Arena Mortis is the first game mode spin-off expansion for Warhammer Underworlds. When playing an Arena Mortis game, players will choose any one model from the entire range and play in a 3-6 fighter death match. We’ve got our Hot Takes loaded and will return in a few weeks with impressions on the game mode once we have more plays under our belt.
The Game – Raf
Arena Mortis was first published in White Dwarf as an alternate game mode, and now sees itself as a fully fleshed out release. The rules are similar, though have undergone some additional development. A game of Arena Mortis is played on only a single board, and each player only has a single fighter. Any miniature in the range can be chosen—from mighty Mollog to the diminutive Grot Redkap. Death is not eternal in the Arena; every round your dead fighter is returned and given a free upgrade and weak fighters begin the game with up to three upgrades on them to give them a more sporting chance.
Your Power deck works similarly to a normal game, though your hand is only 3 cards by default. You Upgrade deck is fundamentally different, however. Like in a regular game you’ll need to build a deck of Upgrades but unlike a regular game they’ll never enter your hand. Instead you equip your fighter with a number of upgrades based on their wound characteristic at the beginning of the game, and equip a new one every round after that. By the end of the game your fighters will be tooled up with up to 12 upgrades, all free! The catch is that any time someone equips an upgrade, your fighter loses their copy of that upgrade if you’ve got it. It’s a fun way to incentivize creative deckbuilding and also adds a light bluffing element; in a player game you may be able to sneak a cheeky Great Fortitude in your deck and hope the other players skip it.
Play is similar, though the only way to score glory is to Hold Objectives and kill enemy fighters (I don’t expect the Stalagsquig to be a popular choice). Bonuses are awarded for ganging up on the leader, and also for turn order. Rather than roll off at the start of the round, turn order is determined by shuffling a small set of cards and dealing them out. Going first is a tactical disadvantage offset by a potential Glory bonus and some free support on your attack rolls. Going last means taking some unpreventable damage.
Overall, I’m very excited about this game mode and can see my group playing regularly and making it our default multi-player mode. It should play much quicker than a normal 3-4 player game (though will go long at 5+), and since it will require dramatically different deckbuilding it should be a fresh experience. We’ll be back soon with some post-play thoughts.
The Cards – Zach
There are a few things to talk about with this set of Universal cards. Yes, they can be used in regular games of Warhammer: Underworlds, and not just in Arena Mortis, though in that game mode there is more to the Raise effect, discussed below. This set has a lot of good support for Combo cards, which were introduced in the main Beastgrave set, and may make those cards more viable.
These cards introduce a somewhat new mechanic that I’m calling Glory Burn, where you spend Glory for effects other than equipping Upgrades. This has some powerful implications for the future, as Glory now has more use than winning and equipping, and monitoring how much is available to each player is more important than ever before. There are some great cards that use this mechanic, though overuse of the mechanic may leave you without any Glory to operate in the game, which I think is really excellent design.
Bonus Sepulchral Guard Expansion! In Arena Mortis, you put a Raise counter on your fighter any time they come back from the dead. But now, the Sepulchral Warden puts one on any fighter that he uses his Action (or Restless Dead) to Resurrect, so any Raise card outside of Arena Mortis is basically a Sepulchral Guard card.
Going into Direchasm, we may see new Warbands with a Raise mechanic as well, but for now, it’s basically just a miniature Sepulchral Guard expansion. Are they good enough to make the Guard competitive? Maybe, there’s some seriously good effects in there, and the Guard are already doing relatively well with the strong Hold Objective cards in the game. Raise does require you to die, so they have to be good enough to make up for bleeding Glory, but I think many of them might actually be that good. It’s worth pointing out that many of the Raise Upgrade cards can be played directly from your hand without spending Glory as a reaction to the death of your skeleton. Upon its resurrection you’ll get an immediate benefit; this opens up quite a few tactical options.
Raf’s comments in italics
Winded – 4/5: Giving an enemy a Charge Token is a huge swing in the game. You can remove Hrothgorn for a whole turn! The downside is that you need a specific Upgrade to make it happen, but if you’re running them anyways, this might be worthwhile. Still, situational overall.
The Old One-Two – 2/5: An excellent boost to Combo, but again, this is mostly for Khamyss. For everyone else, you’re talking two Upgrades plus this card, which is a lot of investment. I think this gets a few extra points in Arena Mortis where the Upgrades come fast and free. It’ll be much easier to set up Combos, and your opponent’s will be less likely to have a Reaction in hand to break it up. 4/5 in Arena Mortis.
