We've assembled a team of four talented warband builders, and each will get the chance to challenge his compatriots to build their best warband around a particular miniature or theme.
Bear in mind that what you're reading is not a primer on how to win tournaments. It's an intellectual puzzle in which the contributors may not always be given the best material to work with. The challenge is to make the most of the starting conditions.
This week's topic was chosen by Michael Derry.
This Week's Challenge
The challenge for this Commander’s Notebook is to create a warband that has no rare creatures. The No Rares format is an alternate (non-DCI ranked) one that is designed to get participants thinking about why creatures are good and what would work within the format. Locally we have had a few No Rares tournaments, both for accessibility for newer players, and for the warband building challenges the format provides. Each time we have had tournaments in this format, anticipation and discussion between the players about options and opportunities has been high. Explore whether your local group would like to try a fun tournament out in this format.
Many key creatures that impact normal competitive play are not available in this format. The Young Master, Couatl, Human Blackguard, Inspiring Marshall, Orc Wardrummer, and most titans are not available. Most of the standard competitive warbands are no longer viable to play without the key rares that make those warbands work. The absence of these creatures creates a very different environment to compete in. The associated standards and assumptions that are valid for normal play do not apply to the No Rares format. Energy damage is far more effective against the warbands that show up in this format.
Warpriest of Moradin (CR +6, 49 pts)
When it was first suggested that we design warbands containing no rares, my first instinct was to look at LE. That faction has some of the best uncommons in the game. But on further reflection, I decided to take a closer look at the potential metagame. The format restricted many abilities that otherwise must be considered. Things such as strong constructs, high attack values, high ACs, high damage, high saves, powerful commanders, and especially Fearless are all considerably less common without rares to choose from. Some of my most likely opponents would be dual Hill Giant Barbarians and quintuple Duergar Champions. With that in mind, I looked for something a little different.
This warband relies on the Warpriest's commander effect to put the coup de grace on its opponents. The Sacred Watchers and Loyal Earth Elemental have a three-fold use as blockers, commander assassins, and flankers for the Skullclan Hunter. The Cleric of Yondalla adds magic weapon to the mix, boosts the Skullclan Hunter, and adds a second commander option for the Loyal Earth Elemental if it looks like you can keep Aramil protected. This, in turn, frees up the Warpriest to be more aggressive. Aramil's ray of enfeeblement is devastating against most uncommon hitters, and his magic missiles become very powerful once the enemy commander is eliminated.
The basic strategy is to block up a choke point with the Skullclan Hunter, Loyal Earth Elemental, and/or Sacred Watchers, and send in the remaining two Watchers to destroy the enemy commander. Then wreak havoc with the Warpriest.
Moon Elf Fighter (CR +5, 49 pts)
Admittedly, this warband probably isn't as competitive as the other two in this article, but I couldn't pass up the chance to build a warband that includes six (!) fireballs. Even though this warband doesn't have any traditional melee threats, it could be a nasty surprise for the typical warbands you should face in a no-rares format -- Chraals don't like fire damage, Duergar Champions won't get any advantage from Conceal, Couatls won't exist to protect LG warbands, and Hill Giant Barbarians … well … at least Hill Giant Barbarians don't have an Orc Wardrummer to boost their fireball saves.
Obviously, the Mephling Pyromancers are the offensive core of the warband, but the real keys are the Moon Elf Fighter and Satyr. Between the Moon Elf Fighter's high commander rating and the Satyr's Pipes ability, you have an excellent chance to win initiative in a round where your opponent left himself in a vulnerable position. When you win initiative, the Moon Elf Fighter's commander effect (Tactics) allows you to serve a triple fireball main course, with either an appetizer or dessert of magic missiles (thanks to Aramil and Mialee) … all in one phase!
Getting the most out of the magic missiles and fireballs is key. This warband doesn't have enough blockers to buy you a lot of time. To be successful, you will need to blow up lots of enemies early in the match. In a best-case situation, your opponent will leave line of sight to vulnerable creatures in his setup area at the start of the battle -- use that opportunity to decimate your opponent in the first phase. Use Aramil's and Mialee's magic missiles (and possibly even the Satyr's ranged attack) to snipe away any fodder that prevents optimal fireball placement.
Once the fireball and magic missile spells are spent, be very aggressive with the Moon Elf Fighter. She will have to do most of the work finishing off wounded enemies. Keep your Mephlings spread out so your opponent has trouble preventing all of them from casting their last few spells. Don't forget that the Meplings can fight respectably in melee, thanks to Melee Sneak Attack.
I chose the Dungeon of Blood map because its wide-open center and exposed victory areas should give plenty of opportunities to blast enemies with spells.
Inspired Lieutenant (CR +4, 45 pts)
In a format without rares, multi-Chraal bands become stronger for two reasons. First, they are very difficult to beat by decapitation (that is, by destroying the commander without fighting the Chraals). Strong flying beaters such as the Helmed Horror, Rikka, and Death Slaad are all rares, as are the traditional fast, chaotic beaters that can threaten a Chraal commander by sneaking through a small opening, such as the Orc Champion and Frenzied Berserker. With all of those units removed from the format, a good Chraal player should be able to avoid letting opponents attack her commander without fighting through the Chraals. Second, while Chraal bands often have trouble dealing with creatures with Damage Reduction, many of the best units with DR are also rares and therefore not present in this format.
Unfortunately, a no-rares format also means two of the best Chraal commanders cannot be used -- the Human Blackguard and the Orog Warlord are both off-limits. Looking at the remaining commanders, three are reasonably strong possibilities -- the Troglodyte Captain, the Inspired Lieutenant, and Urthok the Vicious. Using the relatively expensive Troglodyte Captain requires dropping to only three Chraals in order to hit maximum activations, which is less than optimal. Comparing Urthok and the Inspired Lieutenant, Urthok allows higher-quality fodder because he is cheaper, but he also comes with fewer hit points, a poor morale save, lower speed, and far inferior damage output. All of that makes him less attractive than the Lieutenant.
It's tempting to choose an even cheaper commander, such as Snig the Axe or the Half-Orc Fighter, because that would room to squeeze in another Chraal. This is dangerous, however, because Chraals are not Fearless. Should one fail morale at an inopportune time, it could create a hole in your defense through which your opponent can move to attack your commander -- and the cheaper commanders might be killed by a single big hit. A sturdier commander with a higher command rating makes your Chraals less likely to fail morale and your commander more likely to survive even if one does.
As far as fodder goes, cold-immune skeletons are a popular choice, because they do not die if caught in a Chraal's breath weapon or death burst. Skeletal Dwarfs, with their 22 AC, can be more difficult to remove than any 5-hit-point unit has a right to be, and sometimes they get in a lucky 10-damage hit as well. Including an assault-grabber is strictly optional in this band, as the Chraals are generally fast enough to fill that role themselves.
About the Authors
Jason Lioi is the 2005 D&D Miniatures champion. Bill Baldwin is a regular contributor to the website via his Art of Warbands articles. Guy Fullerton is well known as "the rules guy" on the miniatures forums, and Michael Derry is a Wizards delegate, tournament organizer, and D&D Miniatures judge.
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