Talkin’ Tomes: Slaves to Darkness with Big Phil


Ok, so first question for you, Phil – you’ve been on a few shows (like Coach’s) to talk about your thoughts on the whole book. But since then, I know you’ve played a whole bunch of test games, putting theory into practice. How many have you played since the book came out, and have any of your theories/feelings changed since the plastic has hit the table?

I have played a “couple” of games with the new book. Based on my spreadsheets, I have played 67 games with the new book, of which 13 of them are with the new GHB. My initial thoughts on the book was that Host of the Everchosen and Ravagers were going to be Damned Legions that I was going to lean into the most. Hosts is still really appealing for access to the second banner. The 5+ rally I thought was really strong but is also very situational as your army wants to be grinding it out in combat.

Ravagers, I think, have huge potential within a teams setting by maximising on cultists, splintered fang mostly but is something that I think will struggle in singles play. Having played a few games with both (11 with Hosts and 7 with Ravagers) I soon felt that the army felt quite reliant on its spell casting to elevate it to the level that I want it to play at, the army needs it spells to come off to really show its pure power. The Heroic action Draw on Power tends to be the go to heroic action and with this come the sacrifice of additional CP for what is quite a CP hungry army, at least with the new GHB going second will allow multiple heroic actions.

Since working this out, I have found myself playing purely Cabalists and have got in 49 games with them with two losses to Laurie & Sylvaneth and Mike Wilson with that horrid Hexwraith list. Both of which were close games. The power of casting 5 spells (in my builds) on 3D6 all but assures for a successful magic phase and even armies like Tzeentch struggle to shut you down, even if they welcome the 5 fate points, they dont like a fully buffed unit of Chosen having a 5″ charge through a soulscream bridge with Levitate.

Haha, yes, just a couple! I’ve played a slightly more humble 10 games (8 in new season) with the new book but I can totally see what you mean about HOTE – it’s hard to play into the rally while doing what the army wants to do. And yeah, Cabalists is where I’ve landed too – like you say, being able to actually plan around your casting and mitigate our lack of range/MWs with endless spells etc is clutch. Fascinating early thoughts, thank you. Since playing those 67 games, what’s your overall vibe on the book? Are you happy with the tools it has? At a high level, how do you think it’s balanced internally and externally?

I know you’ve said Splintered Fang seem to stick out internal AND external balance wise – they seem pretty obviously ‘off’ – but are there any other army rules or units that are standing out for better/worse to you?

Overall, I am happy with where the book has landed. We all knew the save stacking was going to disappear and as were all the re-rolls that we had. I am sure a lot of non slaves to darkness players are pretty happy about this! The new book really suits the way I like to play, which is very much an aggro play style. Your models will now die but will do a mass amount of damage in the process. With regards to the tools it has on offer, the lists that I have been focused on are still really reliant on the sorcerer lords and hard-hitting elite units such as Chosen and Knights. These units are quite pricey but are worth every point for me. The addition of the ensorceled banners is great and gives so much to these elite units with either the survive-ability of the nurgle banner or the heavy hitting prowess of the khorne or slaanesh banner.

What helps is that we still also have very cheap battle line options with the cultists that do a great job for their points costs, particularly the Unmade and Corvus Cabal for me. In terms of the questions regarding the internal/external balance. As I stated, a lot of people are going to be much happier playing against this book as you will actually see models get taken off the table. The army is a lot more “honest” now, its a combat army that hits like a train, has a good save, but isn’t immune to rend 5, for example.

People are going to hate me, I don’t actually think the splintered fang are as much of an issue as everyone thinks with them, yes they do MWs on 6s to hit and wound on a 2+. A unit of 30 with no buffs other than khorne on the charge is 96 attacks, which averages 16MWs and 26 saves at no rend. They are then bravery 6, 5+ save, movement 6. Good players will be able to deal with them before they get there.

Units that I think have really stood out for me are Chosen, which may sound stupid after playing with Varanguard for so long. The double fight mechanic can never be overlooked, especially as they dont need to be within 3″ for it to trigger, and with a 2″ reach, it can be quite devastating if people don’t screen correctly. These with a soulscream bridge are super scary when casting all spells on 3d6. The unit in Khorne averages 12 damage and 7MWs against a 2+ unrendable save on the first activation. For me, there isn’t much in the game that can stand up to this unit double fighting. The other unit for me is Knights. Initially, I was looking at them as big damages sources as MSU and was running warriors in Nurgle with the banner.

