Russ Veal on 8th Edition Tomb Kings
With the recent release of the new Vampire Counts army book what better time to probe the mind of undead player par excellence, Russ Veal, on the subject of Tomb Kings?
Ok, maybe the best time might have been a couple of months ago but I forgot I'd arranged to do this with Russ until just after Christmas so this is a teensy bit later than planned.
So, without further ado, I present to you Russ Veal's take on the Tomb Kings 8th Edition army book.
Q1. So far we've seen new Tomb Guard, the Sphinxes, Necropolis Knight/Sepulchral Stalker kit plus some Finecast characters. Ignoring for the moment whether any of these have made it into your model collection, do you have any favourites from these from a painting and modelling perspective?
I really liked the Warsphinx and Tomb Guard but was not keen on the Necropolis Knight/Sepulchral Stalkers kit when it came out. However, after buying and building the kits the Snakes really grew on me and are now my favourite models in the range.
I think it helps to give them interesting bases - I have mine wrapped around ruined pillars. The tails themselves can be cut and repositioned to make dramatic poses and the guys on the back are cool.
I absolutely love the Tomb Guard kit but the price tag is a little off-putting (it didn't stop me considering making the entire army out of them however!). The Necrosphinx/Warsphinx is a great kit too.
This was the first release which used Finecast models and after three return trips to try and get a Liche Priest who wasn't sporting holes/bubbles down his staff or arm, I finally managed to get one. The quality was appalling on these early models, I even saw a Casket of Souls where the square casket was concave on each side where the middle had collapsed. . .
As for the models themselves, if you manage to get a good cast the Liche Priest is good, the Necrotect is OK and the rest are just re-releases. Oh, that scarab prince guy (Prince Apophas), I'm not a fan of him to be honest, although it might be the paint job on Games Workshop's website.
Q2. Are there any models you were hoping would be redone for the new book that haven't been updated so far?
Yes quite a few. It's a shame Ushabti weren't done in a plastic kit (although I LOVE the old models) and it's a shame the rules don't make them worth fielding in a tournament list.
The Tomb Scorpion is the big one. This model is simply awful. It's really badly designed and sculpted. I suspect we will see a new scorpion kit soon that is more akin to the Necrosphinx and looks more like a stylized scorpion. It would also be good to see a Heirotitan/Colossus kit.
To be honest, with the quality of the new Vampire Counts (VC) skeletons, not redoing the skeleton box sets and giving us new troops which weren't old VC skeletons with a Tomb Kings add on sprue was disappointing. However, from a logistic/business point of view I never expected them to be redone.
Q3. The Sphinx models seem to be a bit like Marmite. Some people love them, some people hate them. (A friend of mine has commented that they seem a very reminiscent of H R Giger's work). What are your feelings about them?
I really like them, they gave the Tomb Kings a bit of a new style injection. It's a shame this isn't carried on throughout the range. However, I suspect that as new kits are released they will echo this new direction.
The Necrosphinx in particular is really cool. I know some people have compared it to Power Rangers but I think it looks ace. It should be over the top and grand, being a monument. I do think the paint job has a massive impact on how much people will like it. The GW paint job makes it seem very Stargate/space age which is maybe what puts people off. I wish the lower legs were more dynamic but other than that I like them.
Q4. Do you think any of the new models fail to live up to their artwork or background from the army book? Personally I feel the Necropolis Knights/Stalkers look a bit skinny compared to how they are depicted in the book.
To be honest, models never look as real as the artwork but I think they capture it well. The Stalkers are probably the most disappointing as they don't have necks - this really bugs me! The head joins at the back of the skull and not under it like it should.
Q5. The new book sees a few new units and unit types introduced to the Tomb Kings army list, as well as tweaks to existing units. What, in your opinion, are the standout units, whether new or updated, in the new army book?
In my opinion the standout units are:
- The Casket of Souls - This is essential for your magic phase and Light of Death is a great option for dealing with units.
