Hey remember me? I kind of promised a final installment of the grand alliances for Age of Sigmar then disappeared in a cloud of ninja smoke? Well I’m back from my covert super secret mission to save the universe (spoiler alert – didn’t work, he got the infinity stones anyway), and have returned with some thoughts about the Death faction of Age of Sigmar.
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Recently Death got thrown a bone (heh heh) with a new battletome The Legions of Nagash. Up until this point, Death was kind of on the lower scale of power with AOS and they were in need of an update, so the battletome was welcome!
The Flesh Eater courts battletome was already pretty solid in terms of your ghoul based units, however the skeletons, zombies, and other “assorted undead” were kind of left without a lot of the perks their ghoulish cousins enjoyed.
With the most recent announcement of the new edition of Age of Sigmar right around the corner, the nighthaunts are getting a battletome as well, with a host of new units and abilities that I’m sure are going to be pretty awesome.
Legions of Nagash
The Legions of Nagash introduced allegiances within the Death army. So, you have a different faction led by one of the main characters of the army. Regardless of allegiance, you also gain some pretty awesome new perks.
Summoning has been completely reworked and now only certain units can be summoned (mainly your core troopers, but Grave Guard can also be summoned which is nice).
You lose some flexibility compared to old summoning rules however, in that you have to name the unit you’re going to summon and set aside those exact points and you can’t change it up. For those used to 40K summoning this is a bit of a let down as you can’t just summon in whatever you need at the moment.
Summoning goes hand in hand with a new feature for death – Grave Sites –where you choose two points in your deployment, and another two anywhere else on the board to count as a point where you can summon units from out of reserve.
There’s no limit as to how many units you can put aside at deployment to count as coming out of a Grave Site later in the game.
The restrictions are similar to 40k in that you have to be 9” away from enemy models. It allows you the flexibility to pop up a unit up from these four points throughout the game, and it’s pretty difficult for your opponent to counter all of these locations.
If that wasn’t great enough, they also heal nearby troops in your hero phase!
Your heroes can also heal summonable units as well! Each hero is different in this regard, with Nagash obviously being the best at it. Between heroes and gravesites though, hordes of undead are going to be really hard to keep down when properly supported. Your heroes, by and large, are both casters and solid melee fighters.
Saves aren’t exactly stellar for a lot of choices however, so you have to take that into consideration before you try and take a fight on. Heroes also give an extra save to units within 6” similar to a feel no pain save (in 40k language). It’s only a 6+ mind you, but when you’re running big units, this combines with grave sites and hero phase healing to really up the durability.
This army is really about the characters for the most part – so let’s start there!
This is your big centrepiece model for the faction and it’s a pretty incredible kit, packed with details. He looks impressive on the table for certain.
Although a hefty point investment, Nagash is extremely strong. 16 Wounds with a 3+ save makes for a very tough model.
His ability to heal five units anywhere on the board (a rerollable D3 wounds), and give an army wide reroll 1’s for hits and saves makes him a force multiplier as well.
His spellcasting is insane. At full wounds he can cast and unbind eight spells a turn, and knows four spells of his own, plus any spells known by any other death wizard on the battlefield. One of his signature spells randomly kills a model with no saves 50% of the time, and the other deals mortal wounds which heals Nagash! Due to the point cost however, you have to build the rest of your list around him.
Arkhan the Black
Arkhan is one of the Mortarchs – Nagash’s top characters. Although no slouch in combat, Arkhan is mainly your casting Mortarch and gains a +2 bonus to casting and unbinding when at full health. He also gets Nagash’s trick of knowing the spells of any death wizard within 18”.
If Arkhan is leading your army, his command ability increases the range of friendly wizards by 6”.
Mannfred is your fighing Mortarch, and although he is also a decent caster, he’s a monster in close combat.
He negates the first wound (even mortal) each turn and heals when he kills a model in combat. His six attacks (doing multiple damage) and his mount’s 12 attacks make that extremely likely to occur.
When he causes wounds with his sword he also adds 1 to his next casting or unbinding roll. Mannfred also heals up to four summonable units within 18” or return slain models to the unit.
If he is the commander of your force, he gives a radius of reroll hit and wound rolls of 1 for friendly units. He’s therefore the type of commander who wants to be up close and personal!
