Welcome back to The New Maelstrom Rules and You! In Part 1 we talked about what the new system is and how it works. In part 2, we’ll be covering how to play well within that system – how can you best take advantage of the new options it gives you? We’ll also look at the new stratagems and how to use them in games with the new rules. Then next time around, we’ll be taking a more casual look at the faction-specific cards available and which of those are worth taking, if you’re playing games that allow them.
We’ll talk first about the cards themselves – what they are, what they do, and which ones we think are strong picks and which ones belong on the shelf with your Grey Knights. After that, we’ll rank them, and then finally we’ll go through the building blocks of a good deck – what cards you should include, and what you should think about when you’re picking them.
The Maelstrom Objectives
- The basic deck
- The Tiers:
The basic Maelstrom deck is made up of 36 cards, arranged into six blocks:
- Capture & Control (11-16)
- Take & Hold (21-26), Storm & Defend (31-36)
- Seize Ground (41-46)
- Purge (51-56)
- Annihilation (61-66).
These fit broadly into 3 categories – objective holding (the first four categories), general action (Purge), and specific action (Annihilation). Most of the “action” ones are some form of “kill a unit/units,” but Master the Warp (for casting psychic powers) and Priority Orders Received are also in there.
This immediately weights the deck towards holding objectives – in a standard game, 2/3rds of your cards will be about holding an objective or group of objectives, or otherwise based on the board position of your units. However, in the new format, there are two critical factors which change this equation:
- The first two objective sets (Capture & Control and Take & Hold) are identical, and since you can’t take multiples of objectives with the same name, you effectively have 6 fewer cards to pick from – which changes the weighting to 3/5ths
- More obviously, you get to pick your card deck – so it’s possible, if you wanted to, to pick all 12 “action” objectives and only 6 “holding” objectives
For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t looked at the objective list in a while, here’s a full breakdown:
Standard Maelstrom Tactical Objectives
11 – 16 Secure Objectives 1-6 (Capture & Control – Control objective marker X at end of turn)
21 – 26 Secure Objectives 1-6 (Take & Hold – Control objective marker X at end of turn)
31 – 36 Defend Objectives 1-6 (Storm & Defend – Control an objective for two consecutive turns)
41 Advance – Score 1 VP if no unit from your army is in your deployment zone at the end of the turn
42 Behind Enemy Lines – Score 1 VP if you have a unit completely within the opponent’s deployment zone at end of turn, D3 if you have 3
43 Hold the Line – Score 1 VP if you have 3+ units completely within your own deployment zone at end of turn and your opponent has none. Can’t score this on turn 1
44 Mission Critical Objective – Roll a D6 when you generate this objective, score 1 VP if you control that objective. If your opponent controlled it at the start of your turn, score D3 instead
45 Supremacy – Score D3 if you control any 3 objective markers
46 Domination – Score D3+3 if you control every marker on the battlefield
51 Overwhelming Firepower – Score 1 VP if an enemy was destroyed in Shooting phase this turn, score D3 if 3+ were destroyed in the Shooting phase
52 Blood and Guts – Score 1 VP if an enemy unit was destroyed in Fight phase this turn, score D3 instead if 3+ were destroyed in the Fight phase
53 No Prisoners – Score 1 VP if an enemy unit was destroyed on your turn, score D3 instead if 3-5 were destroyed, D3+3 instead if 6+ were destroyed
54 Area Denial – Score 1 VP if there no enemies within 6” of the center of the table at the end of your turn, D3 if there are none within 12” of the center
55 Psychological Warfare – Score 1 VP if opponent failed a morale test this turn, score D3 if 3+ tests were failed
56 Master the Warp – Score 1 VP for manifesting/denying a power this turn, D3 instead if you manifested/denied 3+ powers
61 Kingslayer – Score D3 VP if the enemy Warlord is dead or was slain this turn
62 Witch Hunter – Score 1 VP if you kill an enemy PSYKER this turn
63 Scour the Skies – Score 1 VP if you kill an enemy unit with FLY this turn
64 Assassinate – Score 1 VP if you kill an enemy CHARACTER this turn, score D3 instead if you kill 3+ enemy CHARACTERS
65 Big Game Hunter – Score 1 VP if you kill an enemy unit with 10+ wounds. Score D3 instead if you kill an enemy unit with 20+ wounds
66 Priority Orders Received – When you generate this objective, immediately generate another Objective from your hand – only your Warlord can score that objective. If they do, score the objective’s Victory Points, plus an additional 3 VP
So what do we think about all of these?
