D&D Miniatures03/08/2007

Unhallowed Limited Match
Building the Warbands

As an introduction to Unhallowed, we arranged for a special limited-format game between Jason Lioi and Paul Grasshoff. Each of them received two Unhallowed boosters (before the actual release -- eat your hearts out!) from which to build their warbands. This week, we look at their builds and the planning behind them. Next week -- the match.

Jason Lioi

Sitting down with Paul to play a game of sealed for this article, I was pretty excited to be opening my first two boosters of Unhallowed. This set has some really nice sculpts of iconic monsters and many unique and interesting abilities that I can't wait to try out. I eagerly tore the tops off and dumped out the contents, revealing --

Booster 1 Booster 2
Rare Large Astral Construct (43 pts) Lyrandar Skyfire Captain (55 pts)
Uncommon Marid (46 pts) Blessed Hunter (47 pts)
Cormyrean War Wizard (29 pts) Intellect Devourer (32 pts)
Gravetouched Ghoul (23 pts) Pseudodragon (12 pts)
Common Bugbear Gang Leader (23 pts) Duergar Slaver (26 pts)
Inspired Shock Trooper (11 pts) Strahd Zombie (20 pts)
Wild Elf Warsinger (9 pts) Graypeak Goblin Archer (8 pts)
Devotee of the Silver Flame (7 pts) Dark Talon Champion (7 pts)

Looking over this group, I decided to build from the top down, starting with the commander. The Lyrandar Skyfire Captain is clearly a solid choice with his great spells and potent ranged attack. Prepared for Battle grants a significant tempo advantage to a band, allowing the important buff spells to be cast without spending the Captain's activations to do so. In this particular pull, he's also the highest command rating I had available. Commander rating is a statistic I value very highly because of its impact on the generally poor morale saves in sealed play and the always-important initiative rolls.

The Duergar Slaver is another solid choice. He's half as expensive as the Captain but only one commander point less. His invisibility spell can be very powerful, making him exceptionally durable for his cost if he uses it on himself, or alternately granting an ally the ability to advance unmolested. With two better choices available, I discarded the Bugbear as having too low a command rating for consideration.

Looking at the remaining pieces in my pool, I saw that I almost certainly would play the Large Astral Construct. Construct immunities are very good, and its high attacks and damage are welcome in a sealed band. Better still, the flexibility provided by being able to choose one Astral Construct Ability at setup allows me to tailor my band to beat whatever Paul brings to the battlemat.

But the Construct has Requires Commander, which means I'd need to keep my commander out of harm's way for most of the match. This pushed me toward using the Captain as my commander, because his ranged attack allows him to contribute to the battle from a safe distance, and also because he's more likely to pass morale if it comes to that. I put aside the Duergar and committed to using the Captain and Construct.

I then scanned through the rest of the pieces in my pool, looking mostly for units that can deal a lot of damage. I had no titan, so instead I intended to field three to four units that can collectively dish out enough damage to bring down Paul's band. Three units struck me as strong candidates -- the Blessed Hunter, the Marid, and the Cormyrean War Wizard. Adding up the points (122), I clearly couldn't include all three with the Captain and Construct (98 pts). Of the three, the Blessed Hunter struck me as the best, with reliable attack bonuses, decent damage output, and good HP for the cost. Besides, if I gave it a third attack from the Skyfire Captain's Speed Weapon Augmentation, it could deal a truly ridiculous amount of damage on a charge -- +12/+12/+12 for 20 / 20 / 20 + 10 Rend +10 Smite Evil. That's a maximum of a whopping 80 magic damage. So the Blessed Hunter was in the band.

Of the remaining two options, the Marid I considered marginal, with low-ish attack bonuses and fewer HP than I'd like. Its DC17 Drown ability, however, has a good chance of working against many creatures in sealed, and the damage is very good if he hits. The War Wizard has awesome spells, and I was already running a spellcaster commander who can trigger Phalanx Spellcasting. After waffling for a while, I noticed it would be pretty difficult to protect my commander (and, therefore, the Construct) while simultaneously getting the benefit of Phalanx Spellcasting. The War Wizard also represents a second backfield unit I'd need to protect, while the Marid can block while fighting up front.

What finally decided the issue was looking at the filler I'd get with both units. A build of Captain, Construct, Blessed Hunter, Marid left 9 points -- the exact amount needed to include what is, in my opinion, not only the best fodder unit in my pull, but the best fodder in the entire set -- the Wild Elf Warsinger. With speed 8, Aura of Fear, and War Song, she's already a near auto-play. Adding Dirge for the Unliving in a set themed around undead means I couldn't think of a reason not to play her.

Building without the Marid, I could still include the Warsinger -- Captain, Construct, Blessed Hunter, Marid, Warsinger is only 183 pts -- but after playing around with the options, I was unconvinced that anything I could get for those 17 extra points was better than a large blocker/beater with a save-or-die ability. With the Marid, I effectively opted for beef over activations, a choice that is rarely the right one in constructed but can bear fruit in sealed. I decided to go with it.

For my map, I wanted something with good lines of sight for the Captain to use his ranged attack and open charge lanes to make use of the Powerful Charge granted to my units by the Warsinger. Tomb of Queen Peregrine is great for this.