- Necropolis Knights - Best armour save, fast, good at dealing with monsters and cavalry, and can hold it against infantry. Really good all rounder unit.
- Chariots - Got a massive boost with more attacks, more impact hits and easier to raise.
- Sphinxes - Warsphinx is amazing against infantry hordes and the Necrosphinx is really good as an assassination piece.
Q6. To flip that question around, of the existing units, which are the biggest losers from the update and which of the new units do you think will find little love from the more competitive Tomb Kings generals?
Biggest loser has to be the Sepulchral Stalkers, with Ushabti a close second, these are simply awful. The shooting attack is situational, they have to start off the board and cannot come up until turn 2 at the earliest. They can't charge when they do come up so they can't get into the game until turn 3 at least. This is simply too late for the points investment. They also have fewer attacks than the Necroserpents, have massive bases and suffer from not raising quickly.
Ushabti also suffer from the construct raising rule, gaining only one wound per "phase" (in my opinion this should be one per spell).
I also think the Tomb Kings/Princes have a raw deal. They cost the same points as before but now do not augment the magic phase in any way. The lack of mount options means the "My Will Be Done" special rule Weapon Skill boost to units is situational also, with Necropolis Knights, arguably being the best combat unit in the army, unable to benefit from it.
Points are in such a demand in the list I cannot see the Kings and Princes being widely fielded. This is also the problem with the Necrotect which, to be honest, is only useful in a Tomb Guard unit. But then he's still a big investment to the unit just to get re-rolls to hit (if the Necrotect lives long enough). Personally, I think if you could mount him on a Necroserpent or chariot he would be a worthwhile investment.
Q7. The "It Came From Below" rule has now been replaced by "Entombed Beneath the Sands" which no longer gives the option to deploy normally. Is this now too much of a handicap given the unpredictability of when, or if, units will arrive?
I think for the Scorpions its fine. Actually, being able to place the marker when they arrive is amazing as it means you can put them in the most effective position and even if scattering they can be moved back into position.
The problem with the Stalkers is that they have a big footprint and are a big points investment. So this is one combat unit which isn't in your battleline which really needs to be. Tomb Kings suffer from having a static back line which, due to the lack of marching and fast mount options, means you really need to keep enemy units off you. If you could deploy Stalkers "up" at the start then perhaps they would be worthwhile fielding in a competitive list.
Q8. What, if anything, do you feel Tomb Kings lack in their unit options, whether in unit type or special rules, that would improve how the army plays? Do they have the tools to handle things like monstrous infantry, units of ethereal models etc?
To be honest I think they lack a solid combat unit. The problem with the army is you have lots of slow moving units which are rubbish in combat, so you need a unit which can take a charge. Sphinxes leap to mind but they are so unreliable that if you roll a few 6s they can drop in one round, leaving the enemy overrunning into your backlines.
I honestly think we have yet to see the most competitive TK list in the UK but seeing as few players are using them at the moment we may have a wait on our hands. I think the army suffers from being too average. It can deal with anything but not reliably or well. I have a few ideas for builds I would like to try out when I pick the TK up again.
Magic and Magic Items
Q9. The Tomb King magic phase has now been brought in line with the standard casting process. While this undoubtedly simplifies things, does it perhaps reduce the unique character of the army? Do you think such a radical change was necessary or could the Tomb King Incantations have been tweaked to make them a bit less onerous?
It's a good change. I think having special magic phase rules for armies complicates things, especially across editions and with expansions like Storm of Magic. But given the choice I would rather have the old magic back simply for the magical charge spam, although I don't think this would be good for the game! (This is very broken in 8th edition, which is why Vampires have been so successful.)
I don't think the magic was what defined the army previously but I think the deck could have been designed better. After reading the Nagash novels by Black Library there are some great ideas for spells there and the lore doesn't synergise well with the army.
Q10. Nehekharan generals now get a full spell deck to play with, as well as access to the lores of Light and Death. Does the restriction that the Hierophant must take the Lore of Nehekhara reduce the utility of the other two lores?