Capture & Control/Take & Hold
These two objective sets are identical, so we’re considering them together. These are the most basic Maelstrom objectives – hold a specified objective marker at the end of your player turn, score 1 VP. On the face of it, these have a lot to recommend them. They’re simple and the scoring condition is easy to meet. The main issue is that you have to score the specific numbered objective, and that’s not always easy to do. Your deck is meant to be picked before the objectives are placed, which means you won’t know which numbers you’ll need until you’ve committed to the cards. There is potential to, for example, select “Secure Objective 1/3/5” and then hope to place those markers, or end up on the side they’re closer to, but how much scope there is for that – and whether it’s considered to be cheating or some other kind of gamesmanship – is unknown.
TheChirurgeon’s Note: The Maelstrom rules have players alternate placing objective markers prior to deployment, but do not specify the order of objective markers or the numbers to be used. For fairness’ sake, we recommend using face-down objective markers that have been randomized, so that neither player knows which objective marker is which while they are being placed.
These definitely aren’t bad choices, and they might well find their way into a lot of decks as straightforward filler. For some builds they’re even very strong – something like Plaguebearer spam which can expect to flood the board in early turns and try and hold as many markers as possible simultaneously will enjoy the flow of easy points, especially if their ability to actually kill an enemy unit is low. Genestealer Cult might also enjoy these, given the power of hidden deployment and their army-wide access to deep strike.
Storm and Defend
This set is almost the same as the previous two, except that you have to hold the objective for two consecutive (player) turns, and then you score 2 points. This is a straightforward example of higher-risk, higher-reward – you trade the uncertainty of having to survive your opponent’s turn for the bigger payoff if you manage to complete it.
The commentary here is broadly the same as before, with the addition that it becomes even more important to have resilient units who can expect to reliably sit on the marker through your opponent’s turn. Again, Plaguebearers will excel here. There is one extra downside to Defend which isn’t the case for Secure, which is that going first or second matters a lot more. If you go second, then there will be a point where drawing a Defend card means that you simply cannot score it, because the game ends. In the new system this is less likely than it used to be, since you will hopefully have any scoreable Defend objectives in your hand and you can choose to put them in-play at a convenient time, but you only need one game to be lost because you drew a Defend at the bottom of turn 6 to wonder if including them was the right choice.
Seize Ground can be divided into two parts – “positional” objectives, and then high-stakes “holding” objectives.
From the first three – Advance, Behind Enemy Lines, and Hold the Line – you really want to take a maximum of two, and very possibly only one. Advance and Hold the Line have conflicting conditions, with Advance asking you to abandon your deployment zone and Hold the Line asking you to sit in it. It’s conceivable that you might want both – say, if you’re playing a mechanised Eldar or Dark Eldar army which can rapidly redeploy in or out of its zone – but more likely you’re going to have a plan to either mostly sit in your backfield or mostly advance out of it, and you’ll not want one or the other of these.
Behind Enemy Lines, on the other hand, is conceivably something you can pair with both. It has obvious utility with Advance, since you’re going to want to be forwards anyway, but also Hold the Line doesn’t require all your units to be in your own zone – maybe you have a forward element which is going to aggressively push the enemy deployment, while a backfield core holds rear objectives. Eldar planes come to mind, but really anything where you have a fast-moving element which can zoom into the enemy zone will work with this.
The other three objectives are Mission Critical Objective, Supremacy, and Domination. For most armies, the only one you’re likely to want here is Supremacy. Holding 3 objectives isn’t usually that hard, and it has a high potential upside. This is the first time we’ve mentioned a D3 point scoring objective, so it’s worth pointing out here that how good many of these are can depend on the rules you’re using – many events which use Maelstrom objectives fix the D3/D6 point objectives at 2 and 4 respectively. It’s worth bearing this in mind when you’re building your deck.
Mission Critical Objective is, to my mind, pretty weak. At best it’s an extra Secure. The gimmick for stealing it from an enemy is fun, but it also relies on things lining up just right. Maelstrom has enough randomness without adding more.
