Tome Talks: Seraphon

Welcome to the latest in our ‘Tome Talks’ series, in which we review a battletome via a balanced discussion – and with the benefit of a little hindsight and some hands-on testing.

Danny Wadeson: So – we’ve had the book for a while, but now seems a good time to judge it properly now that the new Season is underway and recent changes to things like coherence have allowed a lot of Seraphon units to really shine.

As we’ll be keeping this relatively high level, let’s start with the overall standouts. What, to you, are the things that make Seraphon, Seraphon – and where does this book really sing? Sell it to me!

Patrick German: I think to really look at Seraphon you can either dig into a few units, or look at the book as a whole. Seraphon have always been a flexible force, jumping between elite infantry and cavalry, huge monsters, and powerful wizards. I can say for sure that all of these still exist, but I’ve seen a lot more “magic castles” than anything else.

Lord Kroak still exists, and is a lynchpin unit for the book. Backing him up with another frogman, some skink wizards, and an Astrolith bearer can turn him from being a sniper and artillery piece into a factory that produces more skinks as it kills units.

I’ve always been a more flavor-over-competitive player, and I love the idea of putting a load of big monsters on the table. Stegadon is still a thing, and while it isn’t the most competitive choice, it’s good fun to throw seven or eight stegadons on the field and have them waddle around killing your opponent’s models is great.

Peter Holland: I think the appeal of Seraphon cannot be ignored. The model range is gorgeous, and really appeals to that 6 year old inside. After all, what 6 year old wouldn’t want an army of Dinosaurs?!

Coupled with that, in this particular GHB, they’re proving they have some tricks up their sleeves to compete at the top tables.

Patrick: I will say: the model range is gorgeous now. I was really happy for Seraphon players when they got so many new sculpts, because the old ones were looking very dated.

Danny: Yeah. They look GOOD. But how do they play? Obviously there are two very different flavours – the ‘magic (bouncy?) castle that Poots mentioned and the more bitey-fighty Coalesced. The former is high on movement and summoning shenanigans and can bring overwhelming amounts of magic to bear while the other has good old fashioned durability and toe to toe offence.

Peter – I think i know the answer but for the benefit of our readers – what do the stats say about which is getting more play and what’s tickling the podium?

Peter: It’s an interesting one. Fangs of Sotek are by far the most popular subfaction with 56% (45 players) of tournament players choosing them. They’re also overly successful with a win rate of 60%. However Dracothion’s Tail currently has the most success with 68% win rate.

While Starborne is seeing success, players who have taken coalesced are struggling.

Koatl’s Claw has had good representation (2nd most popular subfaction), but their win rate is in the doldrums at 38% currently.

I will add that Dracothion’s Tail and Thunder Lizard are very small sample sizes.

Patrick: I’m not surprised that Fangs of Sotek is doing so well. Out-of-phase movement is a very strong tool to have (just ask your friendly local Khorne player). The ability to redeploy three times in response to your opponents movement can set you up for excellent counter-punches or provide cheap screens as a roadblock, preventing a charge onto an objective. The fact that the first two instances of redeploy are free makes it even better.

Danny: They’re fun. Movement shenanigans are fun. It just gives you lots to do in the opponent’s turn too.

I can see why competitively Starborne are the go-tos – hero phase teleport, loads of summoning so that you can react to the board state and the above very strong sub-faction ability, combined with an excellent spell lore are hard to resist.

Let’s not forget the excellent Star Power abilities too, which give you just a wild suite of options. However – even for an experienced player like myself it can be quite draining to keep track of everything – spells, a parallel economy, and LOTS of separate aura ranges etc. And it can all fall apart quickly if a couple of key spells go wrong or the opponent has enough threat projection to get into you before the summoning ramps up.

Having just started trying out Coalesced recently, I’m glad to say that it offers a more chill, but still strong, playstyle. 20 Warriors are a helluva drug, and the added durability makes for a more ‘traditional’ and forgiving game.

On that note, let’s talk about Thunder Lizard – it’s been a wild ride for anyone with big dinos since the end of the last book and the new one – namely it’s much harder to buff them now and their sub-faction rule is totally different, with double monstrous actions which are of dubious utility.

Also, the Engine of the Gods had been…I don’t know how else to say it other than ‘fucked up’. Stegadons still feel ok – the ‘counts as ten’ is great for objective stealing but they feel expensive on the board. The less said about the Stegadon Chief, the better – which is a shame as vanilla Stegs feel like they need a force multiplier. Why? What did they do to my horny boys?

Patrick: Conspiracy says that GW likes to downplay the units that were doing well last edition. Skink Chiefs and EotGs were great, and now they are less great. Personally, I think that in an effort to find better internal balance in battletomes GW tends to try to move the good/bad/ugly more towards the middle. Sometimes they overshoot, though, like I feel they did with Kroak, who I feel is an absolutely steal at 410pts.

