Sunday, 23 February 2020

THE LONELY REALMSPHERE GUIDE: Anvilgard


For the next edition of The Lonely Realmsphere Guide, we're visiting Anvilgard, the city commonly cited by Cities of Sigmar aficionados as turned up late when allegiance abilities were being doled out. That Anvilgard is underpowered is a sentiment I hold in contention, and I'd personally argue that the go to city for Dark Elf types who value modesty over metal bikinis has the potential to be CoS's most powerful, outshining even Hallowheart and Tempest's Eye, albeit on the basis of a couple of very powerful gimmicks.


Why collect Anvilgard? Either you're a Dark Elf guy waiting for Shadowkin or Warhammer: The Old World to hit who's sensibilities don't extend to monstergirls, big on grimdark pirates, a committed monster masher who saw the battleline options, or just like good a challenge. Irregardless of what brought you to Anvilgard, what will keep you around are the pair of very strong options that when a list is tailored around one or both of them have the potential to delete the most armoured and/or insulated against mortal wounds units you opponent has going as if they were a screen of grots.

Anvilgard's allegiance abilities are unique among the Free Cities, in that unlike Greywater Fastness and the Phoenicium's internally balanced array of rather milquetoast options, and the quartet of 'playable' cities having no wrong decisions when it comes to traits, artefacts and spells, Anvilgard's choices range from gamebreaking to dreadful, meaning I'm going to be pretty dismissive of some. As with my previous article on Greywater Fastness, I'll individually run though every unique option and rule available to Anvilgard before I expand on ideas for best utilising and creating lists around the two aforementioned standouts, though unlike Greywater Fastness I don't own or play with an Anvilgard army, so please treat the contents of this article as more theory than practice. Special thanks go out to Dekay (he of Storm-Aelves fame), the TGA Cities of Sigmar forum's resident authority on all things aelf for casting a cursory eye over this article and offering a few extra insights.


BATTLE TRAITS

We're off to a good start with Illicit Dealings, giving an Anvilgard army to the choice of one of three benefits. Black Market Bounty and Dabblings in Sorcery respectively offer a bonus artefact of power or Drakeblood curse ( mount traits by another name, covered below) each, meaning that if you've got two of either that you're particularly keen to include you don't have to drop 120 points on Anvilgard's sole somewhat rubbish battalion to do so. If you're good for magic items and monster mods, then Hidden Agents allows you to start the game with D3 extra command points, which everyone can use more of.

Make an Example of the Weak is a convenient bonus command ability, allowing Anvilgard heroes to perform a Commissar style summary execution on a single rank and file model for an 18" Inspiring Presence bubble, useful if you're running a lot of large units and taking damage on all fronts.


COMMAND TRAITS

Blackfang Crimelord allows a second Illicit Dealing to be picked, which is handy if you're after two artefacts or curses and want to keep the bonus command points. Slayer of Monsters gives the general +1 to hit and wound against monsters, and as well as being underwhelming (monsters are exactly what you don't want most generals going near) also might not have any use at all in a lot of games, so hard pass.

Secretive Warlock either unlocks all three spells from Anvilgard's Lore of Dark Sorcery for a wizard general, or allows a non wizard general to cast one of them (note that a general able to cast a spell this way doesn't become a wizard, gaining the keyword, so no unbinding attempts and no extra wounds from Darkfire Daemonrifts). Probably quite useful to add flexibility to a Sorceress general, or have a Dreadlord on Black Dragon, Freeguild General on Griffon, or Anointed on Frostheart Phoenix, able to fire off the lethal, but relatively short ranged Shadow Daggers.


ARTEFACTS OF POWER

The Drakefire Cloak is the standout here, giving a 5+ save against wounds allocated, and netting that handy Secretive Warlock Dreadlord on Black Dragon, Freeguild General on Griffon, or Anointed on Frostheart Phoenix a net average 33% more survivablity (not that the Phoenix needs it). By comparison the Venomfang Blade and Asphyica Censer feel like two of those not very good realm artefacts you skim over on your way to the Gryph-feather Charm and Ethereal Amulet.

Restricted to Realm artefacts from Aqshy because that's where Anvilgard is, Anvilgard armies can of course use the Thermalrider Cloak to model wings on stuff that wouldn't usually have wings. Other handy Aqshian accessories include mortal wound shrugging Ignax's Scales (though I think I'd rather shrug off garden variety wounds as well with the Drakefire Cloak), the Magmaforged Blade, for a more consistent Venomfang Blade on a Dreadlord on Black Dragon with his command ability up; and the Smouldering Helm to dish mortal wounds back on a 5+ vs units with no rend if you include a second Dreadlord on Black Dragon or Freeguild General on Griffon and equip him with a shield (there's no reason not to outside of Living City lists). All in all though, artefacts available to Anvilgard that aren't the Drakefire Cloak are pretty unexciting, and should probably be forgone for command points or an extra Drakeblood curse.