Strength from Death – 4/5: Cleave and Ensnare at the same time is strong, so this is quite tempting for Aggro Skeletons. I’m not sure it’s as good as Cold Fury, but you could consider both.
Soulsurge – 2/5: 50/50 to get an extra attack from another fighter after killing an enemy. I think that’s a bit too situational to put into a deck, but free Attacks are often good. I could perhaps see this in a deck with good Ranged Fighters, as you can kill in melee and then tee up your range Attack, but it’s still a hard sell for me.
Shattering Howl – 5/5: This feels way better than Last Gasp. Killing an enemy Upgrade, especially one that you can pick, is so good. Your opponent will be scared to kill your chumps past the early game, lest they lose that important Voltron upgrade or Glory farming Trophy Belt. Less good for Elite Warbands, obviously, but on mid-sized or horde Warbands, this effect is so, so good.
A Risky Prospect – 5/5: Broken. Absolutely insane. Free Glory? The only downside is damage? I’d risk killing a chump or damaging a midrange fighter for the chance at 1 to 3 free Glory. Statistically, you’re taking 1-2 damage and getting 0-1 Glory, but much like Rebound, the potential upside is so huge that when it happens, it can almost ruin a game. Expect this to be Restricted.
At Any Cost – 4/5: A free Charge Action is potentially devastating, as anyone who remembers Time Trap or Ready For Action will tell you. Spending three Glory, however, makes it quite interesting. You probably won’t be able to use it early, unless you’re already snowballing and haven’t spent any Glory. It’s more easily usable later, but at that point your opponent will have defensive upgrades and tools available. Additionally, it’ll depend on your warband, as more Elite warbands don’t necessarily require that Charge Action outside of Activations. My gut says that this is a very powerful card, but I can also see it being fairly situational.
Distracting Wealth – 4/5: This is the new iteration of Twist the Knife, and much more balanced. It’s not something you can easily throw out early on for that surprise Turn 1 kill, and it’s hard to stack with offensive upgrades since you need those Glory free – especially if you’re running a lot of these Glory burning cards in the same deck. I think that’s quite interesting, but off the cuff it’s easily strong enough to be a common Aggro pick. One of the frustrating parts of running an Aggro deck can be pouring resources into an attack only see it fail against all odds. I love that this lets you wait and only use it when you know it’ll work, and can turn weaker fighters into surprise threats.
Bitter Memories – ?/5: I can’t evaluate this card, as it is a Reaction with no Reaction Window. Do you do it when you die? Do you do it when you deal damage? Or is the Reaction keyword a misprint? If it’s not a Reaction, it’s a pretty solid pick for an Aggro Skeleton pick, as a free attack from the Champion or Weapon-equipped chump.
Cold Fury – 4/5: If you can safely Rez or use Restless Dead, this is an extremely good Aggro card, basically being Great Strength and Awakened Weapon in one attack. Popping up with a powerful Champion or Harvester attack is quite scary. Persistent Effects clear at the end of every round in Arena Mortis, so it is actually less useful in that mode.
Divine Reward – 2/5: We’ve seen this effect a few times on the “Victor’s X” line of Beastgrave cards. The fact that it’s any Upgrade makes it interesting, but it is, in my opinion, hard to justify using a Gambit slot for this effect, unless you’re leaning hard on the Glory burning effects and desperately need unspent Glory.
Enhanced Blow – 4/5: Haymaker with a different downside. I’m a big fan of this card, as it’s a powerful upside with a rough downside. Haymaker wasn’t as much of a downside since you could save it until your opponent can’t attack anymore, or just use it on a super tough Fighter that doesn’t care about being hit. Glory burning is a bit harder, especially for Aggro decks that want to spend them on weapons of Damage bonuses. Good enough to see play, but depends on the rest of the deck. I don’t love spending Glory on Dice like this since they can still fail. 3/5 for me.
Fancy Footwork – 3/5: Draw three is a lot of card cycling. This has some interesting implications for Combo, as this is the first time we’ve seen a Reaction to Combo other than an extra attack. Khamyss can take great advantage of it, if you don’t need the extra attack, but it’s also a nice boost to the other Combo cards. Again, potentially much more useful in Arena
Fractured Memories – 4/5: This is an excellent little Aggro card. Euphoric Dust had the same effect, but had setup requirements. This is now just a flat -1 Defence, which can be really good, especially as many Dodge warbands rely on multiple dice to survive.