My final band --

Lyrandar Skyfire Captain (55 pts, Cmdr 3)
Large Astral Construct (43 pts)
Blessed Hunter (47 pts)
Marid (46 pts)
Wild Elf Warsinger (9 pts)
Tomb of Queen Peregrine
Total = 200 pts, 5 activations

Paul Grasshoff

Booster 1 Booster 2
Rare Bone Naga (62 pts) Gorgon (70 pts)
Uncommon Stormrage Shambler (72 pts) Caller in Darkness (53 pts)
High Inquisitor (49 pts) Blood of Vol Divinity Seeker (26 pts)
Vampire Hunter (18 pts) Canoloth (24 pts)
Common Knight of the Chalice (26 pts) Duergar Slaver (26 pts)
Dwarf Battlerager (17 pts) Strahd Zombie (20 pts)
Phalanx Soldier (12 pts) Graypeak Goblin Archer (8 pts)
Changeling Rogue (8 pts) Dark Talon Champion (7 pts)

This mix of miniatures is full of possibilities. As I read through the cards, several of the creatures stood out as having interesting and powerful abilities for a reasonable cost.

First, I needed to decide whether to use a commander. I noticed three high-cost creatures which don't need a commander -- the Bone Naga and Caller in Darkness are fearless undead and the Stormrage Shambler is a wild plant.

What if I built a warband with no commander? I had other fearless creatures available. The Dwarf Battlerager and Dark Talon Champion looked good enough to use in any warband. The Blood of Vol Divinity Seeker could have trouble using his Blood Syphon without an initiative bonus, but I wanted to give him a try anyway. The Strahd Zombie is hard to kill but easy to ignore.

My first assembly looked looked like this --

Stormrage Shambler (72 pts)
Bone Naga (62 pts)
Blood of Vol Divinity Seeker (26 pts)
Dwarf Battlerager (17 pts)
Graypeak Goblin Archer (8 pts)
Changeling Rogue (8 pts)
Dark Talon Champion (7 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 7 activations

This warband looked reasonable, and I thought it would be fun to play. It would lose initiative more often than a proper warband with a commander, but since it has seven activations, the Shambler or the Naga would always be able to move into position at the end of a round if Jason's warband had six or fewer activations. The big drawback is that the game would likely hinge on whether the Stormrage Shambler makes its morale check. I didn't want to stake so much on a single die roll with only a 45% chance of success. If I'd had a way to heal the Shambler with electricity, I would have been more interested in trying this idea. I thought I could come up with a better warband from this diverse mix of creatures.

The Bone Naga is impressive. It has enough spells to cast one per turn for the whole game, and some of them are very powerful indeed. At a minimum, it can deal 15 points of damage each turn with empowered magic missiles. There's a lot to be said for reducing variance. The Naga wouldn't need to make attack rolls or morale checks, and that would make it easier for me to plan a round or two ahead.

Next I looked at the big, metallic bull. The Gorgon's DC 19 petrification breath weapon looks very powerful. Catching two or three of your opponent's favorite creatures in that cone gives a good chance of winning the game right there. Trample 15 allows the Gorgon to run over a smaller enemy while getting into the best position to use the breath weapon.

The level 8 Gorgon needs a commander to help with its morale check. It would also like me to win initiative so it can use its breath weapon at the right time. Using the High Inquisitor (Cmdr 4) to get initiative and adding the Bone Naga left only 19 points to work with -- not enough.

This looked like a job for the Duergar Slaver. His commander rating is two points lower than the High Inquisitor's, but he costs 23 points less. I'm usually a fan of using a low-cost commander to fit in more activations or more damage dealers. The Duergar also has an invisibility spell. An invisible Gorgon could maneuver around the battlefield trampling Jason's smaller creatures without provoking attacks of opportunity.

Things were coming together well. The Gorgon, Naga, and Duergar cost 158 points, so I needed to add 42 more points to fill out the warband. I added the Canoloth, because speed 10, Melee Reach 4, and Tongue Grab would be fun to use, especially f I could use Tongue Grab to pull an enemy into position to set up a better petrification cone for the Gorgon.

With the last 18 points, I could add the Vampire Hunter, the Dwarf Battlerager, or both the Dark Talon Champion and the Changeling Rogue. The Vampire Hunter could be worth 18 points if Jason had undead creatures. I already had a credible ranged threat from the Bone Naga, so the Hunter's crossbow wasn't a high priority. If I used the Dark Talon and the Changeling, the warband would have six activations, but six isn't much better than five in this case. It would allow two of my creatures to move last instead of just one. The Dwarf Battlerager looked like the best choice. He can do reasonable damage if I get him hurt on his way into combat.

For my map, I picked the Hailstorm Tower. It's from the latest Fantastic Locations map pack, and I hadn't had a chance to play on it yet. Movement on this map is fairly constrained, which makes the invisible Gorgon a terrific blocker for the Bone Naga to shoot magic missiles over. Also, the victory areas on this map are far from the start areas, so maybe I could use the Canoloth's speed to get an early point lead and force Jason to assault a defended position.

The final warband contained --

Duergar Slaver (26 pts, Cmdr 2)
Gorgon (70 pts)
Bone Naga (62 pts)
Canoloth (24 pts)
Dwarf Battlerager (17 pts)
Hailstorm Tower
Total = 199 pts, 5 activations

About the Authors

Jason Lioi is the 2005 Constructed DDM Champion and a frequent contributor to the Wizards website. Paul Grasshoff is an avid gamer who grew up with Avalon Hill rulebooks as bedtime stories. He's also the 2005 Limited D&D Miniatures Champion.

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