How to write a winning army list for Warhammer Age of Sigmar

So our first episode is on how to write a winning army list for Warhammer Age of Sigmar matched play.   We want to help you write better lists so you win more games!


Summary – what makes a winning list?

Proper list design is fundamental to success in matched play.  In this episode we will cover:

  • How do you want to play?
  • How do you win?
  • What are the tools your army needs?
  • What do you need to deal with?
  • A worked example

 

How do you want to play?

How you want to play is important.  You will only truly be successful playing an army that you enjoy playing.  Many, perhaps the majority of players have a style of army that appeals to them and they do better with that type of army.  You may find you are most suited to:

  • an alpha strike combat list;
  • a conservative, resilient grind list;
  • A horde list
  • A counterpunch list (which takes an initial blow and then hits back hard)
  • a highly mobile avoidance list that harries the enemy while picking and choosing its battles;
  • A gunline/bunker list which unleashes volleys of arrows, lead or aetheric fire while delaying the enemy from engaging;
  • a mixed arms list which allows you to compete in all areas of the game and against all-comers.

Think about how you want to play.


How do you win the game?

When designing a list you must understand what is required to win i.e.  to secure a major victory and achieve any secondary or tertiary objectives that may be in play.  This varies a great deal between tournament packs and between various battleplans.

The General’s Handbook scenarios emphasise bodies – large resilient units which can take and hold objectives.  With the exception of Three Places of Power which relies on heroes, most of the Handbook scenarios require you to outnumber your opponent at objectives on the board.  Now, while pure brute force and damage output alone may allow you to blow an opponent off an objective, you will still need a number of sizeable units to seize objectives.

Mistakes to avoid are having elite melee units or hammer units on guard duty on home objectives when they could be involved in the pivotal combats elsewhere.  For example, if your cheapest unit is a pair of Mournfang, then you will have a lot of idle points in a typical Battleplan.  Cheap Battleline units are well suited to guarding objectives as are ranged units (Judicators are perfect) that can hold objectives while still contributing damage.

Individual tournaments may introduce new scenarios or other objectives, requiring a different emphasis in list construction.  The South Coast GT and AdeptiCon are two prominent recent examples.  The SCGT Pack, for instance, placed greater emphasis on having a durable general and lots of heroes for the secondary missions.  It is always important to read the pack and, if you can, try out some of the scenarios in advance.

Depending on the size of the tournament, it may also be worth considering what the relevant tie-breakers are – are they kill points (which emphasise an offensive smash face list)?, secondary objectives? sports votes? Painting nominations?

Packs also vary in terms of the constraints on the list – is it a single 2,000pt list, or do you have a sideboard or choice of dual lists.  Are artefacts/traits and weapon options fixed or can they be changed between games.  IF they can be changed, that opens up the possibility that you can cover weaknesses in particular matchups or you can tailor to your opponent by, for example, picking a spell that will work on horde units.


What do you need in your army list?

There are five dimensions you should consider when designing a list:

  • Reach – the ability of your army to influence the game – this can either be through movement (think Destruction moves or teleporting Stormcast) or through threat range (think Skyfires moving 16″ and shooting at 24″ range or Kurnoth Hunters with bows which can deploy into a Wyldwood and shoot 30″).  It is always important to consider both the ability of the unit to move, and the range of any weapons they hold or spells they can cast;

 

  • Control – the ability to influence board space, both through having large enough units to cover board space and objectives, but also sufficient threats to dictate how and where your opponent will choose to deploy and move;

 

  • Resilience – can your army absorb an alpha strike or the turn one loss of a key unit?  can it survive a double turn?  the ability to endure and have redundancy in your list is key – how many wounds do you have? what are the armour and ward saves that protect those units? Can you heal wounds or add models back to units?;

 

  • Damage output – can you do enough damage (either normal damage or mortal wounds) to take down key threats before they hurt you?  Could you take out a Stonehorn or Durthu or Gordrakk before they start wrecking havoc in your lines?  This requires assessing several factors – the volume of attacks and likelihood that the damage will get through i.e. rend; the concentration of damage output (one Mourngul can squeeze into a smaller area than 15 Brutes, even if the Brutes have a higher theoretical damage output they may not all get into combat); whether the damage output comes from a good stat line (Hunters with Scythes) or by stacking buffs and synergies onto a mediocre unit (60 grots with sneaky stabbing and bellowing tyrant).

 

  • Risk –  does your list have bad match-ups, either with particular opposing armies or scenarios?  are the hard or soft counters to your army commonplace in the meta or are they rare?  how reliable is your list at achieving its objectives? Will it win 5 games at a tournament over a weekend?

Do the units you have picked meet these criteria?

It can be useful to assess the battlefield roles of units available to you in your chosen faction or alliance.  Some units will be effective hammers (think Retributors, Stormfiends, Morghast Archai), others anvils (Plaguebearers, Dryads  or Vulkite Berserkers) and some will be most effective as screens, chaff or flak units (Skinks, Clan Rats, Marauders etc).

The final filter is the points cost for the units in your army – is the unit providing its desired role at an efficient points cost, or can you achieve the same outcome at lower points cost elsewhere?


What do you need to beat?

Once you know how your army will work and achieve victory, you need to think about how your opponent will seek to undermine those plans.

What lists might you face?

The main threats that you are likely to face are:

  • Cross-map charges/teleporting – Destruction, Stormcast Eternals, Sayl, tunneling Fyreslayers, Stormfiends
  • Mortal wound spam – Clan Skryre, Disciples of Tzeentch, Bloodletter bomb
  • Gunlines with a 30+” threat range – Mixed Order with Hurricanum, Stormcast Aetherwing force, Skyfire spam
  • Highly armoured units – Sylvaneth, Fyreslayers, SCE
  • High model count armies – horde and chaff armies such as Moonclan grots, FEC, Skaven
  • Synergistic armies that rely on the abilities of a number of support characters to be effective – Savage Orruk Big Boss, Tzaangor Shaman, Necromancer.

What are the local lists in your area?

The “meta” or universe of likely lists that you will face at a tournament or event changes as new books and units are released, or points are changed.  This dynamic is part of what makes Warhammer so interesting to play.

What works against these lists?

Each of these will be the subject of individual later episodes, but in short, you’ll want to consider the following to counter these threats:

  • Cross-map charges/teleporting – chaff screens and redundancy;
  • Mortal wound spam – chaff screens and redundancy;
  • Artillery that shoot 35 inches – reach, movement, defences against shooting such as Protectors, Fulminators;
  • High armoured units – rend, mortal wounds;
  • High model count armies – high damage output, bravery/battleshock debuffs, modifying bravery;
  • Synergistic hero armies – sniping characters.

Conclusion

In the end, nothing beats testing and playing with your proposed army list.  If you are testing a new list, avoid the temptation to tweak it after every game – try running the same list through several games and you will have a much more accurate view of how it plays.


Further reading

For further reading, check out:

Next episode

Our next episode focuses on efficient tournament play.  How can you make sure your games finish on time without ruining all the fun?  Find it here.

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