Playing Soulblight Gravelords in Age of Sigmar 3rd Edition

Lady Sanguina Trantafyr astride her zombie dragon

I’ve spent the last two weekends playing the new (third) edition of Age of Sigmar, first with a 1000-point Gloomspite Gitz list at an event organised by the London Wargaming Guild, and then with a standard 2000-point Soulblight Gravelords list at the London Open. These were my first competitive events in five years of playing Age of Sigmar; the beginning of a new edition seemed the perfect time to try, and I learned a lot. Here I’ll talk a bit about the games I played with Soulblight, and consider what I learned.

Blood Knights of the Dreadwatch Order

Soulblight Gravelords received the last Battletome (army rulebook) for second edition, a book clearly tailored for the new edition’s changes. This came alongside a lot of new models, including the excellent update Blood Knights and Fell Bats. These formed important elements of my list, which was essentially a tweaked version of what I played in second edition. The new Kastelai allegiance allows you to take Blood Knights as your required Battleline troops, meaning there’s no longer the need for me to throw in small units of Dire Wolves or Skeleton Warriors. Kastelai also grants bonuses to units if they kill certain kinds of enemies – particularly useful on Vhordrai and the Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon, who can deal 5 damage with their lances on the charge after they’ve killed a hero or monster. The list I built for the London Open was as follows (made with Warscroll Builder):

Allegiance: Soulblight Gravelords
– Lineage: Kastelai Dynasty
– Grand Strategy: Hold the Line
Triumphs:

Leaders
Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon (435) in Battle Regiment
General
Deathlance
Command Trait: A Craving for Massacre
Artefact: Fragment of the Keep
Lore of the Vampires: Soulpike
Prince Vhordrai (455) in Battle Regiment
Lore of the Vampires: Amethystine Pinions

Battleline
5 x Blood Knights (195) in Hunters of the Heartlands
5 x Blood Knights (195) in Hunters of the Heartlands
5 x Blood Knights (195) in Hunters of the Heartlands

Units
3 x Fell Bats (75) in Battle Regiment
3 x Fell Bats (75) in Battle Regiment
3 x Vargheists (155) in Battle Regiment
3 x Vargheists (155) in Battle Regiment

Endless Spells & Invocations
Horrorghast (65)

Core Battalions
Battle Regiment
Hunters of the Heartlands

Total: 2000 / 2000
Reinforced Units: 0 / 4
Allies: 0 / 400
Wounds: 115

The full 2000-point army

The idea of this list is fairly simple: use fast, elite units to quickly engage your opponent and do heavy damage on the charge, whilst also maintaining a lot of board control. The Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon (Lady Sanguina) and Prince Vhordrai do extra damage following a charge; ‘A Craving for Massacre’ gives Lady Sanguina the ability to run and charge, which gives a guaranteed threat range of 20″ if combined with the Command Ability ‘At the Double’, while the low-casting spell Amethystine Pinions gives Vhordrai the possibility of a 20″ move. I tried to get them to work together, as if they can’t kill something in the first round of combat, Vhordrai’s Command Ability ‘Fist of Nagash’ allows a friendly hero wholly within 12″ to fight in the Hero Phase. This was very useful for taking down a Gatebreaker Mega-gargant with its 35 wounds. Giving Lady Sanguina the ‘Fragment of the Keep’ artefact also grants a useful 6″ -1 to wound bubble, also protecting Vhordrai in this case.

Meanwhile, the Blood Knights do extra damage on the charge and can move out of combat and charge again each turn. They’re also tough with a 3+ save, and putting them in the Hunters of the Heartlands battalion gives extra protection from monsters, as they can’t be targeted by Monstrous Rampage abilities which could either hurt them directly (Stomp) or shut down their ability to receive Command Abilities in the Combat Phase (Roar). The Vargheists are a glass cannon in comparison, but provide mobility and threaten softer targets. The Fell Bats are an effective cheap screen. One of the strengths of the army is its mobility, both in terms of movement speed and in terms of potential board control. Kastelai allows Blood Knights to be set up in ambush, to then come on anywhere within 6″ of the table edge and 9″ from the enemy, while Fell Bats can pop up from Gravesites and Vargheists can arrive anywhere more than 9″ from enemy units.

Vargheists, following a little repainting to bring them in line with the rest of the army

All of this is well and good in theory – in reality it doesn’t come off quite so easily. Third edition so far makes monsters particularly strong, especially with the Matched Play rules in the 2021 General’s Handbook. This means that the strongest monsters of all, god-characters like Archaon, Nagash, Kragnos, Teclis, and Morathi, are game-changing. This proved to be the biggest challenge for my vampires. Vhordrai and Lady Sanguina are good, and working together can take down some of these characters, but this requires planning and the ability to respond to your opponent’s choices.

Of my five games, I lost four – two against Archaon lists, one against Sons of Behemat with Kragnos, and one against a list with 60 Chaos Warriors with maximum buffs. I beat a mixed squig and grot Gloomspite Gitz army, which didn’t have the same degree of mobility or damage output. All five were very enjoyable games, a couple of them very close, and all were useful in terms of learning how my army works in the new edition, each presenting different challenges which I’ll go over below.