Finally there’s Domination, the ultimate in high-risk, high-reward. Having to take every single objective on the table is pretty onerous, and usually when you see someone draw this it’s with a sigh as they realise they’ll never manage to score it. However, it is possible. Again this suits the kind of board control army where you can expect to be able to sit on most objectives most of the time, or factions which can rapidly spread out across the objectives to make a big play for points.
Purge is the first of our set of “action” objectives. It’s kind of a mixed bag. The first three – Overwhelming Firepower, Blood and Guts and No Prisoners are all essentially the same, being kill in the Shooting phase, kill in the Fight phase, and kill any unit, respectively. No Prisoners is a card I’d expect to see in more or less every deck – at some point you’re probably going to have to kill something and you may as well score points for it. For high-damage armies focused on wiping out multiple units per turn, there’s also the possibility of D3 or D3+3 points. A strong card. Overwhelming Firepower and Blood and Guts depend on your overall strategy – if you’re running a backfield gunline with weak melee, then Blood and Guts won’t appeal to you, whereas if you’re playing a heavy melee build then maybe Overwhelming Firepower is unsuitable.
Along with those three we also have Area Denial, Psychological Warfare, and Master the Warp. Area Denial is another good generalist card. It’s somewhat matchup-dependent, and it can swing wildly in value – drawing it on turn 1 can be the easiest D3 points of your game, whereas a mid-game draw against a board control faction might make it feel impossible.
Psychological Warfare is one of the weakest cards in the deck. On its face it’s fairly straightforward, but it rather relies on your opponent letting you have it, especially with the 2 CP general stratagem to ignore Morale for one unit, and the other Morale-ignoring effects which are widespread in 8th edition. I’ve never seen anyone score the D3 from this. It also encourages you to leave units alive in order to hope they fail, which isn’t really good play outside of scoring the card – which we’ll return to later.
Finally, we have Master the Warp. This is pretty straightforward to discuss. Either you have a bunch of psykers and you expect to score it any time you draw it, or you have no psykers and you don’t. There’s a plausible edge case where you might have just one psyker doing some kind of minor buffing and you throw it in just in case, but at that point you need to consider if there’s a different card that works with more of your army.
Our last card set is Annihilation. This is where killing stuff gets specific.
Kingslayer is one of the more forgiving cards in the deck. Killing an enemy Warlord can be onerous, but unlike everything else you can still score this if they died in previous turns. If you have a bunch of character-killing options available, this is a great pick.
Witch Hunter and Scour the Skies score you 1pt for killing a Psyker or something with FLY, respectively. Both of these depend heavily on match-up, for friendly games, and meta, for tournaments. If you know your opponent has psykers you can kill or something with the FLY rule, then these are solid choices. In a more uncertain situation, say a tournament requiring you to pre-pick your deck, then you might pass. Scour the Skies is probably the more generally applicable of the two in a meta filled with Craftworlds and Drukhari flying boats.
Assassinate is another generally applicable card, since almost every army will have at least one character you can kill, or more likely, must kill to win. Hitting the D3 condition (kill 3+ characters) is going to be fairly uncommon unless an opponent makes a serious mistake, but the possibility is there.
Big Game Hunter is a good card like 90% of the time, and then absolutely worthless the other 10%. Almost any list that has vehicles in is likely to have a vehicle with more than 10 wounds, with the possible exception of Harlequins. In a meta full of Knights, the D3 condition is even reasonable to expect, too. However, against an infantry horde, or Daemons, or Tyranids, or some forms of Genestealer Cult, or at the outside, Harlequins, it may as well not be in your deck. Again, one to think about, depending on what your options are for deck construction.
Finally we have Priority Orders Received, in which your Warlord has to achieve whatever objective you pick to accompany it, and gets 3 bonus points for doing so. This card is better in the new format than in the old – the new rules let you choose which card in your hand to pick with it when you put it in-play, meaning that you’re much less likely to be suddenly given a priority order for your backline buff Warlord to defend an objective in the heart of your opponent’s army, or to somehow score Area Denial.
