With the new GHB having a magic focus and with two magic focused armies on my shelves, Seraphon and Tzeentch, I got thinking about which one is on top.
For the purposes of this article, when I say Seraphon, I am referring to Starborne, as opposed to their Coalesced Cousins as magic is more of a buff to them rather than the bread and butter of Starborne. In addition, because both factions have access to them, I am only commenting on Endless Spells if there is something more impactful for Seraphon than Tzeentch or vice-versa.
Spell Lore/Warscroll Spells
The choices for Seraphon here are much better for sustained D3 damage on a variety of units, with Comet’s Call being a staple, along with Kroak’s Warscroll spell, Celestial Deliverance. However, if all of these go off, then 5D3 damage to 3 units is more into the burst damage category than the sustained. There are two other spells that are quite similar, one for Slann and the other for Skinks: Stellar Tempest and Cosmic Crush. They are both roll a number of dice equal to number of models spells, with Tempest better into pure chaff as it is an unmodified roll of a 5+ that does a mortal wound, with Crush being better into units with a higher armour save – 20 Chaos Warriors would likely take 10+ mortal wounds with this spell. And of course, Seraphon also have access to Merciless Blizzard… Most Endless Spells are equally effective in Tzeentch or Seraphon, but a special mention must be made for Malevolent Maelstrom as the Astrolith allows the Maelstrom to be placed 14” away initially and the Drain Magic spell could potentially be used to set off the D3 AoE early instead of waiting for the number of spells/models killed to tick up to 6.
Tzeentch is much more focused on single-target damage than spraying mortals everywhere like Seraphon. Starting with Warscroll spells we have Kairos’ and Lords of Changes’ Infernal Gateway that, at top bracket, does MWs on a 3+ with 9 dice being rolled. The odds say that a 6 wound character without a ward should be popped every time with this spell, so is very powerful. The Fluxmaster has a similar spell, with the effect only being on 5+s, but with the added bonus of every MW caused gives an extra Fate Point, that is, if you roll 3 5+, the spell does 3 damage, but generated 4 Fate points. Sticking with single-target for the time being, the Ogroid Thaumaturge has a D6 damage spell and both types of Magister have a D3 damage spell that, if it kills a model, can create a spawn. The Gaunt Summoner (again, both types) have their own version of Stellar Tempest, doing mortals on a 5+, with the added mention that a monster counts as 5 models. Into the spell lores, there’s lots of damage dealing here too. Bolt of Tzeentch is a D6 mortal wounds spell; Treason of Tzeentch is a ‘number of models’ spell that also debuffs the enemy if mortal wounds are caused; Tzeentch’s Firestorm does D3 MWs for every 6 that is rolled from 9 dice (sounds horrific, but actually not that good as you’ll probably only get 2 MWs from this!); Unchecked Mutation can cause D3 and, if a model is killed, on a 3+, another D3 is caused (good for the last few chaff models in a unit). As with Seraphon, Tzeentch also have access to Merciless Blizzard with the additional consideration that, using the command ability Cult Demagogue, the Tzeentch player can use any double that is not a miscast to auto-cast it and prevent it from being unbound. Finally, Tzeentch also have a couple of damage dealing Endless Spells, but these are both quite expensive for not a huge number of mortal wounds.
The winner is…Seraphon.
It’s very close between these two, especially as one has the ability to position for Blizzard really well and the other has the ability to guarantee it goes off. The deciding factor was Kroak’s warscroll spell, combined with the Astrolith Bearer, which is just too strong to not give Seraphon the win here. However, if the Tzeentch player took Spellportal and put Infernal Gateway into the Astrolith Bearer…much closer!
Some excellent debuff spells are available that can blunt even the most determined of attacks by a hammer unit. Mystical Unforging from the Slann reduces rend to ‘-‘, the Oracle can shut down run or retreat near a terrain feature or objective, the Starseer can shut down wards and the Starpriest can give -1 to hit to a specific unit.
The notable Tzeentch debuff spell is Arcane Suggestion, with a choice of 3 debuffs: cannot issue or receive commands; -1 to hit and wound for ALL attacks; -1 save. It’s a great spell, but that’s about it for debuffs, apart from Treason of Tzeentch’s -1 to hit secondary spell effect. The spawn effect of Burning Sigil of Tzeentch could be seen as a debuff in certain match ups. For example, if a unit of 30 Bloodletters in poised to make a charge, but by popping a nearby Bloodreaver, a spawn could shut down that charge and the imminent death accompanying it, although not for the spawn, which is about to be thoroughly murderised.
