Evaluating the new Hedonites of Slaanesh Battletome – Is the Army Any Good Now?

An article by    Age of Sigmar Competitive Play Gaming        0

This week we’ll be jumping back into the new Hedonites and DoK battletomes. Two weeks out players have had a chance to pick up both books and having had more time to play and evaluate each book, there’s certainly more to say about them. Today we’re going to specifically talk about how two battletomes can be so vastly different in power level while being released at the same time.

Some of this has to do with the dreaded “power-creep” everyone is always fussed about. While yeah, sometimes new books are stronger, but sometimes, they just aren’t. Just a few weeks ago we sat down and reviewed the two newest battletomes – Hedonites of Slaanesh and Daughters of Khaine which at the time, for me, was an overview on what has and has not changed. For the most part I still like the rules they gave most of the models I do have a hard time understanding why each army’s units received the points costs they got (and as we’ll see I’m mostly referring to some of the baffling decisions made around Hedonites). Now that I’ve had some time to think about the new rules, build some lists, confer with colleagues, and read some other respected opinions on the new books, it felt like a good time to dive back into both books.

Ultimately, it feels like Hedonites got the short end of the stick here, and in more ways than one – even Narratively, Hedonites feels like it should have been out around last fall, since the book still references Godseekers, Pretenders, and Invaders, all of which feel like they’re from a time in the lore before Slaanesh’s escape and reformation. It feels like a bit of a cop-out to continue on as though Slaanesh hasn’t been found, or at best like a way to put off having to update the book in a major fashion for another year or two (Editor’s Note: We covered the lore of the new battletome in our review). The bottom line is, we all know where Slaanesh is now. They’ve been found. No need to “seek” them out or “pretend” you are them. You clearly aren’t.

 

Some baffling points costs keep new units from being competitive

The net effect is that the Hedonites battletome feels like it’s “copying the first book’s homework, but make it look like you didn’t.” with a minimal amount of effort to feel like something new. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing – both Daughters of Khaine and Disciples of Tzeentch are flavorfully similar to their previous iterations but include adequate updates for the environment they’re being put into. Meanwhile the Hedonites book went through several adjustments and got whole new units and should have felt much more well, new. Instead it feels like we have something dangerously close to being “Sylvaneth 2.0.” These inadequacies are even more stark when you put the book next to Daughters of Khaine. Let’s compare the two, shall we?

Both Slaanesh and Daughters have light infantry shooting units:

  • Blissbarb Archers
  • Khinerai Heartrenders

Both units share some mechanics:

  1. 1 wound
  2. Save 6+
  3. 1 attack in close combat, hit/wound on 4’s, 1 damage.
  4. Shooting attacks (usually) wound on 3’s.
  5. Shooting attacks are rend and damage 1.
  6. Can run and shoot.

There are also some key differences – notably, Khinerai have:

  1. (Without teleporting) 32” Threat range shooting attack. (Move, max run, shoot)
    (Sure, Blissbarb are 30” max threat, so close, but they dont fly so.. Not at all close.)
  2. Fly
  3. Built in teleport
  4. If they teleport, they gain +1 rend on shooting attacks.
  5. +1 save in combat
  6. If the unmodified save roll is a 6, reflect a mortal wound back
  7. 2” combat attacks
  8. After shooting with this unit, on a 4+ you get another 6” move in any direction.
  9. Faction special rule of a 5+ DPR (without adding any subfaction bonus.)
  10. 3+ to hit shooting attack +1 bravery (Bravery 7)
  11. Move 14 (flying(vs Blissbarb move 6-not flying))

And hey, the Blissbarb archers also have some extra rules!

  1. 2 Shots
  2. Range 18” (Remember tho, Their threat range is still shorter, so…)
  3. and uh… exploding 6’s in combat? I guess? But that’s not their job so… *shrug*

Having gone through that, let’s try to pin down the point values for each unit:

  • 160 points for 11 models. One of them doesn’t have a bow, and only a sword and the item that makes their shooting 4+ to wound into a 3+.
  • 160 points for 10 models and you can take them in groups of 5 for 80 if you really want, and in a subfaction you can summon 5 for free once per game, anywhere on the table

So, for the same cost as their Morathi counterparts, Blissbarb archers get 11 less rules, 10 more shots (which, without the blissbarb cauldron are almost the same damage output, and with it, are still only +1:5 wounds in damage on average.) without access to teleporting, and zero ways to fly. What Blissbarb archers DO get is a Battleline unit out of the deal but that argument doesn’t hold a ton of weight when you consider that Vanari Aurulan Sentinels are also Battleline and are cheaper that also enjoy a longer threat range, inbuilt -1 to hit, mortal wound output, don’t require line of sight to shoot you and are also wizards. (plus an aetherquarts gimmick). 

So don’t @ me with that.

It’s not great, and it’s especially a shame given the new models look great.

