of the Combat Phase
    • Hermdar (Fyreslayers)
    • Strike Quickly (Hysh)
    • Alvagr Ancient (Mawtribes)
    • Stomp (Sylvaneth)
    • Khartoth the Bloodhunger (Khorne)
    • Quicksilver Draught (Stormcast)
    • Doppelganger Cloak (Ulgu)
    • Halo of Blood (Khorne) 
  • Combat Phase
    • Tyrants of Blood (Khorne) (not subject to the Slaanesh Proviso)
    • Smashing & Bashing (not subject to the Slaanesh Proviso)
    • Death Frenzy (any time – also not subject to the Slaanesh Proviso)

Abilities towards the bottom of the above hierarchy are less likely to be trumped than those at the top and are more valuable.

What can I do to navigate the Activation Wars?

Generally speaking buffs are stronger than debuffs in the Activation Wars (as the debuffs tend to be earlier in time e.g. spells) or their timing is such that they always get outfoxed by a Start of the Combat Phase Strike First (e.g. Stomp and Alvagr Ancient).

If you’re playing with one of these debuffs, you should check for any Strike First abilities and as the opponent you should volunteer information about these (and discuss how they will interact before deployment).


It’s worth noting that the presence of the word “immediately” in a rule is essentially poetic or decorative language and has no impact on sequencing.

Doppelganger Cloak remains one of the best answers to Slaanesh/Strike First or Fight Last. It’s particularly strong in the Slaanesh player’s turn as Locus will cause the Slaanesh player to be unable to attack at all (as it must resolve all of its End of Combat Phase abilities before the Locused player – see principle 8. above). Against the Doppelganger Cloak, the Slaanesh player is better off not using Locus at all.

Fight on Death is also a reasonable solution to Strike First abilities. For example Plague Monks or StormVermin with Death Frenzy can make positive trades with your opponent. Death Frenzy – like Smashing & Bashing – is a triggered ability, so it will be resolved at that trigger, trumping any Strike Last ability (as it is more recent than the Strike Last ability).


With the proliferation of Strike First and Strike Last abilities out there, the Activation Wars are still going strong. However, the rise of Ossiarch Bonereapers shows that there are alternatives. Despite having almost no Activation Wars tricks of their own (only a lesser quality 6” pile in on the Kavalos Death Riders); and Mortek Guard losing their re-roll saves against Strike First, Ossiarch Bonereapers remain competitive through sheer efficiency and astute resource management. 

The absence of the expected nerf to the Soulscream Bridge also encourages heavy shooting lists like Hallowheart or Tempest’s Eye (particularly those that benefit from not moving by being setup instead). Kharadron Overlords and Tzeentch also loom large on the scene! All to play for!

NicoLab: The Activation Wars – Sequencing in Age of Sigmar

Hey everyone, today I have the first in a new series of articles with Nico on rules issues in Warhammer Age of Sigmar. To kick off the series, we are delving into the rules for sequencing and activation in Age of Sigmar – a hot topic currently with the recent prevalence of rules disrupting the usual order in the combat phase. Feel free to drop a comment at the end of the article with your thoughts, reasoning and ideas for future articles in this series.

And, as always, check out Dark Fantastic Mills for great 3D printed terrain perfect for wargaming.  Its super versatile and light so worldwide shipping is inexpensive. Use the “aos shorts” discount code for a further 10% off the already decent prices.

Age of Sigmar

Sequencing in Age of Sigmar

The sequencing of abilities in Warhammer Age of Sigmar has always been important, especially in the hero and combat phases.  The order in which particular abilities are activated by you and your opponent can be crucial to the outcome of the combats involved.  Piling in cleverly, casting spells in the wrong sequence or inadvertently dragging a monster into combat can make a big difference. 

With recent battletomes, especially since Maggotkin of Nurgle and Daughters of Khaine, we are seeing more abilities which modify, or operate outside of, the usual turn sequence. Therefore, a careful examination of these abilities and the sequencing rules is timely.