The winner is…Tzeentch.
Although only one spell, the three effects of Arcane Suggestion are so powerful and flexible to the match up and the game state, that it has to go to Tzeentch for this one.
Both of the above types can be ignored by Khorne on a 5+ initially while also providing Blood Tithe points that can be used for summoning or even to improving the spell ignore to a 4+ then a 3+ and even a 2+ by turn 4. On top of this, Null Myriad can ignore spells within 9” of a Mortisan Hero on a 2+. Therefore, the above range of spells is awesome, but in specific matchups, they will get shut down hard.
Buffing spells, however, go on your own unit and therefore are not affected by spell ignores of any kind. Tepok’s Beneficence is a great start from the Slann discipline, with a Skink unit being -1 to wound. If you can add in Mystic Shield and then Blazing Starlight from a Starpriest, you could have a Skink unit (probably Chargers give best efficiency for this combo) on a 4+ save, ignoring rend -1, -1 to wound and with -1 to be hit IF the unit chosen for Blazing Starlight is attacking them. Speed of Huanchi is another spell that Chargers love, giving them a free move in the hero phase. Before you send them off into the beyond, however, having the option of giving them Rend -3 with Hoarfrost is a great one too. The Slann Starmaster has a couple of tricks in the buff category too, with Celestial Equilibrium giving +1 to casting rolls for everyone but himself, with the potential for Drain Magic from the Slann spell lore giving -1 to unbinds for an effective +2 swing.
Tzeentch Warscroll spells are all about damage, except for the strange case of Ephilim the Unknowable (Vortemis can get in the sea!) who has an extremely conditional teleport spell. The restrictions are considerable and it’s expensive at 190pts, but if you need to teleport someone in Tzeentch and have the teleport complete in the hero phase, this is the way to go. Of course, Seraphon just have this as a heroic action…. Other buffing spells include Fold Reality, which enables you to bring back a number of daemon models to a unit equal to the roll of a D6, with a 1 destroying the unit. Note: this can only be used on Horrors when they are brimstones, but could be useful if you need a few more bodies contesting an objective. Its main utility is with Screamers of Tzeentch. A unit of 6 or 9 can be quite survivable as long as they aren’t trying to fight 10 Chosen on their own or similar, so being able to then bring back up to 6, while they are still in combat, is very strong. The strongest overall is probably Shield of Fate, which gives ward saves and spell ignores based on the number of Destiny Dice you have remaining. More often than not, this will be a 5+ ward. Throw this on 10 or even 20 Pinks, have a Daemon character within range to cause -1 to hit and also debuff the attacking unit with Arcane Suggestion, and watch as that Pink unit stays around a lot longer than your opponent wants. There is also a spell for passing off wounds to a mortal (probably Kairic) unit, +1 to hit and wound, which is particularly helpful with the Curseling’s shooting attack as well and then a buff of sorts is Glimpse the Future, which gives an extra Destiny Dice. As with Seraphon, there is always Hoarfrost and a unit of basic Tzaangors is not a bad target for this spell, taking their 30 paired blades attacks up to rend -3.
The winner is…Seraphon.
This one again was very close, but came down to the units available to put Hoarfrost on. For Seraphon, any one of Raptadon Chargers, Bastiladon with Ark of Sotek, Saurus Warriors, Saurus Guard, Kroxigor or Aggradons can make use of Hoarfrost well. For Tzeentch, it’s Tzaangor, Tzaangor Enlightened and Screamers. If Screamers could be summoned in units of 6, this would probably be a tie, but otherwise, Seraphon take this one as well.
In order of plusses to cast through warscrolls and abilities, Kroak has +2, Slann have +1, the Astrolith adds 1 within 12”, Celestial Equilibrium can add +1 and Drain Magic can -1 from enemy unbinds. At maximum efficiency, this makes Kroak +5, Slann +3, other casters +2. Rolling 2D6 makes the average cast for Kroak 12, Slann 10, other casters 9. In addition, numerous Seraphon spells are only successfully cast on 5s or 6s, making casting very successful on average. Finally, the heroic action to teleport a Seraphon unit when wholly within 12” of a Slann means that a caster can potentially be moved out of unbind range before casting, making these spells even more likely to go off.