DRAKEBLOOD CURSES

Pretty much identical to other allegiances' mount traits, Drakeblood curses allow one of three extra abilities to be handed out to an Anvilgard Black Dragon, Kharibdyss or War Hydra. The first, Acidic Blood, offers a chance to deal mortal wounds after taking damage, and is the weakest of the three. Jutting Bones' reliable chance of D3 mortal wounds on the charge gives monsters a solid shot in the arm, but isn't remarkable enough to go out of your way for.

Fell Gaze, bestowing a -2 Bravery aura to it's lucky recipient might shock you to see revealed as the first of the two much hyped gimmicks promised in this article, as battleshock avoidance (and recently outright immunity) feels more like a core mechanic of AoS than battleshock itself. Don't worry though, I'm not crazy, there's another means of exploiting reduced Bravery scores available to Cities of Sigmar players that may not seem immediately obvious that I'll explain and detail the maximisation of in full, as soon as I've finished covering Anvilgard's remaining allegiance abilities.


THE LORE OF DARK SORCERY

Not everyone's botique spell lore gets a name as cool as Greywater Fastness' Lore of Smog. Sap Strength is a solid spell, offering a -1 to hit modifier that's cumulative with the Sorceress' Word of Pain and Hysh Battlemage's Pha's Protection, giving you multiple, stacking opportunities to force negative hit rolls on whatever enemy unit looks most threatening at the given time.

Shadow Daggers has already come up a couple of times, and it's short range devastating payout goes great on a Secretive Warlock Freeguild General on Griffon, Dreadlord on Black Dragon, or even an infantry general like a Warden King or Black Ark Fleetmaster able to hang near the front lines, protected by an Honoured Retinue. Possibly even cast by a Celestial Hurricanum, though in an Anvilgard list packed with units making the best of the city's rather limited hand of advantages it's not likely you'll be able to afford to fit one in.

Coming as less of a surprise as the second of my two vaunted gimmicks is the save roll negating Vitriolic Spray. Petrifex Elite? Completed it mate. Obviously ensuring you're able to get Vitriolic Spray off every turn is crucial, and owing to it's high casting value and long range, you'll want a blood sacrificing Sorceress casting it through an (amplified) Umbral Spellportal well out of unbinding range. Much more on Vitriolic Spray and the best units to capitalise on it with below.


CHARWIND BEASTRUNNERS BATTALION

Not even granting a particularly good conditional bonus against the monsters it may fight against, if this battalion needed a further strike against it, requires an awful lot of Black Arc Corsairs, a melee/missile hyrbrid unit continuing the unfortunate current trend of being mediocre at both. With artefacts, Drakeblood curses and command points available aplenty through Black Market Bounty I regrettably can't think of many reasons to field it, with even reduced drops and Scourgeruner Chariots not seeming like much of an incentive. Cool theme though!


GIMMICK THE FIRST: THE TENEBROUS BRAVERY BOMB

Easily sniffed at on its own, Fell Gaze's negative Bravery modifier is but one of the rather surprising plethora available Cities of Sigmar, making Anvilgard stand out with more stacking negative Bravery auras than any other army in the game, even the Legion of Grief. I'll run through the warscrolls that do this in a minute, but first I'd like to introduce the unit able to reap the benefits of those negative modifiers. Presenting...

Yes, I've used the right image

Rules for the Flesh-Eater Courts mercenary company the Tenebrous Court exist in both Forbidden Power and the General's Handbook 2019, allowing any army to run them as allies. Crypt Flayers (the big, flappy ghouls in the image above) have a special shooting attack called Death Scream, that rolls a 2D6 for every model in the unit against the target's Bravery, dealing mortal wounds equal to the difference. Even with a +2 modifier to enemy Bravery when the Crypt Flayers aren't in combat with them, with enough negative mods they can easily snipe characters, and have the potential to average a couple of wounds each on even normally implacable Bravery 10 targets. Crypt Flayers cost 170 points for a unit of three, making two units easy to slot into a 2,000 point game's ally allowance. 

An auto include in a bravery bomb list, Horrorghast, the endless spell that looks like a Nagash head that's been melted over a heated stove from Forbidden Power is inexpensive, and saps another two points of bravery from nearby units. The Kharibdyss (who can also be given the all important Fell Gaze), Dark Riders and the standing-out-by-not-being-a-Dark-Elf Freeguild General on Griffon all have -1 bravery auras able to stack with each other's, and so you'll want to squeeze in at least one of each.

'Oi, Franz, didn't you get the memo?!
We've been on the same side for five years...'