These issues with points costs in the Hedonites book continue to be a problem when you consider the army’s major mechanic. Unfortunately…

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The army is overpaying for its previous iterations summoning

One of the major changes from the prior Hedonites book to this one is summoning. Remember the “Copied Homework” comment from earlier? I was one of the people who brought the old book to large tournaments and did super well with them. I snagged first- and second-place finishes at two different 5-round events and first in a local one-day event with the old book, and two of those were even after the first round of points adjustments. From experience I can tell you that the old book was durable only because it could replace the bodies it lost on the table. The way the army functioned was that you’d trade unit for unit and then summon a replacement unit, essentially giving you a way to survive. Granted, if your opponent couldn’t kill that first set of units you’d flood the board pretty quickly but in top level play the army would typically trade 1-for-1 or 1-for-2, then summon replacement units.

The way to stop the board flooding like before, is accurately changed to how it is now: only 1 summon a turn. The problem is, this army now is going to struggle to trade units. And now it actually doesn’t want to. Since you (most likely) have to leave units alive in order to gain depravity, and summon back replacements. The way they have to be durable is: have heroes that are tough to kill, or, have bodies on the table. Neither of these is something this army does well – they don’t have much resistance to magic, have even less against shooting and in combat if you aren’t the one charging or carefully controlling what is charging and when you’ll struggle to keep your heroes alive. And unless you take beastmen in the Depraved Drove – who no longer gain the exploding attacks – you’re going to struggle to have enough bodies to actually have board presence.

A lot of the issues around points costs come back here as well. Hedonites have three units under 150 points, two of which are heroes and one of which is Daemonettes. Of those, you might summon one of them if you need one and don’t have the depravity, but not something you want to do often and the other is the Masque which is… alright but in a world with Hag Queens that come with bodyguards costed at 80 points, her cost is kind of a joke as well. As for Daemonettes, costing them at 110 points is… actually pretty reasonable, though again their comparative price to other batteline choices isn’t great – look at their closest analog in Disciples of Tzeentch, Kairic Acolytes, who have a similar threat range and are wizards, but cost 100 points and still never see use.

And for units that could survive in the past, the Keeper of Secrets (whose change in Command Ability I definitely missed the first time around), used to be able to survive because they had the ability to attack twice, and attack before you could, built in to their profile, allowing them to get “enough” attacks through to blunt incoming threats in a the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense kind of way, giving them the chance to survive until they could summon again. In the new book they lose half of their attacks and the ability to attack before your opponent could attack them and all they have to show for it is a 10% points drop. You could argue that their output has dropped to something like one third depending on how you quantify the “activation wars,” and its survivability has taken a massive hit. The net is a unit that’s much worse than it used to be, especially when you need two of them to do the job that one used to be able to do.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Lets compare some support heroes

The points costs given to the faction’s new units don’t do its new heroes any favors either, further compounding some of the survivability issues. Let’s take a look specifically at one of the new support heroes, the Shardspeaker of Slaanesh. How does the Shardspeaker compare to other support heroes? Well let’s go back to our comparisons with the other book release and take a look at the Hag Queen from the Daughters of Khaine:

They are both: 

  1. Move 6″
  2. 5 wounds
  3. 5+ save
  4. Have non-interactable warscroll abilities.

Where they differ:

  • The Hag is a Priest. With two built-in uninterruptible abilities 
  • The priest also gains another prayer from the Daughters of Khaine allegiance
  • The Hag can also cast the Invocation of khaine, uninterruptible
  • The Hag has +1 bravery
  • The Hag also has a more consistent combat profile. (not that you really want her combat anyway, but still)
  • A 6+ innate DPR

The Shardspeaker, on the other hand:

  • Has an interactable warscroll ability, which requires you to get dangerously close (9″ range) and works on a 3+, giving it a not super reliable ability while the unit itself will die to an angry squint coming from most anything in the game in retaliation. 
  • Is a Wizard… who can only cast one spell. …and has no bonuses to cast a spell. This makes it one of the “Have-nots” when it comes to the super wizards and the Shardspeaker has a garbage lore to pick an extra spell from. Reflection Eternal requires the Shardspeaker get dangerously close, so they can’t cast it turn 1 unless another another wizard helps out with Umbral Spellportal. Which gives your opponent two opportunities to stop a spell that is only giving -1 to wound.

And to add insult to injury let’s take it back to the points values. Guess which of the units we’ve talked about costs: 

  • 150 points
  • 90 points

If you paid attention earlier you might remember that none of the Hedonite units are below 110 points and none of the heroes are below 130 points… which means that the Shardspeaker comes out to 150 points whiel the Hag who debuffs opponents, buffs allies, doesn’t need to be in range of combat threats and has a higher chance to survive even if she did is only 90 points, nearly half the cost of the Shardspeaker. What’s more, the Daughters of Khaine even have another Hag (albeit subfaction-locked) whoc omes with a FREE secondary unit of 5 wounds that has a 24″ bow and can, on a 2+ can take any wounds she suffers (provided they stick within 3″ of her) and all of this costs only 80 points, giving you basically a 10-wound 6+ DPR hero with all those same interactable abilities for… 80 points.