Both Kairos and Lords of Change have the Tzeentch Master of Magic ability that allows the lowest dice to change to the highest dice in the original cast (Primals can be added as modifiers, but they do not interact with the Master of Magic rule), giving an average cast of 9.9 after considering the Beacon of Sorcery bonus that each of these units also give out. Gaunt Summoners have +1 on their warscroll, combined with the +1 from Beacon makes an average cast of 9. So far, Tzeentch slightly behind Seraphon. However, with the nerf to Cogs, re-rolls to cast are extremely rare and often once per battle when they do exist. Tzeentch can take the Daemon artefact Nine-eyed Tome for full re-rolls, which could be good for a Lord of Change or Gaunt Summoner (particularly a Gaunt Summoner with an extra cast for going second in this GHB) and/or the Endless Spell Tome of Eyes for re-rolls to cast only. Tzeentch also have the Cult Demagogue command ability to make a spell auto-cast on a double and not be able to be unbound and there’s always Destiny Dice to guarantee a cast, though these are the final modified result of the cast and, as such, are not affected by Primal dice. The final consideration for Tzeentch is if Kairos rolls a single six on a cast (and with Tome of Eyes, he might have two chances at this), the use of any Primal dice makes it a Primal Super-cast that cannot be unbound – just remember that it will be the last spell you’ll cast in that hero phase!
The winner is…Tzeentch.
While Kroak’s spells are so low as to almost be auto-casts, Tzeentch have several ways of auto-casting and can really exploit Primal dice with Master of Magic. Combine the fact that there are two ways of getting full casting re-rolls gives Tzeentch the edge.
If you are taking Kroak and a Slann (and, let’s be honest, with Starborne, you are) you will have 7 unbinds anywhere on the table that get +2 and +1 respectively to the unbind roll – the Astrolith only helps with casting. Add Primal dice in where necessary and a couple of back up unbinds from a Skink wizard and that’s a lot of unbinds. Not only that, but as the Order side of the Magic Doms, Seraphon get summoning points for unbinding their opponent’s spells, with the Slann potentially getting 2 Cosmic Power Points with the appropriate Command Trait. Tzeentch As with casting, Kairos and Lords of Change can combine Master of Magic and Beacon of Sorcery to have an average unbind of 10. The Nine-eyed Tome allows re-rolls to unbinds as does the warscroll of the Curseling, who has two unbinds. A fairly standard combination of Kairos, Curseling and Gaunt Summoner with the Nine-eyed Tome could have, on average, 3 unbinds of 10, 2 re-rollable unbinds of 9 and 2 re-rollable unbinds of 8 and then there’s always Destiny Dice that can be used – but all need to be 30” away.
The winner is…Seraphon.
As it probably should be, lore-wise, Seraphon win the unbinding battle as despite not having access to re-rolls, being able to unbind anywhere on the table is immensely powerful and shuts down , or at least makes them think twice, anyone planning on using Magical Dominance (cast a spell and not be unbound anywhere) as a T1 battle tactic.
Seraphon have a great range of summoning options that don’t cost much: 8 points for Skinks, 22 points for 10 Saurus Guard or, my preference, 16 points for Raptadon Chargers. Combined with the fact that Seraphon get Cosmic Power Points for just existing – one for each wizard, each Astrolith and one for a Realmshaper, then it is very easy to summon every turn. A list with Kroak, Slann with the Lord of Celestial Resonance trait (2 CPP every time instead of one), an Astrolith and a Starseer – the standard load out – can have up to 17 CPP if they go first, with the potential to go much higher if they go second and have the chance to get some unbinds too. The Slann will more than likely also have the Spacefolder’s Stave too, which means that the first unit summoned can be positioned 7” away from an enemy instead of 9”.
Tzeentch get Fate Points from every spell that is cast, friendly or enemy, and can give themselves a bit of a headstart with the Daemonspark Command trait giving 3 Fate Points. This option would lock you out of the Cult Demagogue auto-cast option though. Going first, in combination with Daemonspark and having a successful magic phase, Tzeentch should be able to expect 10 Blue horrors for 10 Fate Points. 10 Pinks are 20 Fate Points and can be a real hammer blow to an opponent who may have taken a couple of turns clearing Pinks away. Summoning options are almost always going to one of these two, unless you go with Guild of Summoners, which can only summon Lords of Change, with the first being at the bargain price of 9 Fate Points. Subsequent Lords of Change are 18 Fate Points instead of 30 like with non-Guild of Summoners sub-factions.
