Goonhammer was given a free copy of Arena of Shades from Games Workshop for review purposes.
Arena of Shades goes on pre-order today, with a new Hero for Daughters of Khaine and a new Hero and and unit for Nighthaunt, along with points change. While we can’t confirm these will be final for the upcoming battletome, it’s worth exploring what these could mean for the factions.
RagnarokAngel: Just butting in real quick. We’ll be covering both sides of the box in separate articles. I’ll be with you in a bit to talk about the Daughters of Khaine half after this. Just a quick runthrough about the box as a whole. It’s a full fledged two player box set with all the things that usually entails: models, tokens, warscroll cards, a short narrative to walk you through some simple battles with the included models and a copy of the core rules, should you need them. Models included are:
- 1 Scriptor Mortis
- 5 Cravenguard
- 10 Bladegheist Revenants
- 1 Spirit Torment
- 2 Chainghasts
- 4 Mymourn Banshees
Daughters of Khaine
- 1 High Gladiatrix
- 10 Sisters of Slaughter (Can alternatively be built as Witch Aelves)
- 5 Khinerai Heartrenders (Can alternatively be built as Khinerai Lifetakers)
- 5 Doomfire Warlocks (Can alternatively be built as Dark Horses)
(Note that although the sprues allow alternative builds for the Daughters of Khaine models, there is no Warscroll included for these alternate builds)
Like many of these, it’s a good value for those looking to get started with either army, but lacks enough battleline to let you get into a full fledged game of Age of Sigmar. Consider it a jumping off point to get more stuff, rather than actually a way to get into the game on its own.
With that, let’s start with the Nighthaunt models!
Magos Sockbert: Nighthaunt have been struggling almost ever since their first Battletome dropped in 2018 with the launch of Age of Sigmar second edition. Fragile, pillow-fisted and heavily reliant on vulnerable heroes, the ghosts have been relegated in the current meta largely to a Nagash delivery system, where he does a shocking amount of work lifting the faction up – Nate Trentanelli piloted such a list to a truly impressive sixth place at the Las Vegas Open event earlier this year.
There have been a few bonus rules released to try and give Nighthaunt a boost, including most recently adding sub-factions in the form of Processions and adding in the Krulghast Cruciator in Broken Realms: Be’lakor. Nothing ever really worked, so we waited with bated breath to see if the warscroll cards in Arena of Shades would help out the most fragile Death faction out there. And folks? It ain’t lookin’ too grand.
Ellarr: Magos Sockbert is taking point on this one, and I’ll be chipping in with my thoughts as we go – by our powers combined, we can achieve maximum sodium content.
Magos Sockbert: The Spirit Torment was the lynchpin of a lot of Nighthaunt lists, with it being hotly debated whether his healing ability or his re-roll hit rolls of 1 aura was more valuable. Nighthaunt are fragile, so the healing helped a lot, but an army that generally hits on 4+ and has a number of “Mortal Wounds on 6s” abilities greatly benefited from re-rolling 1s. That debate is ended now, with the Spirit Torment now being firmly a healing piece, losing the attack buff entirely.
The healing, however, got a lot better. Instead of requiring 3 or more enemy models to die in order to heal or bring back D3 wounds to a unit within 6”, you now only have to kill one enemy model to bring back flat three wounds to a unit within 12”. This is, as the kids say, real good. That flat three now guarantees your ability to bring back a Spirit Host (or two, if Nagash is around), and the 12” range now keeps him out of danger close.
Aside from abilities, your melee damage has changed from D3 to flat 2 (always a good change), and the change to the (apparently now Nighthaunt default) movement 8” will help keep your healing friend out of harm’s way.
While I’m really going to miss rerolling 1s to hit on a big block of Spirit Hosts fishing for mortal wounds, I’m very much looking forward to more, and more consistent, healing. With such a fragile army, we really need it.