The Tier List
So that’s the cards. Where do we think they within our four categories?:
- No Prisoners
- Overwhelming Firepower/Blood and Guts (whichever your army does best; if you’re good at both, then pick both!)
- Any Secures
- Hold the Line/Advance (whichever your army does best)
- Behind Enemy Lines
- Master the Warp
- Priority Orders Received
- Any Defends
- Witch Hunter
- Scour the Skies
- Big Game Hunter
- Area Denial
- Psychological Warfare
- Mission Critical Objective
There is a lot of potential movement between “Plan-focused” and “Situational”, which will depend heavily on what you’re doing. For example, if your game or tournament is going to let you pick your deck at the table when you know your opponent’s list, then at minimum Scour the Skies and Big Game Hunter jump up into “must-haves” as befits the match-up. If it doesn’t, then maybe it’s not worth the gamble. We’re going to talk about this a lot more in the following section.
Building a Good Maelstrom Deck
We’ve now talked at length about what the cards are and how they work. The above includes some commentary on when they might be good or not, but in this section we’re going to focus specifically on the central question – how do you build a good deck?
Have a plan
You might remember this from our “Start Competing” series, or from One_Wing’s article on picking ITC secondaries. The advice here is very much the same. You should have a plan for how the game will play, and pick objectives which support it.
Some of this is obvious. If you’re expecting to roll up and build a shooty Space Marine castle full of Repulsors, maybe don’t stuff your objective deck full of Blood and Guts, Advance, and Domination. Equally, if you’ve brought 150 Plaguebearers and no guns, Overwhelming Firepower is probably not your first choice. It can also be more subtle – maybe you want the big points from blowing up a Knight, but are you likely to be able to do that in practice? Work it out beforehand and see if that’s a gamble you’re willing to make.
The best way to approach this is to think about what you’re going to do every turn for as long as you’re able to. Are you bringing Ahriman, 3 Daemon Princes, and Magnus? Then you can probably expect to cast at least one psychic power per turn, every turn, until either you or your opponent is dead. Take Master the Warp. Got a gunline full of Guard artillery which is going to sit and blow things away from the other side of the board? Overwhelming Firepower is your friend. These should be the first cards you pick – the things which go in your deck every single time.
Almost always, your deck will end up including the two must-haves outlined in our tier list. It’s hugely unlikely you’re going to win a game without killing anything, and the two picks in there will reward you for doing so.
After that, think about what you’re likely to achieve, and just as importantly, what you’re unlikely to achieve. This depends much more on the build you’re using. Think about recent games you’ve played. What did your army do well? What did it struggle to do? How many games did you find yourself with half your forces within 6” of where you deployed them? How many ended up with you playing on your opponent’s side of the table because it was easier to reach? How much does your Warlord do except for standing about shouting at people, and how much could they do if you needed them to in a pinch?
As you think about these questions, the cards should almost pick themselves.
One thing worth mentioning at this juncture, which again will have echoes of the ITC secondaries article, is the principle of picking things you can control. This is what bumps the Defends down, for example. You have limited control of your opponent’s decisions on what to target, and of course there’s that ever-present threat mentioned above, losing the chance to score it entirely because you’re on the wrong end of the turn order. Equally Witch Hunter, Scour the Skies and Big Game Hunter are all in “situational” because they really depend on your opponent having those things in the first place, and them still being alive when the card comes into play.
Making good in-play decisions
The final consideration about your deck will be seeing it in action on the table. Remember, under the new rules, you don’t just have objectives in your hand – you specifically choose 3 to put in-play, which are the only ones you can score. So how do you choose which to play?
The balance to strike here is scoring things right now vs. potentially getting more points overall. Master the Warp is a good example – you may have a psychic power you can cast right now to score a point, but maybe next turn you’ll be in range to cast more, or you’ll have another psyker on the table who’s off-board right now, and you can go for the D3 points. Maybe you have 5 cards and you can score all of them, but one of them you’re only likely to get this turn whereas another one can wait until later. Equally, you don’t want to get stuck with an in-play objective you can’t score until turn 4, which is stopping you putting things in-play which you can score right now.
In short, the crucial factor is prioritisation. Picking things in the order which best supports your plan will maximise the points you’re able to score.
Let’s finish with a couple of example decks, so we can see these in action.