Now I have moved to a big unit of knights with the nurgle banner as they can add an extra dynamic to the list to what the warriors gave, they give that double edge with being able to deal damage and also grind out your opponents, I often use them to pin in my opponents and clear away all the screens turn 1 to leave open avenues for my chosen to get bridged in and do damage.

Big miss for me is Archaon, and I hate to say it, as he and I had such a bromance last year. But at 860, he’s over costed. He has some great abilities with no inspiring or rally, but he just doesnt do enough consistent damage to warrant the price tag anymore, he is also keyword locked into a subfaction that offers him no benefits and also potentially hampers the army you take in it. As you then start struggling to fully utilise the double banners. If you could take him in Ravagers and perform the heroic action attributed to them, then Archaon may be back in my list buidling.

Sorceror Lords definitely do a lot of heavy lifting, don’t they? And amen in terms of the chaff – I’m so impressed with how they’ve managed to make almost all of the Warcry cultist units have their own identity and role. Horns of Hashut don’t jump off the page, but even they have a ranged anti-chaff attack and decent tankiness for their points. Cypher Lords and Tarantulos – and this is a shame because they both look so cool – are two of the less inspiring ones, but otherwise, it’s a great selection.

On that note – haha I think you’d have to say worse than that about the Splintered Fang for me to hate you – they’re a hot topic but I’m with you – they have great output on paper but we all know games aren’t won on paper. Chosen are the new darlings for sure, right? I know you’re making hay with the Khorne allies while the sun shines – but I think even once that ends, with Undivided mark and the Dread Banner I’ve found it’s super reliable to get them to rend 2-3 and a few other super useful buffs too.

Nurgle Knights as a pinning device is very interesting – given they hit on 4s (frustrating!), this sounds like a great way to run them. And I also hard agree with you on Archaon – I know how much it must hurt you to say that!! – in my test games with him, he’s super fun but yeah, his damage output is actually super swingy and poor overall, and agree the key word locking is frustrating as it really limits the tactical options of both him and some of the ‘lesser’ sub-factions.

So, let’s double down on sub-factions quickly. We know Cabalists is strong. HOTE and KOTET both have very clear and obvious benefits and play styles. But do you think there’s any untapped potential in LotP, Ravagers, or Despoilers?

Despoilers seems to me like the faction for ‘oh you’re an old player with loads of daemon princes and monsters – here’s a way you can kinda use them together – but just seems utterly non competitive given what monsters and daemon princes in the book are like.

For me I actually think Ravagers have the ability to be very good on the table, there are a lot of strong cultist units in the book and with the culmination of also a good allies pool, could pose a real threat on the table top, especially with the heroic action to bring back half a unit. Imagine killing a unit of splintered fang after its just done 26 MWs and forced 49 armour saves [EDITOR’s NOTE: Obvs there’s since been the FAQ to disallow Khorne heroes buffing Slaves units, but you get the point] with the right khorne pieces bloodstoker & bloodsecrator with the charge, then they come back in your hero phase and you get to do half of that all over again! The fact that they come down in the hero phase and you are able to move after is another huge benefit. I was playing some test games with them with Archaon and having them fight on death as well.

Once the Khorne allies go, I think we are more likely to see a transition to Slaanesh to aid their delivery to where they want to be, run and charge, throw in a warshrine and charge 3d6 and you will be able to get the across the board pretty reliably. You might even see a Daemon Prince with a trophy rack to aid them against the chip damage!

Legion of The First Prince is an interesting one. It’s not one that I would focus on the allies pool too much or even Belakor. I instead would really lean into the eye of the gods and look to roll as much as you can on the table with a unit of 10 Chosen or 6 Varanguard, with the ability to give one of these the mark of your choice each turn it really gives great utility to react to what is happening in a game. I played my friend the other day with 10 Chosen with the dread banner and he is rolling on the eye of the gods up to 3 times a turn, think by turn 3 his Chosen were rend 4, plus 3 to charge and 6+ Ward. There is definitely scope there! But are they better than the other banners? Time will tell.

I will be honest, Despoilers. Read it, didn’t look into it. I am sure Simon Weakley will come up with some mental list surrounding a bunch of Daemons Princes but I dont think that there scroll is the strongest out there, the fact that the best ability is an heroic action is frustrating. The fact that you can add 2 wounds to all your Daemon Princes and Monsters is nice, with a 3+ save on the princes and 6+ Ward. You effectively become 14 wounds. There are some nice command traits you can use that make the princes a bit more tanky or fighty, but it really isn’t a legion i would be leaning into.