Grand Offering – 4/5: This is comparable to Overkill, in that it’s an extra spent Glory off of a kill. Burning a Glory is more impactful than requiring overkill damage, but another Ploy version of Trophy Belt/Tome of Offerings is solid for winning games.
Invigorating Return – 4/5: This is really solid for any Skeleton deck. Aggro Skellies can push them nice and close to enemies for later attacks, and Hold Objective skellies can rez and pop right onto objectives.
Last Gasp – 3/5: A neat little chip damage card for chump warbands. If you’re playing aggro with chumps, it’s not a terrible pick, but I’d argue there are better ones, as historically this type of card has never really seen much play.
Making Ends Meet – 2/5: This is kinda cute, especially in a Glory Burning deck or in conjunction with Trophy Belt/Grand Offering/Overkill. But, is it worth a Gambit slot when you can just use a Gambit that helps you get more Glory instead? I’d argue not.
Outrageous Fortune – 4/5: Very interesting, though I’m not sure when this card is that useful. Rarely do you have any Upgrades that you feel comfortable killing, but then again, losing an Upgrade is better than losing a fighter. Surprise damage reduction is often quite powerful, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see thin in decks despite the downside.
Revel in Death – 5/5: Autotake in Skeleton decks, especially more passive Hold Objective types. Rolling at least one Channel on two dice is 75%, which is more than enough for free Glory imo. You can’t load the entire Gambit side of your Power Deck with free Glory cards, but this is one of the more reliable ones for Skellies. If nothing else, it balances out the Glory for dying, sort of a Gambit version of Martyred. Autotake in Arena as well, unless you’ve taken Mollog I guess.
Ambusher – 4/5: Surprise Skeleton! Nice for Hold Objective as you can jump right to a token (making it basically Faneway, but different), or Aggro as you can set up right next to an unsuspecting opponent. It also has Psychological value as your opponent has to think about where you could Rez once you equip it. Another autotake for Arena, I think.
Audacious Feint – 4/5: A very solid Combo enabler. Super reliable for setting up Reactions to Combos, and a free Guard token. Again, Combo builds are a bit leery right now, as they can be iffy to set up, but if Combo becomes a serious build, this is one of the better enablers.
Deserved Confidence – 3/5: This is a serious Voltron multiplier. “Voltron” meaning a build where you stack all your upgrades on one fighter to make them a powerhouse, usually with a big guy like Mollog, Hrothgorn, or Stormsire. With just 3, it’s Great Fortitude with a bonus, at 5, it’s also Great Speed. That’s… fine, but it really shines at 9 Upgrades for innate hitting on attacks. The downside to this, of course, is that you need to have almost every Upgrade in your deck on the one fighter, which limits your builds and can really mess with your mulligan and draw situation. Still, for an Aggro Voltron build, it’s worth a consideration, though it would seriously be rough as an early draw.
Desperate Swing – 2/5: A neat catchup mechanic, but that’s not always great to rely on. There are better Combo cards. Morgwaeth’s Coven has some crit fishing cards this could combo with but its a pretty situational card.
Draining Leech – 3/5: One-use Upgrades are kinda iffy, but the ability to ping a far away enemy and blow up an Upgrade is pretty cool. This is a neat tool for control decks, but I’m not sure it makes the cut, as it has a reasonable chance at failure. Then again, if you play against a Lost Pages, Tomes or Avatar deck, you can cripple them pretty easily, so it can be meta dependent.
Flashy Follow-Up – 4/5: What a card. This is something that might be able to make Combo viable by itself – 3 Hammer 3 Damage after a successful attack should kill anything that you get to. This turns Khamyss from a squishy cannon to a squishy nuclear strike.
Frenzied Assault – 2/5: Excellent meme for a fun deck. Potentially infinite damage, more likely does nothing. There is a world where you stack extra Attack Dice, reroll attack dice, and reroll failure Gambits to pull off some silliness with this, but that’s a big ask for is more likely just a joke card. Joke cards are the best cards, 5/5.
Gauntlet of Command: Mortis Relic, read below. Great Fortitude, and can free Sidestep after you Activate.
Gauntlet of Dominance: Mortis Relic, read below. Great Strength, and can free Distraction after you Activate.