Example deck 1: Talos spam
I’ve been playing a lot of Talos-based armies recently, so my primary thoughts in writing this have been about that. Here’s the 18 cards I would pick for my ordinary plan – driving up the middle of the board and taking it over, with support from Razorwing Jetfighters and Yvraine.
- No Prisoners
- Overwhelming Firepower
- Blood and Guts
- Area Denial
- Master the Warp
- Behind Enemy Lines
- Secure 1-6
Any two of Big Game Hunter/Scour the Skies/Witch Hunter, depending on my opponent. If required to pick all 18 before the event, then Big Game Hunter and Scour the Skies as the most likely things to see across the table.
Example deck 2: Horde board control
I’m thinking here primarily of Plaguebearer-heavy Daemon armies, but it could also be applicable for any infantry horde which intends to spread out fast and cover as many objectives as possible.
- Secure 1-6
- Defend 1-6
- Master the Warp (assuming you have psykers)
- No Prisoners
- Blood and Guts/Overwhelming Firepower
- Hold the Line
You might also consider throwing in Domination, if you like to go big, or Area Denial if you think you can pack the centre so effectively your opponent will never get near it.
Example Deck 3: TheChirurgeon’s NoVA List
NoVA doesn’t use Maelstrom missions, but if I were playing a game using these rules with my army, which features Abaddon and Cultist blobs, plus a Spiky 17 and a Supreme Command with a Kytan, Lord Discordant, and Dark Apostle, here’s what I’d likely run with them. I’ve got multiple psykers (3), so Master the Warp is a must-take, and I like my chances of killing things, so I want to prioritize scoring off those objectives. My actual objective-holding game is pretty weak though, so I’ll probably stick to Secure 1-6 with a plan to use the Black Legion strat to gain Super ObSec if I really need it.
- Secure 1-6
- Defend 1 / 2
- Master the Warp
- Hold the Line
- No Prisoners
- Overwhelming Firepower
- Blood and Guts
And then any three of Scour the Skies / Witch Hunter / Kingslayer / Big Game Hunter, depending on how the opposing army looks.
In addition to the new deckbuilding rules, there are also three new Maelstrom stratagems, which presumably replace the old rules.
- Re-Prioritise (2 CP) – Use at the start of your turn to discard up to two Tactical Objectives from your hand and draw a new card for each one discarded.
- Tactical Foresight (1 CP) – Use at any point during the turn. Look at the top three cards of your Objective deck and put each card on the top or bottom of your deck in any order. You can only use this once per turn.
- Determined Push (1 CP) – Use at any point during the turn. Select up to three Tactical Objectives in your discard pile and shuffle them back into your deck. You can only use this once per turn.
Ultimately, Re-Prioritise gets you the most short-term value, but this is going to be outweighed most of the time by the fact that it costs 2 CP, making it a real chore for some armies to fork over the cost. The value of Re-Prioritise shoots up in the final turns of the game, where the only having one or two remaining turns makes being able to draw objectives that can be scored immediately much more important. Unfortunately, this is also the point in the game where CP will be in shortest supply, and are usually being held to re-roll an important roll.
Tactical Foresight is a much more interesting story however, as stacking the objective deck in your favor and preventing yourself from drawing unscorable objectives for 1 CP seems like a better deal, and one with more value early in the game, where long-term planning can pay off big. It has no value whatsoever on the final turn of the game, but plenty of value on every turn before that.
Like Re-Prioritise, the value of Determined Push goes up as the game goes on, since in later turns you’ll likely have better chances of drawing anything you shuffle back into your deck thanks to having thinned the stack out over the course of the prior 4 to 6 turns. Otherwise you chances of drawing an individual card that you reshuffled back into the deck are not strong enough to merit making the attempt most of the time. Overall I think the uses for Determined Push are pretty limited, and your CP are likely to be better spent elsewhere.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to consider when building a deck under the new Maelstrom rules, and that’s before you consider a lot of the crazier options that the faction decks introduce (though we think they’re best-relegated to casual play). The big choice seems to really be about whether you want to include “Defend” tactical objectives or go for more of the specialised group. Next time around we’ll wrap up this series by taking a deep dive into the faction-specific tactical objectives, taking a deeper look at which of those are worth playing and which are best left in the trash can when building a deck.