Reading this article will help you understand the nuances of deemed phases (typically movement, charging, shooting or combat in the hero phase); the sequencing of abilities within phases (Start, During and End); and explore examples of combos and counters that rely on these nuances that you can use in your games. The first part of this article covers deemed phases, while the second part covers the start, body and end of phases (sometimes likened to subphases); the third part discusses the ongoing “Activation Wars”.

Part 1: Deemed Phases

A game of Warhammer Age of Sigmar is split into Battlerounds, Turns and Phases. Several abilities allow for units to do an action or use an ability in a different phase than normal – typically fighting (piling in and making attacks), shooting, moving or charging in the hero phase “as if” it were the combat, shooting, movement or charge phase respectively.

The “Deemed Phases Rule” or “DPR” provides that a unit doing an action in the hero phase cannot benefit from another ability that is described as applying only in the combat, shooting, movement or charge phase respectively. In other words you read “as if” it were the X phase in the narrowest manner possible.

The DPR began as an FAQ (since amended) to stop a particular Sylvaneth combo involving teleporting to 9” away and then moving afterwards using Free Spirits (granting a move as if it was the movement phase) in a combo with Forest Spirits (Teleport to 9” away and all models within 3” of a Wyldwood) to allow Kurnoths to get 9” away and still be able to move in the actual movement phase for an easy charge:

The current incarnation of the DPR is:

The DPR lightswitch effect

While the desire to tone down certain combos is understandable, the DPR created some situations which were arguably immersion-breaking (from a narrative perspective).

  • Darkling Covens units have a Darkshields rule allowing them to “re-roll failed saves of 1 or 2 for this unit in the combat phase…”. However, if those units were attacked in the hero phase (by say a Blades of Khorne unit using Blood Tithe) then the Darkling Covens lost the benefit of their shields.
  • Plaguebearers losing their protection to shooting if that shooting occurs in the hero phase (such as with the Kunnin Rukk formation in Bonesplittas).
  • the Verminlord Deceiver losing the -2 to hit from being shrouded in darkness.

Now the Verminlord at least has been fixed with a warscroll change in Battletome Skaventide making the -2 to hit ability apply in all phases.

Abilities that apply at all times are, therefore, fundamentally more valuable and easier to apply than those which are tied to a particular phase. For instance, all the abilities of the Kunnin Rukk (extra attacks, exploding attacks +1 to hit etc.) are not tied to particular phases, which makes it even more powerful. Conversely the rarely seen Blood Stalkers (aka Snakes with Bows) do not cause mortal wounds if shooting in the hero phase because that is ability is solely limited to shooting in the shooting phase.

It is likely that over time we will see a shift away from some of this phase-dependent wording.

We can draw some general conclusions from the above:

  • abilities only work in the specified phase.
  • the phases and sequencing rules are interpreted strictly.

Part 2: Sequencing within a Phase

Over time, Warhammer Age of Sigmar has introduced new abilities that are activated during either the Start or the End of a phase (or indeed a Battleround/Turn). This sub-division of phases has also been the subject of FAQs and commentary published on Warhammer Community.


We can summarise the effects of these rules and FAQs as follows:

  1. The Start, During and End parts of a phase are important distinctions in the rules.
  2. The concept of a Start of a phase is meaningless if normal During part of the phase abilities can be used beforehand (see the Morathi example below).
  3. Many abilities (7 or more from both players) can be used in a given Start of a phase – the rules and FAQs specify exactly what order these abilities are to be resolved in.
  4. The active player (the player whose turn it is) does all of its simultaneous abilities in an order of its choice, then the non-active does all of its simultaneous abilities in an order of its choice.
  5. Hero/combat phase abilities (technically “During part abilities”) cannot be used before start of the hero/combat phase abilities
  6. Hero/combat phase abilities cannot be used in the Start of the hero/combat phase at all.
  7. By symmetry (the Start and End are symmetrical about the middle of the phase) hero phase abilities cannot he used after any End of the hero phase abilities and cannot be used in the End of the hero phase at all. For example, if Savage Boarboy Maniaks pile in at the End of their combat phase (for the second time) – anyone who as a result becomes within 3” would not be able to fight as it’s already the End of the combat phase and it’s too late for normal activations that are only allowed in the During part of the combat phase.
  8. During part of the hero/combat etc. phase abilities can only be used in the During part of a phase (not in the Start or End). Although see further below.
  9. Given the above, the Start, During and End parts of each phase can be likened to discrete subphases. Certainly a subphase model makes it easier to explain these rules.
  10. Given the importance of the start and the end of phases, it seems appropriate to generalise the FAQ above to abilities only work in the specified subphase (Start, During or End of a phase)
  11. The phases and sequencing rules have been interpreted strictly even where this leads to odd results.