Ellarr: I think I’m a little bit more down on the torment than Sockbert is, because losing rerolls will hurt Nighthaunt a lot considering their attacks are generally what I would describe as ‘low quality’ – we rarely get more than rend 1 and we really need weight of dice to go our way to kill stuff. That said, the torment now has a firmly established new role and as the good Magos said, got better at it.
I think what’s worth highlighting here is that (as before) it triggers in both combat phases, meaning this is an effect that will trigger often considering NH excel at getting into tarpit situations and clinging on for dear life. Another thing that’s noteworthy is that there’s a reason to bring multiple Torments, as the ability kind of stacks – if you bring multiple then you can have the effect trigger for both, but the same unit cannot be healed twice by the same ability.
Ellarr: Their melee profiles got simplified (flat D3 attacks at range rather than based on number of models in range) and their reroll ability is also gone. Rather than reroll 1’s to nearby units if they’re nearby a Spirit Torment, now it’s flat +1 to hit in melee for NH units wholly within 12”, provided there’s a Spirit Torment on the battlefield.
Now obviously losing the rerolls sucks, but in terms of ease of use these guys got a little better. Not needing to track where the torment is at all times for these guys to do their thing is a nice quality of life change, and a bubble of +1 to hit is still nice to have. Not to mention, their shooting profile is still alright and a rare source of rend 2 in this army, which is nice to have if you’re feeling moody about how much the Craventhrone Guard sucks (bit of foreshadowing for you there).
This does however mean the Knight of Shrouds is even more pointless than it was before, as these guys do what he does for free. We expect a rewrite for the KoS on foot when it comes time for the battletome on that basis.
Magos Sockbert: They’re faster (up to 8” of movement, squishier (going from 4+ ethereal to 5+), and do less damage. All we can do is pray to Nagash this isn’t a continuing trend for the rest of the army.
Magos Sockbert: The Banshees are an odd one. They’re much punchier, with their conditional extra attack now baked into their profile and a move to flat damage 2, but their spell unbinding mechanics have changed substantially. Rather than just providing a normal unbind if within 18” of an enemy wizard that casts a spell, they now need to be wholly within 12” of the target of the spell, trying to to beat the casting value of the spell on 2d6, not the value cast by the enemy wizard. This is both a great upside (much easier to beat a casting value of 6 rather than the 11 they may have rolled) and a terrible downside, with your opponent functionally now able to pick and choose if the Banshees get to do anything.
This gets worse when you look at dispelling Endless Spells. Where before you could just move within 6” of an Endless Spell and take a crack at dispelling it, now you need your opponent to move the Endless Spell next to your own unit. Sure, you can potentially try and shield a key unit from an enemy Endless Spell, but somehow I reckon your opponent will have ample opportunity to deny this unit any value.
Ellarr: While Sockbert is absolutely correct about the changes to their anti-magic being a mixed bag, I come out of the changes higher on Banshees than they were prior to this update. Put simply, their old warscroll was basically unplayable in my eyes, as one attacks base and the fact their anti-endless spell tech killed D3 models in the unit meant you were often worse off than you started. Not to mention, being 1 attack base that would only go to 2 if you got an unbind off meant that deep striking them felt awful, as the turn they come down and charge is the turn they’d be at their weakest.
I much prefer their new warscroll because now I can be aggressive with the unit and have a consistent source of rend 2 on infantry whose damage output is effectively doubled from what it was. Do I think this makes the Banshee a power house? No not really, but they’re a much better harassment unit than they were (a low bar to clear admittedly). In addition, it gives me an interesting source of non-traditional magic defenses that can be effective even against megacasters with large casting bonuses like Lord Kroak that do large amounts of aoe damage.
Magos Sockbert: This is the unit that Ellarr and I disagree upon the most. I feel they’ve lost a lot of value by having their anti-magic capabilities sapped, while Ellarr believes they have value in harassment and denial. Hopefully the full Battletome will provide a bit more context for the unit.