Danny: Kroak is probably still a bit too good – but the main thing is, he’s fun now. Varied abilities and less book-keeping, and FINALLY two excellent lores to know all of.

The spells were one of the huge weak points of the 2e book, but now they’re full of fun effects, leaving aside for a moment the whole ‘is it fun casting the same MW Spell 4 times in a row’ – the lores are banging – what are your highlights?

Patrick: Tepok’s Beneficence is a fun dark horse for me. Boosting a cheap screen to make the screen last a little longer can be great. Mystical unforging can have a similar effect as a debuff instead of a buff.

On the skink side, Cosmic Crush can be surprisingly good against durable units, hitting SCE unit, especially. Speed if Huanchi allows for more out-of-phase movement, and we’ve already touched on how good that can be.

Peter: Having done the breakdowns on lists that achieve 4+ wins the most common spells in those lists are:

– Merciless Blizzard (10)
– Hoarfrost (9)
– Speed of Huanchi (8)
– Comet’s Call (8)
– Cosmic Crush (6)
– Drain Magic (4)
– Rupture (4)
– Stellar Tempest (2)
– Tepok’s Beneficence (1)

Because hoarfrost on skinks is the bomb. Hoarfrost on units of skinks that can redeploy is the double bomb.

Tie that in with Lord of Celestial Resonance (which nearly every list takes) and the ability to generate Cosmic Power increases so that the Seraphon play can summon in yet more Skink units nearly every other turn.

Danny: So yeah, the Lores are great and plenty of good candidates for Hoarfrost. The question is, does the book support you getting these spells off? And the answer is, sure, in Starborne – where the combo is, cast Equilibrium with the Slann to give your other casters (probably a Skink Starpriest and Starseer, and possibly Kroak) +1, have everyone in the +1 to cast bubble from the Astrolith bearer, and then enjoy your native +1 on the Slann and +2 on Kroak, for something like 6 casts at +2, and 4 (from Kroak) at +4.

So what about the actual units? Seraphon have access to a pretty deep model selection although more than ever they’re very much split between Starborne/Coalesced. To some extent this is cool as it provides a distinct feel but it can also mean that, if you want to experience everything the book has to offer AND lean into the syneries, it feels like collecting two armies.

For example, my Starborne list is lizard wizards, Astrolith, 2x Chargers, skinks of various varieties, an Ark of Sotek, and a few flex points that I usually fill with a Salam…sorry, Chotec. My Coalesced lists are kroxigor and saurus warrior heavy, with only 1-2 wizards, and a Carnosaur – sometimes a Laser-don. Some of that stuff makes sense as a Summons in Starborne which does somewhat ease the pain of buying and painting them…

But either way, there are definitely some interesting warscrolls in the book. Before I do a screed – are there any stand outs you guys want to highlight, either from a competitive, design or other perspective?

Patrick: I mentioned earlier that the army had a well-deserved makeover when the new book came out. The new kits are absolutely gorgeous, and I think they capture the aggression and intimidation that an army of dinosaurs would have.

Specifically, I’ll call out the Kroxigors and Aggradon riders. Two units that had good rules, but the models themselves looked like they had just been pulled out of bed and weren’t fully awake. The new models are incredible, and I would give GW’s design team a huge amount of credit for finally making these monsters feel like monsters.

Danny: Agreed but I have issues with the warscrolls of each of those examples! Not from a strength standpoint – I’ve tried both and they have the right numbers in the right places – but I find their abilities frustratingly designed – and this is the start of a specific thread of bad design that you can trace through the book. It’s like they tried something new, and doubled down on it before testing and then couldn’t be bothered to change them.

For example – the Warspawned have an ability that gives them an extra attack if a skink model nearby dies. It’s a nice nod to the lore and older editions, and it’s not particularly hard to achieve – use skinks as a screen, have Krox just within 3″ behind them – job done.

But the issue in reality is that, on the actual board, this usually results in only a couple of extra attacks. And in Coalesced, there’s just no real other reason to take skinks, so soon as they’re dead, the ability can no longer be procced. The other rule that nods back to their WHFB formation is that Kroxigor can’t issue themselves commands (big dumb dinos!) but Skink unit champions can. Meaning there’s actually CONFLICT between the two rules – do you use skinks as a screen, given Krox aren’t particularly tanky, or keep them behind as a mobile command-giver? And In Starborne, it’s really hard to include Kroxigor and there’s no other synergy with them. So even though I love Kroxigor as a unit in their own right (in Coalesced), it’s just a frustratingly designed scroll.