The winner is…Seraphon.
This is the first one where it’s not even close. Seraphon summoning is significantly superior to Tzeentch in every way possible: easier to generate points; key units are cheaper; greater variety of units; can be deployed closer to the enemy.
Plan B is how do these armies react when they get matched up into Khorne or OBR Null Myriad in particular or even another army set up to shut down magic – Gobsprakk + Primal dice in Kruleboyz/ Big Waaagh anyone? In other words, if magic is not going to win you the game directly, what have you got?
The best Plan B for Seraphon in my opinion is two-fold. Firstly, make sure you have some Chargers in your list, pour all the buffs possible into them, hoping for -3 rend on Hoarfrost, and hurl them at the enemy like an Endless Spell that can claim objectives. Your aim is to try and take out or cripple a major enemy unit or the source of spell ignores/magic resistance. In addition, pinning your opponent in can allow you to score on the Primary while scoring more movement based battle tactics such as Surround and Destroy or Intimidate Invaders. Once you get to 16 Cosmic Power Points, you have a decision – would 5 more Chargers finish off the main obstacle to winning, or would D6 mortal wounds from each wizard or Astrolith bearer and Realmshaper do it? Each unit can only be affected once, but D6 wounds plus D3 from the Realmshaper’s ability that are not spells can be a really sneaky way of getting around spell ignores, hopefully crippling your enemy and making it easier to assert magical dominance again.
The best Plan B for Tzeentch is to ignore killing the enemy and to score battle tactics instead, using your casts to generate Fate Points to try and summon enough to slow your opponent down. Intimidate the Invaders, Magical Dominance, Surround and Destroy, Tides of Anarchy and Call for Change (if taking Guild of Summoners) are 5 battle tactics that don’t need to have a single wound caused to an enemy to score. Add in a Grand Strategy that requires you to be able to count to 9 for another 3, then that’s 13 points that are pretty safe from the outset. Spend the rest of the game playing keep-away while scoring at least two objectives and you’ve got a shot against any opponent. The more interesting Plan B might be a unit of 6 Tzaangor Enlightened on Foot, that, while only 6” movement, have a threat range of 18” with Destiny Dice and can seriously do work with either hitting on 2s with spears or rend -3 on them as they shut down command abilities in combat. Combine this with -1 save from Arcane Suggestion and the fact that they can fight in a line of 6 due to coherency changes, then that’s a punchy unit.
The winner is…Tzeentch.
If you can keep your discipline and your opponent is not super aggressive or deadly, the range of easy battle tactics and Grand Strategy for Tzeentch should be enough of a Plan B. Just need to not either over-extend and lose too much too early or under-extend and get pinned back in your own territory, unable to score Primary objectives.
Round 1 – Damage Spells: Seraphon
Round 2 – Debuff Spells: Tzeentch
Round 3 – Buff Spells: Seraphon
Round 4 – Casting: Tzeentch
Round 5 – Unbinding: Seraphon
Round 6 – Summoning: Seraphon
Round 7 – Plan B: Tzeentch
Seraphon 4 – Tzeentch 3
A very narrow win for the dinosaurs that really went back and forth. Tzeentch having a better Plan B kept it close as a 5-2 victory for Seraphon would have been quite convincing, which is appropriate as when not facing Spell Ignores, having 2 battle tactics for killing something with magic is a huge boon for Seraphon. In a head-to-head battle pre-Trog Bomb nerf, if would be Seraphon all day, but with that change, it’s much closer. With Starborne Seraphon likely to be more of a focus for any other nerfs in Seraphon due to the more uninteractive nature of mortal wound spam instead of a combat unit that puts out 30 damage, but at least you get to roll saves for, the gap is likely to get even more wafer thin. Both armies are great fun to play and look great on the tabletop and despite Primal dice maybe giving an edge to anti-magic, what better GHB to start one of these two powerhouses of magic.
Are any armies missing from this comparison? How would Lumineth Realm Lords fare, for example? How do Arkhan the Black and his boss, Nagash, fit into this conversation? And, for the Destruction Bros out there, is this the GHB of Gobsprakk? Please comment below.