Magos Sockbert: Anyone familiar with the Bladegheist Revenant warscroll will be familiar with the updated version, because there’s precisely one change – no more Fearful Frenzy. This was a keystone rule allowing the unit to reroll all hits if within 12” of a Spirit Torment or Chainghast in exchange for, seriously bumping up the blending potential of one of the most hitty units in the army. We realise that Games Workshop is working to speed the game up by minimising the number of rerolls (and, to be fair, Nighthaunt had quite a few), but not the greatest feeling in the world to see a flat nerf while the unit still costs the same.
Ellarr: At 190 points they were competing with the cheaper Harridans for ‘elite’ infantry in Nighthaunt, and I tended to go with Harridans because they had a nice little defensive ability and typically did more damage. Now that the Revenants have lost their full reroll to hits ability, the comparison gets even uglier and I don’t see a place for Revenants in any of my lists until the new book is out. They still have retreat and charge which is obviously great, but the effectiveness of this unit has been significantly diminished.
Magos Sockbert: Coming out with probably my favourite Age of Sigmar model since Be’lakor, the Scriptor Mortis is a model I’m going to love painting… before placing him on my shelf to never see the table.
Look, he’s tough for a ghost, with 6 wounds and a 4+ ethereal save, and your Wychlight Candles allows you to allocate one wound to another Nighthaunt Summonable unit per phase. In practice, this means that hero-sniping units such as Sentinels need to work a little harder, but not appreciably. He’s… tolerable, in combat, with 3 damage 2 attacks, but you’re really excited about Sentenced to Eternal Torment, previewed on Warhammer Community a few weeks ago.
In your hero phase, you can pick a non-Death enemy hero and roll a d6 in every subsequent hero phase. If you roll under the current battle round, the judged soul takes 2d6 mortal wounds. Once successfully judged, you can’t judge the same hero again. The fact that this unit can’t affect Death heroes at all means that if you happen to run into one you’ve just wasted 150 points of your army – there isn’t a secondary effect to give this unit any value.
Yes, in theory, you could do 12 mortal wounds on four turns of the game, but in reality you’re spending 150 points to do seven mortal wounds once per battle to one hero. Just the possibility of this coming about could maybe change the way the game is played, at least opening up the possibility of some mind games with your opponent, but think about it this way: armies with the right tools can pick the Scriptor up pretty easily, and armies without those tools will just have to ignore him and defeat the rest of your army. If he’s statistically not going to do much, and he won’t change how your opponent plays, what are you really paying for?
Ellarr: This is an extremely high ceiling unit whose floor is ‘does nothing’, and Nighthaunt doesn’t have the luxury of including units that could potentially spend the entire game picking their spectral nose.
Is it unplayable? No, you can include this in your army and have fun with it in casual settings, but as someone who looks at units through the lens of ‘would I bring this to a tournament?’ the answer is sadly no, because I want to pay points for abilities I know will go off, not abilities that have a 33% chance to do ANYTHING round two, and 50% on round three. Not many battles with Nighthaunt are still undecided by battle round three, so why would I pay 150 points to give me an edge in long games?
Magos Sockbert: Kill-stealing ghosts with crossbows? Sign us right up! Floating in with what we’re generally starting to see as the ‘default’ Nighthaunt profile (one wound, 8” movement, Bravery 10, 5+ ethereal save), five of these fellows will set you back 95 points, the same as 10 Chainrasps. For that price, you get… a unit that even Blissbarb Archers would look at in contempt and pity.
On the plus side, Nighthaunt have been hurting for a ranged unit since day dot, and technically this unit does fulfill that role. On the downside, a 12” range for a unit as fragile as this one is probably its death knell right off – anything that survives a volley from them (and it’ll be most units) is in a prime position to pick up a kill next turn. Sure, you could screen them with another unit, but you’re investing a lot for very little reward. How little, you ask? Two shots hitting on 4+, wounding on 4+, with Rend -1 and damage 1. That’s it. If you’re curious, Freeguild Crossbows wound on 3+, and while missing the dot of Rend and have a conditional two attacks, have twice the range. Yes, Crossbow shots do ignore line of sight and cover, but Age of Sigmar has never been a game with much of an emphasis on terrain.