Sylvaneth Spite-Revenants have 3" a -1 Bravery aura and a unit of five can be cheekily squeezed into a 2,000 point game's ally allowance alongside two units of Crypt Horrors if you think they'll stay alive long enough to get any use out of it. With so many relatively low wound units integral to to pulling off a bravery bomb you'll probably want to find room for an Emerald Lifeswarm (healing D6 wounds under CoS) to keep them in the game (once those Crypt Horrors are gone they're gone). Fielding a mercenary company means you start the game with one less command point, and so picking Hidden Agents as your Black Market Bounty is probably pragmatic. Obviously if you do chance against an army vulnerable to battleshock then win/win with entire units running away after losing a single model and getting sneezed on.

While I personally don't play Anvilgard (if you cut me I'd probably bleed Greywater Fastness), I'd love to see this concept in action on the table, and think that while it would require considerable finesse and practice to pull off, could seriously shake up the scene in the right hands, with very little most armies could stretch to counter it. Crypt Flayers even bear a passing resemblance to the original Dark Elf Harpy models from the 90s, so there's thematic scope to boot.


GIMMICK THE SECOND: DEATH BY A THOUSAND UNSAVED CUTS

Anvilgard's more popular crutch, Vitriolic Spray is entirely unique, rendering its target's save characteristic irrelevant, and making it ripe for a volley of Damage 1 Rend - attacks. Before building a list of low rend ranged units to fully take advantage, you'll first want to ensure that you can rely on casting it every turn. Even if Vitriolic Spray didn't have a pitiful range of 6", you'd still want to ensure it goes off well out of enemy unbind range, and Cities of Sigmar having endless spells better than everybody else's means you can cast from a corner with an amplified Umbral Spellportal.

Vitriolic Spray having a steep casting cost of its own plus requiring an extra casting roll on the Spellportal's part means that you'll want them both cast by Sorceresses blood sacrificing a cheap unit of Bleakswords or Dreadspears. You'll typically be selecting a new target every turn as well, and will need to dispel the Spellportal in order to summon it again, and while a third Sorceress feels tempting in the role, you've only got one chance to dispel it, and so a Runelord with his +2 modifier is better for the job, with the added perk of providing wonderful buffs should you include a unit of Dispossessed. If you're interested in a more detailed analysis of the Runelord and Dispossessed, then check out my Lonely Realmsphere article looking at them here.


To max out on nonexistent armour saves, you'll want to load up on cheap, high volume Rend free attacks, ideally at range, and Darkshards or Freeguild Crossbowmen are your guys. Keeping consistent with Anvilgard's formerly-known-as-Dark Elves motif, Dark Riders buck the trend as functional melee/missile hybrids also put out a high volume of Rendless attacks and are speedy enough to ensure making it into combat with the unit you target. Despite already having a point of Rend Gyrocopters with steam guns also dish out a high volume of damage against hordes, and a unit of three is likely to wipe out a Vitriolic Sprayed target of single wound models.

If you're going to build a list around Vitriolic Spray you're going to need to remember that the spell can only target a single enemy unit, and learn to pick the right one for it every turn, typically coming down to a decision between guaranteeing killing your opponent's linchpin damage or buff dealer, or getting a hard to shift unit off a valuable objective. It's particularly true of Age of Sigmar that games are won or lost on making the right decision at crucial moments, so practice hard and develop a knack for evaluating the payoff between shooting down an impending threat and denying your opponent victory points, being sure to learn from your mistakes in games you've lost having made the wrong choice at one of these junctures.


BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER, OR NOT?

It's a tight fit to create a 2,000 point list able to utilise both the gimmicks described above in tandem, with all the requisite endless spells needed to support them and the Sorceresses needed to cast those endless spells costing a fair whack, and while definitely manageable with the bravery bomb's Freeguild General on Griffon left at home, it's a very risky proposition, and will leave you with an army unable to do much else, that in the event of its Crypt Flayers being killed and/or an unlucky casting roll aren't worth the warscrolls they're printed on, and so it might be more prudent to play it safe with a list only incorporating one of the two into a more conventional selection of proven Cities of Sigmar units like Scourgerunner Chariots, Phoenix Guard, Dispossessed, and even Evocators.


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

A uniquely 'spikey graph' among city allegiances, I maintain the opinion that with the right trait, artefact, curse, spell and most importantly unit selection, and a considerable amount of refinement and practice Anvilgard has the potential to be up there with Tempest's Eye and Hallowheart. Quite how, I'm not exactly sure, but I hope this article collates most of the pieces of the puzzle for a Dark Elf enthusiast willing to put the time in, or at the very least demonstrated to a new or prospective Anvilgard player who's been told their selected city's a write off that they don't have to paint their models blue and white to stand a chance of winning.

If you're an Anvilgard player with any insights to add, or an unsentimental competitive type who thinks this article's overly optimistic theroryhammer tosh, then please leave a comment or get in touch, I'd love to hear your insights.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up, thank you. Hadn't considered the bravery bomb. Have been considering a Flamespire Phoenix with Drakescale Cloak and Vitiolic spray to plonk in the heat of the action to give my opponent pause for thought.

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