Yeah Despoilers definitely seems like the biggest miss, mainly due to how limited Daemon Princes are like you say – I’ve had success with one as a utility platform (trophy wracks keeping blobs of Chosen/Warriors safe, turning off wards, extra heroic action etc) but more than one seems likea huge trap.

Ok – I’d love to get your thoughts on something more philosophical – and that’s why are the coolest looking units in the book so mediocre? Daemon Prince, the iconic Chaos Warshrine, both ‘beasts (Mutalith and Slaughter), Ogroid Myrmidon – and I’m going to throw the Chaos and Exalted lords in there even though they have obvious scoring utility in the new season. Why did the rules writers take their foot of the gas on them – or do they have potential? Seems to me, if nothing else, the Myrmidon and chaos lords have utterly boring scrolls and essentially rely on lucky EotG rolls to become semi-useful late game, when most foot heroes in the game have some kind of fun buff/command ability etc.

The Muta/Slaughter beasts seem almost there but lack the things you’d expect – no decent rend on a giant Khorne monster, most of the Mutalith effects being super poor and relying on having a Tzeentch wizard nearby (which you don’t want as Gaunt summoner sucks and the Tzeentch mark also sucks) – etc etc. Am I missing something with these guys? They’re my biggest let downs in the book, and even though we have enough stuff to be competitive, it feels like there’s a lot of missed design/fun potential here. Thoughts?

For me, I think two of the MVPs of the last book in the Chaos Lord & The Warshrine are a detriment of their own success. For a long period of time, you saw both these models in the vast majority of lists. The Warsrhine for me is the biggest miss, though, as this book feels like you want to be mixing and matching sub factions, and locking its ability to the keyword it’s assigned is a feels bad. Particularly, as Slaanesh for me feels the only really viable mark for the 3D6 charge. My lovely Mindstealer was quickly moved from auto, including to the bin, with the removing of its awesome ability and the monster keyword! Both the Slaughter & Mutalith Vortex beasts are warscrolls I quickly passed over, as you say the lack of rend on the Slaughter Beast and the Mortilth Vortex Beast having cool abilities but the chances of them coming off cant be assured in the slightest.

However, I actually like the Gaunt Summoner! He is a two cast wizard, knows the full spell (which allows him to know levitate), and naturally plus 1 to cast. The summoner gives options with spell casting, but I feel he is slightly over costed at 210 points. But, I have used in some Host of The Everchosen lists that I have been trialling as that second banner keeps eyeing me up!

Yeah I think you’re right, GW have mostly smashed it out of the park with 3e books feeling very thematic etc, but they do seem to have a pattern of hammering stuff too much down that stood out before. My issue is that it’s not a points issue necessarily, but a frustrating design issue. And yeah I totally agree on the Gaunt Summoner being over-costed – he’s a great magic option for the reasons you say, but the fact the Tzeentch Mark is so weak and him being so fragile for the points means it just feels way too risky to me to ever really include. But sure, outside of Cabalists, he gives you some magic phase flexibility.

OK, final questions! At the current points, what tier (or take a guess at average win-rate for the season) would you put the book in – for most normal (but competitive) players? What do you think our red match ups are?

For me I think the book is in between A & B tier, I think the win rate will very much the same at around 45%, people used to be able to get away with mistakes if they got the save stacking right, whereas now its not as forgiving, which sounds stupid considering the army has a base 3+ save, but with only one mystic shield and all out defense we need to think carefully of where it needs to go. The army packs even more of a punch now, so when you go in and it goes right, it will smash people away. The biggest reds for me are Lumineth, Tzeentch, and anything with mass AOE mortal wounds.

We are so reliant on our heroes and spell casting, so if opponents have a way of getting around the new Galletian Champions rules, it’s going to cause a massive issue and really lowers the effectiveness of the list. Tzeentch and Lumineth can both do this very well through magic. The next red is Nighthaunt, they can just turn off the fact that the army is 3+ save with the charge debuffs and with the cruciator reducing damage it becomes really hard as we have no way of taking out these pieces at range really without allying in units.

Legendary. I can believe that – I also think some of the design failings we spoke about combined with the eliteness just means we won’t be able to keep up with the board control of certain armies – looking at you with a side-goat-eye new BoC book and maybe even Gitz.

Ok, I think that about wraps it up, much as I’d love to ask you endless questions, I know you have a small tournament over in the US shortly to prepare for….

[Post-script] That little tournament was LVO – at which Phil went 4-1, losing only to 3rd place Kaleb’s Tzeentch, by 1 point!

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