Archaon (Slaves to Darkness): Preparing for the tournament, I was expecting to face the likes of Nagash, Morathi, and Gotrek. In those cases, my thoughts were that Nagash would be killable if attacked by both Vhordrai and Sanguina, Morathi could at least be held up, and Gotrek could be outmanouvred relatively easily. The one god monster I was really scared of was Archaon, and I faced him twice. In both games, he took out either Vhordrai or Sanguina in one go by rolling two 6s to wound with the Slayer of Kings, which immediately slays an enemy hero. The first game was close (16-20), against an Archaon-Be’lakor Slaves to Darkness list – the terrain, and my army’s manouvrebility, meant that despite losing Vhordrai I was able to isolate Be’lakor and destroy a lot of the rest of the army. However, Be’lakor managed to shut down Sanguina for the first round, delaying my ability to take the central objective long enough for my opponent to remove one of my held objectives in the third round – if this hadn’t happened the game could have gone the other way.

Archaon (Blades of Khorne): The second game against Archaon was much worse (14-34), this time against a Blades of Khorne force with a Demon Prince; Archaon quickly took down Sanguina and then Vhordrai, while the Demon Prince’s ability to halve charge rolls within 18″ shut down my manouvrability, and his ability to fight first and twice each Combat Phase did not go down well for my Blood Knights. This meant enough of my units were tied up or killed off to prevent me from regaining a key objective which gave my oppnent four points per turn. My conclusion from facing Archaon is to try to avoid him as far as possible and concentrate on taking down support units that buff him, using Fell Bats and similar as a roadblock. Without the buffs from a Chaos Warshrine, etc, two vampires on zombie dragons could perhaps take him down, or at least deal a lot of damage, if they have to.

Kragnos and Sons of Behemat: This was a very fun game in which almost my entire army was destroyed. Kragnos, even though he lacks synergy with anything else, is a beast who truly lives up to being the essence of Destruction. I was able to tie him up for a round with Fell Bats, but eventually he got through and charged Vhordrai, dealing 20 mortal wounds. However, despite his destructiveness the real issue here was that I overestimated the combat power of the two Mega-gargants in the army, throwing too many units at one of them where the two dragons would have been enough. By also committing two units of Blood Knights, I left objectives open which the other gargants could happily sit on, each counting as 15 or 30 models.

Chaos Warriors (Slaves to Darkness): Another fun game, this presented the problem of shifting one of two blocks of 30 heavily-buffed Chaos Warriors off at least one objective. I managed about three per turn, which wasn’t enough. Here, things could have gone differently had I gained the initiative for the first turn. As it was, my opponent was able to run a unit of 30 onto the centre objective, creating an immovable roadblock in the middle of the board and racking up more points each turn. If I played this game again, I’d still commit both dragons and some Blood Knights to a single block, as it did wear them down, but use the Vargheists more effectively to fly behind their line and take down the support units.

Gloomspite Gitz: My one success of the tournament, the lack of any god-monsters or ultra-tough tarpit units was kind to the vampires. This used the Vice battleplan, deploying on the short edges of the table with objectives shifting to the centre over the course of the game. This gave my list a distinct advantage given its speed – and the reliability of this in comparison to the squigs. I took the initiative and went second, and by the end of the first round had moved my front line into my opponent’s territory, meaning I could charge scarier units like Boingrot Bounderz and prevent them delaing me mortal wounds. Vhordrai had a close shave against the Loonboss on Mangler Squigs, but came out on top and was able to recover while taking down the other unit of Manglers.

So, there are several lessons I take away from these games. First, to try to ignore very scary monsters like Archaon as far as possible and debuff them by taking down support units. Second, to be less fearful of Mega-gargants. Third, that early board control is key, as it allows you to rack up points from objectives and, crucially, from Battle Tactics, including while your own big monsters are still alive and can give bonus points for achieving them.

Overall, I am happy with this list, but would change two things. First, I never used Soulpike, the spell I gave Sanguina and which potentially does moral wounds to charging units. Mystic Shield was often a better option in the first round, and given how quickly the army was tying things up in combat Soulpike was of little use, and I opted either for more Mystic Shield or her warscroll spell, Curse of Exsanguination (which worked brilliantly against a Mindstealer Sphiranx in the first game). Better options might be Amaranthine Orb for damaging several units once tied up in combat, or Flaming Weapon for a potential 5 damage on the charge, or 6 with Bloodied Strength once she’s killed a hero or monster.

The other thing I didn’t use much was Horroghast – in retrospect, I should have kept trying to use this against the Chaos Warriors. I used it against the Gitz but by that point it made little difference as I’d pushed the big unit of Stabbas off their objective. It’s a good spell, but it’s utility depends a lot on the opposing army. I’m tempted to replace it with Emerald Lifeswarm, as more staying power for the Blood Knights would have been useful in most of the games.

Overall, these games were a great and enjoyable introduction to using this army in third edition. I like this edition a lot, and can see myself playing it a lot more. There’s a lot to remember, but overall it produces a game with a lot more strategic and tactical depth and less down-time. Some of the new mechanics, such as reactive Command Abilities, mean it plays a little more like, say, Bolt Action (which uses random unit activations) while managing to still be Age of Sigmar. In my opinion is a (further) welcome step away from the sometimes all-or-nothing alpha strike shenanigans of 40k. This is only my opinion, and I fully see why plenty of players dislike random activations, double-turns, etc, but for me this helps to add a level of depth and realism which I really appreciate in historical wargames, and in Warcry (and which I look forward to in the new Kill Team).

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