Gravesiren – 3/5: Distraction when you rez a Skeleton. That’s not bad, as Distraction is a very good and ubiquitous card already, but I don’t think it’s as impactful as some of the other Raise Upgrades. You’ll see this in Arena games for sure.
Head Bash – 4/5: Another great Combo finisher. As a basic attack, it’s fine, but dropping a Charge token on an enemy is insanely good. Much like Winded, shutting off a big scary Fighter in the first Action before they can do anything is insanely powerful. Meta dependent, as it does less against warbands with variable threats or against many horde warbands, but even then it’s a pretty reasonable finisher. Huge for Combo decks, which I think we’ll see of for a bit at least while people test.
Hungry for Vengeance – 3/5: Another Raise upgrade, this time for extra dice. Good for Aggro Skeletons, less good for Hold Objective. Then again, your good fighters already have 3 dice when they rez, so it’s more to boost weapon upgrades.
Ignoble Blow – 4/5: A good attack with a built in Upper Hand, though more balanced in that you have to roll at least one Success. That makes it very reliable in general, around as reliable as Audacious Feint. Again, you have to build around Combo, but this is a good way to do it.
Invigor Mortis – 4/5: Situationally a very good Raise card. Really makes your opponents think about where they stand when they kill your dudes once you equip it. They can always play around it, as it doesn’t have the free equip on death that other Raise cards do, but it’s also a more powerful effect, letting you potentially kill a weakened fighter when you rez.
Spiteful Lunge – 1/5 or 5/5: This is somewhere between a meme and a completely broken card. A lot of the time, it does nothing, or kills a chump, or whatever. A small amount of the time, it kills an upgraded Hrothgorn or Morgok, and you win the game off of one dice roll. I believe this is the only card in the game that straight up kills a fighter, which is an insane effect, but it can be played around and has a 5/6 chance to fail anyway. This will either cause widespread range or be forgotten in a month, nothing in between. “Keep yelling at us about Rebound, it only makes our cards worse”. I mostly love this because the very same people who say it’s bad and not worth taking will be the loudest voices advocating it to be Restricted or Banned. I can’t wait for the day someone puts it on a Skeleton and gets it to succeed 2 or 3 times in 1 game. I’ll run it a few times for sure.
The Crown of the Dead: Mortis Relic, read below. Awakened Weapon, and can Draw Two Power + Discard One Power after you Activate.
Tight Defence – 4/5: An Upgrade version of Buried Instinct, or a Reaction version of Survival Instincts. You can’t surprise your opponent with it, but you can use it multiple times, so that’s not nothing. It’s a solid defensive upgrade, especially if you want to protect a fighter stacking Upgrades, though it’s not the best defensive choice in the game.
Vision of Glory – 4/5: Potion of Grace almost never saw play, but then again, Potion of Grace didn’t remove Charge tokens. Being able to double Charge in a single turn (or triple for Mollog!) is a pretty bonkers power spike, though it doesn’t do anything else for your damage or durability. I think being able to Charge -> Charge or Charge -> Attack is worth it, though.
Heart Thief – 2/5: A lot of Range 3+ weapons are rotating out with Nightvault, but this is still pretty mediocre. Two Fury attacks are almost always bad, in general. If I really wanted a new Ranged attack, I’d take Draining Leech.
Weirding Staff – 3/5: See above about two Fury attacks. Yes, this is potentially a 4 damage attack, but not only is it unreliable, it also requires Glory burn. If you’re doing an Aggro Stormsire or Fecula build, you could consider this, but I think there are better ways to build those decks.
Mortis Relics – 4/5: Mortis Relic cards are a group of three cards that work together to power up. Unlike the Ur-Grub cards, each Upgrade does nothing alone, but are great bonuses when you get two or three on the same fighter. You need to run all three, and ideally have a good fighter to stack them on, but when you make them work, they’re excellent. As they do nothing apart, I have to rate them together:
Any two of those cards are great to have, especially as doubling up on any of the passive effects is difficult, generally using a Restricted or Faction card. Any of the Reactions are good, as well. With no Glory from an Upgrade or Objective, they’re more powerful baseline than the Avatar or Lost Page cards, but you need to use that power to get extra glory.
Aggro got a lot of love in this expansion, and I’m excited to see where Combo decks go. I’m also hoping we see more Glory Burn cards and Raise effects in Direchasm.