I’m now going to try and illustrate the effect of these principles with some practical examples.

Mostly Grots II

Nasty Skulkers were one of the first units to take advantage of the start of the combat phase with their appropriately named signature ability:

Here’s an example of Nasty Skulkers in action.


A Nurgle Start of the hero phase can be a complicated procedure – here’s my script for a Nurgle Beasts of Chaos List:

Start of Hero Phase
Gain CP
Trees Mortal Wound on a 4+ within 3”

3 Contagion Nurgle in my territory
3 Contagion Nurgle in their territory
1 Contagion No enemy models in that territory
D3 from Tree with no enemy within 3”
Grandfather’s Blessing – nudge wheel

The Glottkin heal D3 Wounds

Centigors Drunken Revelry +1 to Hit and be Hit

Take Damned buff

There are 7 (pure coincidence) abilities that I can choose the order of in my start of the hero phase:

Q: If several abilities are triggered at the same time (at the start of a hero phase, for example), how do you determine the order in which they are used?

A: If several abilities can be used at the same time, the player whose turn is taking place uses their abilities first, one after the other, in any order they desire; then the player whose turn is not taking place uses their abilities, one after another, in any order they desire. The same principle applies to any other things – such as command traits or artefacts of power – that can be used simultaneously.

The practical significance of this is that I have to decide whether to get the Centigors drunk (a double edged sword as the enemy get +1 to hit them) or take the Damned buff before I can see whether I cast both Blades of Putrefaction and Fleshy Abundance to buff them. I have to make these commitments without the knowledge of what the casting and unbinding rolls will be.

It’s worth emphasising that the FAQ provides that the active player must do all of their abilities first – rather than being able to choose (unlike in Warhammer 40,000). So against Blood Tithe, the Nurgle army above would do all seven abilities above (but not cast any spells like Mystic Shield which occur during the hero phase) before the Khorne player is able to use its start of either player’s hero phase pile in and attack using Apoplectic Frenzy for 4 Blood Tithe.

Take your Daughter to the Slaughter

Daughters of Khaine is the book that turned the “start of the hero phase” versus “during the hero phase” into a critical distinction.

Morathi’s “go Hulk” Ability (whether deliberate – Monstrous Transformation – or because she took Damage and has to roll – The Truth Revealed) is a start of the hero phase ability.

So is the Khailebron Mistress of Illusion teleport.

As these abilities must be used in the start of the phase, Morathi can neither cast 3 spells with her buff to casting and double range (as spells are cast during the main body of the hero phase) nor use her command ability to make two units shoot or attack; before going Hulk.

The sequencing rules make the use of Morathi a delicate trade off between defence and melee offence on the one hand versus magical power (and the command ability) on the other hand.

In my view it’s still the best warscroll that Games Workshop have written to date – perfectly fitting the narrative and fascinating in Matched Play.

There is also an interesting question of whether to go Hulk and then teleport or to teleport and then go Hulk. As both abilities are simultaneous – Morathi gets to choose.

Part 3: The Activation Wars

The most recent Warhammer Age of Sigmar battletomes, in particular Flesh-Eater Courts and now Slaanesh, have only further highlighted the significance of the timing of fighting in the combat phase. I go through some more examples now to try to work through the principles.

Strike Quickly in Hysh

Strike Quickly is a command ability allowing a unit to fight in the start of the combat phase.

You cannot use it multiple times on the same unit in the same combat phase (as you can’t trade the right to fight later for fighting now once and still have the right to fight later ready to trade again). However, you can use it on multiple different units.