The third of Nagash’s Mortarchs, Neferata is more of a buff / debuff leader.
When she slays a hero in combat she turns them into a vampire lord. She has Mannfred’s trick of healing when she kills a model and is a wizard as well.
Of note is her signature spell dark mist, where you can choose a unit and give them fly and ignore rend.
If she is the commander of your army, she also has a radius around her where enemies automatically subtract 1 from all hit rolls. Combine with bat swarms for extra annoyance!
Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon / Prince Vhordrai
A decent fighty character (and cool model!) you have basic casting ability, and can heal 3 different summonable units, but this guy is all about the combat. 14 Wounds and the ability to have a 3+ save (with shield) makes for an extremely tough to remove character.
You have the choice of lance for big damage on the charge, or sword for an extra attack and D3 damage. Either are really decent choices.
The dragon itself is doing D6 damage with it’s bite, and 2 with the claws and has a breath attack that also does multiple wounds! This is one nasty customer and pairs well with a force of blood knights.
Prince Vhordrai is a vampire on a dragon, armed with the lance options, and all the same perks as the regular version of the dragon. The dragon has a mortal wound breath weapon that is more reliable if you’ve slain models in the previous combat.
He also gets the benefit of the 3+ save while still getting a Chalice of blood to heal D6 wounds once per battle. If you’re going for a lance lord on a zombie dragon, there’s really no downside to just taking Vhordrai instead!
Generally speaking this is a support character only if they take the standard, which provides a radius where death units can ignore the wound that slays the model (note – not all wounds so doesn’t really benefit multiple wound models) on a 6+.
He has minor combat ability and the ability to take a mount, however you’ll be hard pressed to find a role for this model in any competitive list.
Vampire lords are better than wight kings in every respect.
They are wizards and have D3 damage on their attacks. You can choose to have them fly or be mounted as well as have a once per battle chalice of blood healing affect.
Vampire lords allow three summonable units within 12” to heal or regain slain models.
A good budget support character that can do some work in melee when necessary.
This is a basic caster who’s mainly there to provide buffs to your minions. Although sporting a rather terrible 6+ save, the necromancer on a 4+ can pass on wounds to a summonable unit instead. It can heal two units within 6” during the hero phase.
The big reason you’d take one however, is for Vanhel’s danse macabre, a spell which allows a summonable unit in 18” to pile in and attack twice! (hint: grave guard!)
Now, let’s move onto the units.
You’ve got an assortment of elite, and rather poor but plentiful units to choose from:
Zombies and Skeletons
Cheap and fairly garbage troopers that rely on massed units to increase their combat ability to acceptable levels.
They’re your basic hordes that camp on objectives and tie up units that you want to delay a bit.
Can we take a second and just appreciate how cool this model is? Fantastic kit GW, great job!
Rule wise, it can be equipped with a -1 debuff to enemy wizards, or +1 cast to your own wizards (the better choice). The model is not great at combat at all, but buffs nearby zombies and dire wolves as well as helps casters, so not a horrible choice.
A pretty cheap and fast unit. Poor saves (better near a corpse cart) and lackluster attacks (even with the bonus to wound when charging) limits them to grabbing far objectives as their primary role however.
Can we take a second and appreciate how ugly this model is? Bad GW!
A cheap fast multiwound unit that is fairly poor, but can be used to tie up chaff and grab objectives, while being generally low on the opponent’s hit list.
If an enemy dies within 6” they double their attacks, which are still pretty poor, but quantity sometimes has a quality all it’s own.
It’s cheap, it’s an old ugly model, multiwound and it’s bats!
But, what makes the swarms worth it is the ability to provide a debuff to enemy units within 12”. Run bat swarms with Neferata for a juicy -2 to hit debuff for enemies in range vs. shooting.
Okay, how cool are these models?
Vargheists are fast flying multi-wound models that gain additional attacks on a 6+ after slaying a model. Decent attacks (similar to an ogre) and incredible mobility make these units a solid choice.
Fast cavalry that used to heal models every turn with their standard. Unfortunately they lost that ability.
With only 1 damage on their attacks and a fairly sad 5+ save for cavalry, they struggle to find a role that other units can fill much better.