Ultimately the book is full of baffling disparities like this one and even with the book’s good units they don’t all add up to something that feels competitive. The army wants to survive long enough to generate Depravity but has no way to protect itself and its units costs more than comparable units in other books that have built-in defensive capabilities. They also want to do “enough damage” without killing you, but that damage output is less than what you get in other books for the same cost, and they have no way to stop themselves from killing your units.

 

It’s not all bad, though

Lest this article accumulate too much “Old man yelling at cloud energy” I do want to mention that it’s not all bad – the rules for Blissbarb Archers are pretty much what you’d want from a battleline chaff unit/archer unit: 

  • Run and shoot
  • Multiple shots
  • Support heroes that can give you rerolls
  • Rend on your shots

Sigvald is similar to what you want an on-foot combat hero to look and feel and act like. 

Glutos is an alright example of another Katakros variant.

Blissbarb/Slickblade Seekers are a real nice mirror to Idoneth Eels without being insane.

Forcing heroes who have non-interactable and exceptional buffs, who are fragile, like the Shardspeaker, to be danger close, is actually a good thing, in comparison to how relatively safe and consistent units like Skink priests are.

Winners in the book to build around

So who are the winners in this book? Well, what are the units that have acceptable rules and probably correctly pointed? The ones that jump out are:

  • Slickblade seekers
  • Blissbarb seekers
  • The Fane (the free faction terrain piece)
  • Glutos (is on a very fine line, but probably alright.)

Unfortunately almost every other new unit released in this launch have acceptable rules but atrocious points costs that makes them almost unplayable currently.

 

The Final Verdict

Ultimately it feels like the rules writing team were overly cautious with the points values in this book after a big misfire on the last one. The good news is that this is an easy enough fix: They just need to acknowledge the discrepancy and then adjust the costs. Until then however, it’s going to be pretty dire. To reference my mate Vince from Warhammer Weekly, the problem with the current book is that it is both poorly designed and poorly pointed accordingly. As such Hedonites currently will sit towards the bottom end of both of those axis. The silver lining here is that the Warscrolls in the book generally do have good abilities and can participate in the game, and usually in more than one phase of the game: Blissbarb archers are a mobile infantry unit who can also shoot. Slickblade seekers in the Seeker Cavalcade gain the REAL GOOD “activate and pile in at 6” away” ability and have 2” combat weapons. So even if the book/faction don’t seem to broadly know what it wants to do, the Warscrolls in the book could make up for that… if they were costed appropriately.

With the exception of Slaangor, who can basically just be forgotten about unless they get a new Warscroll or dropped to exactly 40 points, most of the new units will be playable once their points come down. But the level of drops that we need to see here are something in the area of a minimum of 20 points per unit and likely to be something closer to 40 points per unit. I understand that they don’t want summoning to break the army again, but they’ve already fixed that by limiting it to once a turn.

I think from a design perspective, if they left the army as killy as it was before but with the current summoning rules and the locus was: “if you slay a model, that model/unit counts as being slain, but stays on the table until after depravity points are generated, and then at the end of the turn remove them from the table” – or something along those lines – the faction would have fared alright. That would make it so you weren’t discarding your own allegiance ability for killing an enemy, and the opponent would still get to use their toys for the rest of the turn.

I do think this book has the potential to be a competitive threat. However In their current state Hedonites are a finesse-only, extremely fragile glass hammer, and a very bad pick for someone who is just learning how to play the game. I still plan on trying out the army and I will be on the lookout and keeping an open mind when it comes to finding tricks that work. And as it stands I’m looking at the Seeker cavalcade, Depraved Drove for cheap bodies and depravity batteries, and a few other very specific combos, but none are really exceptional. Over the coming months we’ll see this shake out on the THWG stats show. Some of the tome is pretty good, but you’re going to be playing on a razor’s edge which, compared to how the new Daughters Book plays – which allows you to make mistakes and not worry about it – seems pretty brutal.

After living my best life (COVID allowing or whatever) with the new Tzeentch battletome and playing around the new ways that the army functions around its summoning mechanic and finding all the tricks new battletomes may have hidden inside them, I feel like Slaanesh could be in the same spot. Some pretty heavy-handed points adjustments are needed to get it there, though. Or – and I mean this unironically – a new battletome. One where the warscrolls are updated to the new way the faction rules want you to play, and the subfactions give you roadmaps to how it wants you to play. These used to synergize, but are now they’re detached from each other.

Anyways I could ramble about this all day but you can rest assured I’ll be looking for ways to make Hedonites work over the next few months and reporting back if I find something. In the meantime, if you want some help getting the best out of what you have or how to mitigate or utilize those threat ranges mentioned earlier, check out my Patreon to go over some specific tactics like that. And if you have a list or a question you want answered on Tactics Shaman, drop a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

Until next time.

P.S. Why are 20 wounds worth of mortal wound dealing, speedy Blissbarb Seekers only 20 points more than 11 blissbarb archers? *sigh*

P.P.S. The azyr app says Blissbarb foot archers combat attacks need a 1+ to wound. It should say “4+”. But.. here we are *shrug*

 

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