The sequencing is clear – the start of the combat phase begins – it is up to the active player to do all of its start of the combat phase abilities before the non-active player can do any of its abilities (including Strike Quickly).

This is fine if the active player wants to attempt to (a) Strike Quickly and then (b) activate a regular unit as normal in the body of the combat phase. The non-active player can also spend a command point to use Strike Quickly before (b) happens and potentially neuter the unit that was planning to do (b).

The tricky part is if the active player doesn’t want to use Strike Quickly – if it has fewer command points for example or needs a command point for something else later. The threat that the non-active player may use Strike Quickly can force the hand of the active player (as if it chooses not to use Strike Quickly, then the non-active player can use it and neuter the hammer unit of the active player). We’ve encountered this exact situation in recent games in Hysh.

If the active player asks the non-active player whether it is planning to use Strike Quickly it is trying to gain extra information that the sequencing rules would normally deny the active player. The non-active player should simply not respond – it is entitled to decide after the active player. However, the non-active player should not bluff or lie in this situation either. It’s an interesting mini-game.

A busy start of the Combat Phase with Fanatics

Both Loonsmasha Fanatics from Gloomspite Gitz and Morrsarr Guard from Idoneth Deepkin have abilities relevant to the start of the combat phase. The result will often depend on whose turn it is.

If it’s the Gloomspite Gitz turn, then the Loonsmasha Fanatics charge the Eels. Then in the start of the combat phase, they use their Whirling Death ability to hit the Eels before they can use the Eel Zap ability to kill them with mortal wounds. The start of the combat phase ends and in the body of the combat phase, the Gloomspite Gitz player can activate another unit as normal (20 Squig Herd), then the Sylvaneth player activates a unit etc..

If it’s the Sylvaneels’ turn, then the Eels can Zap the Loonsmasha Fanatics for about 9 Mortal Wounds.

It’s worth recalling that High Tide has recently become a Start part of the combat phase ability (Errata, March 2019), so Fanatics no longer always fight before Eels. This is a large buff for Idoneth.

Fanatics vs Sequitors

Another interesting example is Fanatics vs Sequitors. While Sequitors have a permanent reroll 1s to save Shield (which ignores the DPR above), their ability to choose between reroll all saves and reroll all failed hit rolls is a start of the combat phase ability:

If the Fanatics charge in their turn, then following the FAQ, they clearly attack the Sequitors before the Stormcast player is able to make this choice – so the Sequitors cannot pick reroll saves before getting crushed by -2 rend.

If the Sequitors charge in their turn, then they can make the choice before the Fanatics attack them (both in the start of the Combat Phase). However, the challenging subtlety is that read strictly while the Sequitors’ Aetheric Channeling choice is made in the start of the combat phase, the effect of that choice only applies “in that combat phase” (i.e. in the Start part of the combat phase).

We’ve already seen that the phases and subphases are interpreted strictly and so arguably the Fanatics will still be able to smash the Sequitors before the reroll saves kicks in (as all the start of the combat phase abilities must take place before any combat phase abilities take place). Please see below regarding the Triggered Exception for another possible explanation.

Another example is the poor unfortunate Darkling Covens who arguably don’t get to use their reroll 1s and 2s shields against Fanatics or a unit attacking with Strike First in Hysh in the start of the combat phase or a Gristlegore Savage Strike Abhorrent Ghoul King on Terrorgheist (“Flappy”).

Fanatics vs Blood Warriors or Death Frenzy Stormvermin – the Triggered Exception

You might have thought from the above that Fanatics that kill Blood Warriors in the start of the combat phase likely do not trigger No Respite, but would clearly trigger Death Frenzy on Stormvermin (which is consistent with the idea that different words lead to a different result):

No Respite If a model from this unit is slain in the combat phase, before that model is removed from play, that model can make a pile-in move and then attack with all of the melee weapons it is armed with.”

Death Frenzy….Until your next hero phase, when a model from that unit is slain, before it is removed from play, it can make a pile-in move and then attack with all of the melee weapons it is armed with.”