This is your “elite” infantry unit, which at first glance may not seem very elite. A 5+ save isn’t fantastic at all, but can be improved to a 4+ with the crypt shield against non-rending attacks. When you roll a 6+ to wound you do double damage, which in large enough numbers is going to come up.
Their big bonus however is the summonable keyword, which is absent from all “elite” units. This means they can pop up from grave sites, be healed by characters and are affected by other buff keywords.
AKA you want HOW MUCH for five models? Sure they’re nice, but man they’re expensive. For 1/3 of the price you get five chaos knights which are just as big and cool looking and some simple conversions make them look just as nice.
Okay, onto the rules.
Long story short, you want these guys. Sure their banner no longer heals them, however, they are three wound cavalry with a 4+ save (improved to 3+ for non-rending attacks) with three attacks per model which do D3 damage each on a charge!
They also heal a wound every time they slay a model, which is going to happen – a lot. Combine with the Crimson Keep detachment from
Legions of Nagash. This allows you to reserve the blood knights, and bring them on a table edge you choose at the beginning of the game (ie: your opponent’s!) so long as they are 9” away from enemies.
Morghast Harbingers / Archai
The Morghasts are six wound models with a 9” flying move. They can be armed with halberds to do 3 damage per attack with a 2” range or Swords for two extra attacks at damage 2.
The harbingers get to roll 3 dice for charges, while the Archai get a 5+ feel no pain style extra save. Solid, solid unit and cool models. Very point heavy however.
The Black coach
This chariot powers up by rolling a 6 for every death wizard within 12” gaining cumulative effects. The effects include mortal wounds on a charge, increased move, increasing the to hit roll to 3+, flying, and the ability to unbind a single spell. It has a slightly better cairn wraith on top for attacking.
What can I say… it’s really just “okay”. For the same points you can just get something that functions more effectively than the powered up version of this model right from the start.
A fantastic looking model that has similar survivability and combat ability to a zombie dragon (made from the same great kit!), but that has a ranged attack that causes mortal wounds to a unit.
It also has a death throes style attack when it dies causing D3 mortals automatically. Can also be taken as a monster or a mount for a ghoul king in a Flesh-Courts army.
Coven Throne/Mortis Engine/Bloodseeker Palanquin
One massive kit that is truly an army centrepiece that can build three different variants. All versions have the same basic stats with some slight differences.
The coven throne has female vampires riding it which add some close combat attacks, as well as a spell which beguiles a unit, meaning they cannot attack the coven throne – which of course can then charge the unit, immune to their attacks!
The bloodseeker palanquin and Mortis engine both have a mortal wound shooting attack in a radius around them. The Mortis Engine has a one per game wave of undeath that heals your units and causes mortal wounds to others.
The palanquin has a spell that targets heroes, and when it kills a hero buffs nearby units attacks for the phase.
Competitively the throne is likely the stronger choice with the ability to lock down melee units that otherwise could threaten your elite units.
Okay, keep in mind that there’s new units coming for this army, so there’ll be more selection soon (ish).
Oh, if you want a fun way to paint Nighthaunts then check out Thor’s tutorial.
Nighthaunt’s main ability is the Ethereal rule, which ignores modifiers (positive and negative) to their saves. The one drawback to this is no mystic shield for you sadly. However, the ability to ignore rend can be very powerful against some army builds.
She’s fast, ignores modifiers to her 4+ save, and has a ranged attack that causes mortal wounds. She unfortunately does not have the ability to heal units though, and with only four wounds is pretty easily dispatched even with her ethereal rule.
The same ethereal rule as the banshee, however with no ranged attack, no ability to heal units and the same four wounds with a 4+.
Although a “just for fun” case could be made for the banshee, I see no real use for the cairn wraith in a list.
Shame, it’s a cool model.
Keldrek: Knight of Shrouds
A new character added in the Malign Portents expansion, this is a five wound version of the cairn wraith, with the same ethereal rule and similar combat ability.
It heals one wound every time it slays an enemy hero, which frankly isn’t going to be happening a whole lot.
It’s an even better model than the cairn wraith, but I’m hoping for a better hero choice with the new expansion of the faction.