Aggradons have a similar problem. They gain bonus attacks if they remain engaged at the end of a turn, but lose them whenever they end a turn out of engagement. In reality, I’ve found this has precisely one use – when you charge them in, they don’t kill something, they survive the hit back, and you win and take the double.

So, sure, it’s a neat little bonus to make up for lost models in a protracted engagement in a very specific circumstance but it’s very annoying that you could easily go multiple games without their signature ability ever coming into play.

And the book tries to carry this conceptual blood frenzy into the battle tactics – which are fine, overall – but the one that baffles me is ‘Pack Hunters’, which wants you to pick an enemy unit within 3″ of an Aggradon unit and for it to be within 3″ of 2 Aggradon units at the end of the turn.

When you think this through, that’s such a niche scenario as to be practically nonsensical. ‘Stampede of Scales’ – ‘have 3 monsters run and each to end within 6″ of one of those monsters, AND be wholly within enemy territory’.

Now, given there’s no way to make Seraphon monsters run and charge, this is basically asking you to run your three precious monsters into enemy territory and… do nothing else. I can see this working well when you’ve tabled the enemy already but otherwise… how does this interestingly play into your strategy?

The book enhancements have a slightly different design issue, and it’s one that has unfortunately reared its ugly head in a fair few other books. Simply put, they’re divided into ‘fluffy but a huge gamble’ (and these are usually once-per-game effects) and ‘overwhelmingly obvious competitive choice’. I’m all for supporting fluffier options but I stand by my claim that it’s more fun for everyone involved if there’s an actual meaningful choice between varied effects – that would also lead to more varied (and therefore fun) list building.

Rant over..!

Patrick: Which is where conversations about internal balance come into play as a whole. I’ve said for a long time that the Idoneth Deepkin tome is one of the better examples of internal balance. Everything has a place and a use, and we see that in GT articles where no two Idoneth lists look the same.

Peter can provide specific detail(and let me know if I’m wrong) but Seraphon were mono-build for a long time. Take Lord Kroak, take Thunder Lizard, take three Bastiladons, take Cogs, push the “win” button. I’m afraid that the book hinges so thoroughly on Kroak and spellcasting that it’s still competitively mono-build.

Proper internal balance is hard to achieve, and GW frequently misses the mark.

Peter: Yeah, I agree. Looking at the competitive lists that go 4+ wins, Lord Kroak, the Astrolith Bearer and a Slann Starmaster appear in every list. Along with usually, two units of Skinks and a unit of Warriors. On top of that, they all take Malevolent Maelstrom as well. This brings the points of your core competitive units to 1215. Leaving possibly only 785points worth of true choice.

LEADERS
Lord Kroak (410)
Saurus Astrolith Bearer (140)
Slann Starmaster (275)

BATTLELINE
Skinks (90)
Skinks (90)
Saurus Warriors (180)

ENDLESS SPELLS & INVOCATIONS
1 x Malevolent Maelstrom (30)

TOTAL POINTS: 1215

Patrick: Every. List.

That goes beyond a balance problem. We’re fully in over-tooled and under-costed territory.

Peter: Every Competitive List that goes 4 wins or more.

Patrick: Fair point.

Danny: And it doesn’t necessarily mean Kroak is OP – it’s rather that the other options, especially Coalesced – don’t have a good viable alternative.

But either way, in summary – a real mixed bag in terms of enhancements, with most of them being consigned to the ‘maybe one day for fluff bin’, and the usual spread of pointless Grand Strats with one competitively decent if not terribly inspired one (have a Seraphon unit in each quarter). Mostly good warscrolls with some glaring lowlights, design if not efficiency wise.

And one last time I’d like to say – what were they thinking with the Engine of the Gods? You get #feelsbad just looking at the ability table on the scroll.

But overall, I do think Starborne feel like cosmic wizard lizards and by and large, Coalesced now look and feel like big stompy chompers, so in terms of overall player fantasy, it’s probably largely a success. Both internal and external balance issues can be address to some extent with future points changes, but can never account for the design failings.

Any last words from you gents before we make like a skink and re-roll our redeploy out of here?

Patrick: I’m not a fan of competitive mono-build, but overall I’m pleased with the book. The model range and magic are great, and hopefully we see some changes in the future to boost the less-used units.

Peter: I think the book is OK and the models are great. This particular handbook may be favouring them slightly more than past ones, but that’s the way of things sometimes.

Danny: My final final_finalV2 thought is that, yes we know double frog is good with Krondspine but I don’t want to even get into it. Overall I think there are 3/4 strong sub-factions. I still think further points tweaks are needed, and even though I’m disappointed in some of the design space – fangtastic new models, a variety of play-styles and a good core internal balance (with just a few outliers on either end) make for a fun book with depth and character. Now someone go forth and find a Thunder Lizards build!

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