Death Frenzy is entirely independent of phase, so it works if spells or shooting kill the models or even in the start of a battleround after the initiative roll (for example, by predatory Endless Spells).

However, in a major ruling on 21 March 2019 in an article entitled “Who fights First?” (the “Triggered Exception”), Games Workshop indicated that things that happen in the start of the combat phase still count as happening in the main body of the combat phase!

This ruling erodes the previously firm borders of the different sub-phases of a phase – but only in relation to triggered abilities (or reactions perhaps); and only in one direction. The slaying of Blood Warriors in the start of the combat phase – counts as slaying of Blood Warriors in the main body of the combat phase – hence it triggers No Respite.

It’s worth emphasising that the Triggered Exception is a narrow one – this doesn’t turn the start/during distinction into a free-for-all. Nevertheless – this ruling may be confusing for casual or newer players – especially given the Deemed Phases Rule and the otherwise strict borders of the parts of each phase.

Turning back to our Sequitor friends facing the Fanatics in the Stormcast turn, arguably the decision to use Sequitor Aetheric Channelling in the start of the combat phase is itself the “trigger” for the During part ability reroll failed save rolls, so the Triggered Exception allows the rerolls to work even in the start of the combat phase vs the Fanatic attacks.

Gristlegore and the Triggered Exception

The Triggered Exception greatly buffs Gristlegore. Feeding Frenzy is a During part Command Ability that is triggered by having fought for the first time in the During part of the combat phase. Prior to the Triggered Exception, it seemed that Savage Strike – a Start part ability – allowing a Gristlegore Flappy to fight in the Start part of the combat phase, would not count as fighting in the During part – such that the Flappy could not combo Savage Strike, then Feeding Frenzy – for a double activation in the Start part of the combat phase.

Feeding Frenzy is a during the combat phase ability “in the combat phase”. On the previous assumption that the subphases are discrete (with firm borders), this Savage Strike Flappy would not satisfy the requirement for Feeding Frenzy of having already fought “in the combat phase”.

Unfortunately, the Triggered Exception reverses this and specifically allows this combo to work. The Flappy’s Start part Savage Strike does count as happening during the combat phase for trigger purposes – and so the Flappy can use Feeding Frenzy in the start of the combat phase!

It follows from this that if a Flappy uses Savage Strike then it cannot use Call to War – as to be eligible for Call to War you must not have fought during the combat phase. As we’ve seen, Savage Strike does count as happening during the combat phase for triggering purposes.

The Khorne FAQ: Gristlegore gets even better

As can be seen from the underlined wording above, Savage Strike is a mandatory rule (there is no “can” or “may” unlike in optional rules). It is common for AoS rules to include trade-offs – so gaining a great benefit of always fight in the Start part could be accompanied by a small weakness. This led many players to conclude that whether or not the Flappy was actually able to fight (i.e. pile-in and attack) in the Start part of the combat phase, it had already traded its right to fight normally in the During part for the right to Savage Strike.

This left armies with a soft-counter to Gristlegore – by charging another FEC unit, then leaving a trail of models over to the Savage Strike Flappy, some of whom hover 3.1” away from the Flappy. The Flappy has to use Savage Strike in the Start part of the Combat Phase. The thinking was that this meant that the other player could then pile in 3” and attack the Flappy in the During part, without fear of retribution (unless it died – triggering Call to War).

The Khorne FAQ provided this:

“Q: Some abilities say that a unit fights at the start of the combat phase. What happens if that unit is not within 3″ of the enemy, but later in the phase an enemy unit piles in to within 3″ of it?

A: A unit that can fight at the start of the combat phase but does not do so is allowed to fight normally during the combat phase should an enemy unit move to within 3″ of it.”

This reduces the ability of a normal army to soft counter Gristlegore by clever positioning. The fact that the Maw has a 3” reach makes things even harder.

Countering Gristlegore and the Activation Wars Meta

It is possible to zap off the Flappy, kill it using other start of the combat phase abilities or just accept huge losses or tank them – 30 Hearthguard Berserkers to the face?