The sole option for battleline units in a nighthaunt list, the spirit host is a pretty decent option.
Multiple wounds with ethereal is survivable enough for objective duties, while causing a mortal wound on a 6+ to hit means they can actually do some damage as well with their six attacks each.
The combo kit that also makes the
black knights & the hexwraiths are certainly the better choice.
Ability to do mortal wounds on a 6+ to hit, a rend of -1 and 3+ to wound means they’re better in combat than black knights (especially after the charge) and ethereal means they’re more survivable.
Spectral hunters allows you to fly over enemies in the movement phase causing mortal wounds! Great unit!
A forgeworld unit which deserves special mention as it is pretty damn spectacular.
This ethereal monster has a 3+ save that cannot be modified, heals D3 wounds when it kills something in combat with it’s 8 attacks with rend -1 and damage two, which turns to three damage if it rolls a 6+ to hit.
If that wasn’t nasty enough, it creates a 6” bubble where enemies are -1 to hit.
This might be one of the most powerful units for the points available for the entire grand alliance death, and definitely so for nighthaunts specifically.
Flesh Eater Courts
Our last deathly faction (for the time being anyway!) is Flesh Eater Courts.
Model wise you are severely restricted in choices, with four of the units and characters being made out of the same kit. Ranged attacks are largely absent and magic is limited as well.
The focus is very clearly on melee, and replenishing your ghoul units throughout the battle. As this ability is not summoning, you do not have to set aside reinforcement points for these models.
Your default leader, the ghoul king can be riding a zombie dragon or terrorgheist, which brings not only the deadly combat abilities of the monster, but also the character!
The ghoul king adds 5 attacks, the ability to heal D3 wounds per hero phase, and a single spell. The signature spell which gives a Feel No Pain style save to a friendly unit is powerful and likely to be used on this model itself most of the time!
Crypt Ghast Courtier
A champion made from the crypt ghoul kit, this hero adds models to crypt ghoul units, and if it slays a model in combat, adds an attack to units of crypt ghouls for that phase.
Great little buff character for your battleline units.
Crypt Infernal Courtier
Made from the crypt flayer kit, you guessed it, this hero adds models to a crypt flayer unit.
It’s combat is fairly decent, causing two mortal wounds on a roll of 6 to hit, similar to Stormcast retributors.
Crypt Haunter Courtier
Made from the Crypt Horror kit, this is no surprise either, as it adds models to crypt horror units. This model also heals a wound during the hero phase and rerolls to hit rolls when near a ghoul king. With three damage per swing with the club, this combo can become quite powerful.
Another hero who adds models to all three units in the army, depending on your roll, and can distribute these models across multiple units. It rerolls attacks if a friendly wizard (the only one you have!) successfully casts a spell and heals after a combat in which it kills a model.
It’s poor save is the only thing that keeps this from being a stellar unit, but it’s still on the “good” scale.
There’s effectively only three units in the whole army if you discount terrorgheists, which you will almost always bring with a ghoul king on top for all of the synergy, spells and combat prowess that brings.
Your sole battleline option. Crypt ghouls are cheap single wound infantry that have two attacks, and rely on weight of numbers to cause wounds.
Given nothing else in the army has numbers on it’s side, you’re going to need these to have a chance at holding objectives in a flesh-eater courts army.
Poor saves however mean that you’ll need healing to keep them operational.
There are options as well to reserve deploy which helps to keep them safe initially.
The big ghouls basically.
They are more survivable due to multiple wounds and healing a wound in each hero phase.
They also synergize well with the ghoul king, rerolling hit rolls within 15” of the character.
So, essentially you have your heavy “tank” style unit.
Essentially these are vargheists and are made from the exact same models, so you’re basically choosing the rules you want based on if you wanted to stick to your faction or not.
Crypt flayers are very similar to vargheists, with a rather random ranged attack making up for less attacks and only a single damage.
So, even though there are somewhat limited factions within the grand alliance death, you have a lot of variety within the grand alliance still, and the ability to run the style of list you prefer.
I’d also recommend you check out the previews of the new nighthaunt units – just amazing! Games Workshop has been really stepping it up with their new kits.
It’s a great time to be a death player!
Age of Sigmar Armies