Five Crossboos won’t really have any impact on the game, but bumping them up to ten will take up one of your precious reinforcement points and cost 190 points, more expensive than the excellent Namarti Reavers or even the continually problematic Lumineth Sentinels. This, dear reader, is not a good unit. If you were desperate for ranged firepower, consider Chainghasts. Or, better yet, consider another army.
Ellarr: If I wanted to include a ranged unit in my army, I’d rather bring Chainghasts – they have longer range, one more pip of rend and wound on 3’s. You know what’s better than ignoring cover? More rend.
I don’t really understand what Games Workshop was thinking here, because while I see the reasoning behind not giving Grand Aliiance: Death a top shelf ranged unit (that’s not their thing after all), I would at least expect they would give us a unit that can do something. This unit doesn’t do anything.
The best case scenario is you deep strike this unit 12” away to pepper something and hold an area of the board. The problem is, why wouldn’t I use Chainrasps for that role? The Craventhrone aren’t going to kill a damn thing anyway, so I’d rather have double the wounds for the same cost. 12” range means you can’t keep them safe from any melee units, and they’re an inefficient screen, an inefficient ranged unit and an absolutely amazing sculpt. Seriously guys, these models are great. End on a high note, right?
Wrapping things up
Ellarr: Now obviously judging these units is going to be difficult considering they’ve likely been written with the upcoming battletome in mind. Is the faction weaker in the meantime? Yes. Losing the reroll abilities from the Torment/Chainghasts suck, and one of their better melee units also got appreciably worse in this transition.
But let’s talk positives – if you play Reikenor’s Condemned between now and the new book, you get to benefit from both hit rerolls for Chainrasps as well as the +1 to hit from the new warscroll which is pretty nice if you want a brief period of supercharged Chainrasps. Oh and Myrmourn Banshees have an interesting defined role now, which is nice.
Magos Sockbert: It’s fair to say we’re pretty down on most of these changes. There’s a few bright spots, but the trend we’re seeing is almost like this was an oppressive book, and GW are seeing the need to correct its overbearing nature. That… wasn’t the case, with Nighthaunt suffering under ‘early Battletome syndrome’ almost since launch. We’d hoped for some positive changes, so instead we’re waiting for what’ll hopefully be a whole raft of changes around allegiance abilities and subfactions. I specifically didn’t say points there, because we’ve seen over and over again you can’t really fix a bad warscroll by just making it cheaper or more expensive.
Every one of these warscrolls took a serious hit, even those bumped up in other ways, and everything staying the same points feels like a sick, Nagash-level joke at this point. The full Battletome should be out in only a month or so, going by previous releases, so it’s not too long to go until we see whether our salty fears are truly realised. We didn’t want to end on such a dour note, but there really isn’t a lot of optimism to find in these cards. On the other hand, Ellarr and I play this army because we love the models and lore, not because we’re chasing the dragon’s tail – Nagash doesn’t like it when people get too big for their boots, after all.
Ellarr: I will say that as someone who frequently ran over 50 chainrasps, time was not on your side when it came to rolling all those dice when rerolls were in the equation, so from that perspective removing rerolls starts to make sense… The problem is that I’m not sure what Nighthaunt gained in the transition outweighs what they lost. Here’s to hoping that when the tome comes that we get a lift through the allegiance abilities and subfaction rules as Sockbert has said.
Magos Sockbert: Also, the Malignant keyword still exists for some reason. Do with this as you will.
Stay tuned, we’ll cover the Daughters of Khaine changes in just a bit! If you have any questions or comments leave it down below or email us at email@example.com.