One option is to baselock the Flappy on its left with chaff, and have a hammer unit with models chained to 3.1” away from the Flappy on its right (having charged another FEC unit and strung out to make your unit eligible). Savage Strike is still mandatory – so the chaff die, but the Flappy cannot get into 3” of the hammer unit to do a second pile-in (as baselocked). Then when it dies in the During part, it’s not eligible to fight on death with Call to War.

The cleanest solution is to do the same thing with the Doppelganger Cloak (only in your own turn). Move in your hammer monster (a Loonboss on Mangler for example). In the Start part, you don the Cloak, then the Flappy must use Savage Strike, so it must fight – i.e. pile-in and attack. As the Flappy cannot target the Mangler, all it can do is pile-in. Though watch out for anything else within 6” as it will not be baselocked. Best of all, because the Flappy has attacked – it’s not eligible to fight on death with Call to War.

In your turn, you can use your own Start part Abilities to kill a Flappy relatively safely before it can double activate and take your units off the board. Eels can Zap and then attack it in their turn during High Tide for example.

Other things to remember in the Activation Wars include:

  • Eligible to pile in from within 6” units (Slaanesh, Khorne, Sisters of Slaughter) allow you to safely stand 3.1” away and run down the clock on the Start part of the combat phase, then attack the Flappy.
  • Impact hits predate the Start part of the combat phase, so Bloodcrushers etc. can chip off the final wounds. If it does in the Charge phase, then it cannot use Fight on Death.
  • Death Frenzy (above) or Magmadroths #BleedMeta (do Mortal Wounds back as you take damage in the combat phase) can hurt the Flappy (mutually assured destruction).
  • Khorne have access to a fight in the Start part Artefact (the Halo of Blood in The Bloodlords Slaughterhost). Sensibly the fight twice Command Ability (Leave None Alive) is in a different Slaughterhost (Reapers of Vengeance), which mitigates this. However, Bloodthirsters in Tyrants of Blood or Bloodmasters and Bloodletter keyword units can trigger chain activations after the initial Start part Halo of Blood activation.
  • Fyreslayers appear to have some level of Start part Activation and fight twice.
  • The Betrayer’s Crown in Ulgu (anti-horde artefact).
  • The Rustfang and The Moonface Mommet – Nurgle and Gitz Artefacts that debuff armour.
  • The Flappy is resistant to chipping away damage as all the output is in the Maw and the Maw doesn’t degrade. Unbinding +D3 Attacks will help. Debuffs can help a little, but -1 to hit is of limited value as the Flappy will be rerolling failed hits (1, 2 or 3) fishing for natural 6s anyway.

Debuff Spells

Itchy Nuisance, Soul Cage and the Wildfire Taurus all force an enemy unit to fight in the end of the combat phase. If this directly contradicts a right to fight in the start of the combat phase, then the second ability to be applied will trump:

“Q: If a Wildfire Taurus’ Whirlwind of Destruction ability forces an Idoneth Deepkin unit to fight at the end of the next combat phase, but the High Tide battle trait is in effect, does the unit fight at the start or the end of the combat phase?

A: If two abilities that apply to a unit are contradictory and cannot both be applied, the one that was applied second takes precedence.”

So Savage Strike turns on at the start of the game, so will always be trumped. Conversely Strike Quickly or the Quicksilver Draught are used in the start of the combat phase, so necessarily after the hero phase (when spells were cast), so they would trump these Debuffs.

Locus of Diversion

Looking ahead to the Slaanesh Battletome – their fight in the End Part debuff (Locus of Diversion) has a different interaction with a fight in the Start Part rule (e.g. Savage Strike) – the Abilities cancel out – which is very interesting.


Hopefully you’ve found this article illuminating. The correct application of the sequencing rules can help you build combos; and allow you to counter combos or particularly strong units in your opponent’s army or mechanics like Savage Strike or High Tide. Any comments and thoughts are most welcome.

Written by Nico. You can find me on Twitter at @Niconarwhal or on TGA as Nico at the NicoLab – my blog – I may have been known to lurk in a few WhatsApp chats as well.

Credit and thanks to Alex Kew for coining “The Activation Wars”.