As an introduction to Night Below, we arranged for a special Limited-format match between Bill Baldwin and Jesse James Dean. Each of them received two Night Below 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.
Bill W. Baldwin
My luck has never been fabulous with Limited format, so I am usually not overly optimistic when opening my boxes. Even so, Limited is always fun and worth playing, because you get to try out new pieces and pieces you would normally never use. Night Below is proving to be one of the best-balanced sets for Limited play to date.
I, however, am way out of practice, and I know my chosen opponent is not, so I'm hoping for a little luck on the draw to even things out.
A first look reveals I have two commanders to choose from, both very squishy and both Commander 3. Because of figures such as the Giant Eagle, Raistlin, and the Large Shadow Dragon, squishy commanders can be a definite weak point in Night Below, so I put aside both commanders to use in my warband.
I next glance through the stack for tech pieces. Finesse use of tech pieces can swing a limited game, but I don't have anything of note in that category. I am going to have to settle for a straight-up beater band. On this front, the prospects don't look too bad. Between the Dracotaur, Cerebrilith, Clawborn Scorrow, and Babau, I have some decent hit points and damage output. But three of these are Large, their attack rolls are mediocre, and they do best if they can get multiple attacks. Too bad I didn't get the Hobgoblin Marshal to go with them. I also don't look forward to including the Cerebrilith. It has good hit points but is way too variable for my liking. Still, if I don't include him, I will have a tough time reaching 200 points.
That led to looking closer at the other pieces. The Prisoner is interesting, but because he effectively ties up another piece, I'd need to have eight activations to make him worthwhile. It didn't look like I was going to get that. I needed cheap fodder to fill out the activations, and the Bluespawns were too expensive, so I discarded them. Looking at what I had so far showed me 198 points worth of creatures and six activations. Not too bad, but I didn't like my commanders doubling as the fodder pieces. If I could get seven activations, I'd stand a fair chance of increasing my maneuverability against Jesse. That meant ditching either one of my four beaters or one of my commanders. I decided to play the odds and go with only one commander, and the Greyhawk City Militia Sergeant was the obvious choice for her bonuses to saves.
That freed up 17 points to toy around with. If I could have included the Giant Eagle, I might have gone that direction, because it is an excellent piece for eliminating squishy tech pieces. Unfortunately, the Eagle cost 1 point too much. Next I looked at the Drow Enforcer, another good piece -- his Riposte can be surprisingly effective. That wouldn't give me the seven activations I was looking for. I also looked at swapping in the Kalashtar Bodyguard for one of my beaters. That was doubly attractive because she isn't a Large figure, but she just doesn't bring the offensive power I new I needed -- which was as much as I could muster. Also, her Bodyguard ability isn't as useful in this set as it has been in others, considering the excellent assortment of spellcasters and breath weapons in Night Below. The Deep Legionnaire is a solid little piece with a nice movement bonus, and the Kuo-Toa Hunter can be effective if you can use his Hunter ability. Finally, the Krenshar's Cause Fear is great for fodder versus fodder battles, but he dies awfully quickly.
That left only selecting a map. My main concern was the size of my pieces. I had some speed, and I wanted to be able to close quickly to shut down opposing tech, since I didn't have any. Teleport Temple is usually good for large, fast pieces, so that was my choice.
Now, as long as Jesse doesn't get Raistlin, or the Large Shadow Dragon, or a lot of high armor class creatures, I should be OK.
Jesse James Dean
I have been pretty happy with Night Below Sealed action so far. Between my reasonably in-depth analysis of how Sealed play is likely to proceed in this set and the seventeen Sealed and draft matches I've participated in up to this point, I've come to the conclusion that this is the best Sealed set Wizards of the Coast has produced so far, and it's a pretty solid Constructed set, too. Outside of a few awful pulls, I felt I could do reasonably well with pretty much anything I drew. Luckily, I didn't get a poor selection. In my packs I found:
I immediately divided my pieces into three categories: "Yes!" (pieces I know to be good in Sealed), "Maybe" (pieces I consider to be adequate in Sealed or good in the right band), and "No" (pieces I generally refuse to play in Sealed unless I have no other options).
The "Yes!" pile was pretty large. The Exarch of Tyranny, Warpriest, Gnoll Claw Fighter, and Deep Legionnaire all make it from pack 1, and Raistlin Majere, the Champion of Dol Dorn, Earth Mephit, Gnoll Claw Fighter, and Darkmantle make it from pack 2.
The "Maybe" pile is a bit smaller, containing only the two Greyhawk City Militia Sergeants, two Carnage Demons, and the Assassin.
The "No" pile is the smallest, with only the Trained Carrion Crawler and Large Chaos Beast tossed there.
From the "Yes" pile, I immediately grabbed the Warpriest of Vandria. The Warpriest is an exceptional commander in Sealed. I would always use this figure in Sealed play unless I got one of the few better commanders. Because of the Warpriest, my two Greyhawk City Militia Sergeants were pushed to the side. There were still possibilities at this point, if I needed something at their point slot, but it was unlikely with the Earth Mephit available.
The Exarch of Tyranny, Raistlin Majere, and Champion of Dol Dorn were similarly added to my pile. Both the Exarch and Champion are exceptionally good beaters in Sealed, and the Exarch becomes even better when given a +2 Armor Class boost from the Warpriest's cat's grace. Raistlin Majere provided some ranged firepower and a bit of tech to even the odds against warbands that are more mobile or have more hit points than mine.
That seft me with 38 points. I briefly toyed with including the Assassin, but without any mobile or flying pieces in the warband, the likelihood of getting a good flanking partner for the Assassin (which is required) goes down quite a bit. I included the Gnoll Claw Fighter instead. He is good for his cost and has never failed to pay off for me.
That brought me down to 14 points. I had two options at this point. I could either pick the Darkmantle and Deep Legionnaire, which would give me 7 activations and a way to ensure tile points on almost any map, or I could go with the Earth Mephit and get a mobile source of two cone effects for 10 points of automatic, non-typed damage. I'd been impressed enough with the Night Below Mephits previously that I chose the Earth Mephit. Having only 6 activations and no dedicated tile grabber could be problematic, but I doubted it would hurt me badly. After all, the Gnoll Claw Fighter could earn victory points during the first turn if need be, because most maps have first-turn tile-grabbing opportunities for pieces with speed 8.
Dragon's Graveyard was my map for a number of reasons. The main one was that it would allow me to fight on the victory area. With so little fodder in the warband, it was going to be important to make sure that every piece contributed, and the Dragon's Graveyard central victory area helps ensure that.
About the Authors
Bill W. Baldwin lives on the Space Coast of Florida with his gaming family of a wife, two daughters, and assorted pets. He started playing D&D in 1974 and was a wargamer and miniatures gamer even before that. Bill has been published in Dragon magazine and does freelance work for Wizards of the Coast.
Jesse James Dean is the top-ranked Constructed and Limited DDM player in the state of Florida and one of the top 20 Constructed and Limited players in the United States. He has participated in every Championship since the first and is the author of several online DDM Toolkits. His day job is with the Space Center.
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