I think so. I would much prefer the Ogre restriction (one wizard must take the Lore of the Great Maw). In my opinion, having access to Light and Death is much more useful and actually makes the army function better. Nehekhara is a really lacklustre lore and although useful for a couple of spells you really don't need a Level 4 for them. If it were possible I would run a Level 4 on Light and several Level 1s on Nehekhara.
Q11. How well do the available lores synergise with the abilities of the army? Do you think any of the other lores from the main rulebook would have been better options to the army?
Light is very good. Speed of Light and Birona's Timewarp get around some of the major weaknesses of the Tomb Kings army, namely low Weapon Skill and Initiative, and also speed and number of attacks. It even gives them rerolls in combat. Combine that with the magic missiles and Net of Amyntok, which is great at stopping enemy wizards, I really think this lore has the best synergy with the list.
Death also has some great uses. Soulblight makes the bowmen more effective and bubbles to affect everything. Snipes are also good and Doom and Darkness synergises with Fear tests and the Light of Death from the Casket. However, given the choice Death pales in comparison to Light in my opinion and as you are forced to take Nehekhara on your highest level, Death would rarely get a look in.
With Nehekhara the movement spell only works on unengaged units so you can't mend your units in combat, Ptra's Incantation of Righteous Smiting is good but has a high casting value, Neru's Incantation of Protection giving your units the ward save is useful but situational. Usekhp's Incantation of Desiccation is pretty good but Sakhmet's Incantation of the Skullstorm is again situational. The lore is OK but I always find it lacks the devastation factor other lores have.
Nehekhara is very easy to shut down as there is usually only one spell you are bothered about so you stop it accordingly. I do like Djaf's Incantation of Cursed Blades on a Necrosphinx however.
Q12. One of the traits the Tomb Kings share with their undead cousins the Vampire Counts is the ability to raise models back. Do you feel the Lore of Nehekhara gives adequate raising ability or, as units cannot be raised past their starting size, is it too often a losing battle to repair enough damage to your units?
With the new Vampire Counts book just hitting the shelves this past week, the Vampires' raising ability is far in excess of the Tomb Kings'. They have access to cheap wizards who can spam a bubble raise spell and add their magic level to it. Ethereal/Vampiric units get one wound per casting whereas Tomb King Animated Constructs get one wound per PHASE.
The signature spell of Nehekhara doesn't affect units in combat and isn't worth spamming as the best units are all Constructs. Also, Liche Priests are a fairly pricey investment.
I very rarely in my Vampire Counts army raised above the starting size but Vampires have way more options for keeping the combat units alive. So in short, don't bother using Nehekhara to keep your army alive!
Q13. In line with the reduced number of magic items seen in the Orc and Goblin book, the Tomb Kings now have access to fewer magic items of their own. Are there any no-brainer choices from amongst those left or should Tomb Kings players be picking up all their magical trinkets and baubles from the common items now?
Not really any no brainer choices. I tend to run very magic item light on my TK army, usually just taking the flaming banner (Banner of Eternal Flame), Earthing Rod and a scroll, with the occasional ward save. The Destroyer of Eternities is fun but to be honest it's too situational to be worth taking and puts you down the Tomb Guard route. So no magic items that are a no brainer but a couple options that may make it into some lists.
Q14. With the new and changed units in the army book, plus the changes brought about by 8th edition, how do you think Tomb Kings generals should approach their list design now?
Hard to say, I think we have yet to see the most competitive list. The Tomb Kings are a challenging army to play with; they are also very exciting to play with because of this.
I think most solid lists will centre round a Level 4 Liche Priest backed up with either some low level wizards or even two Level 4s and a Casket of Souls for the magic phase. Then the core will be filled out with chariots and bowmen and Specials and Rares will be a mix of combat units. This would generally mix around snakes, Warsphinx, Necrosphinx and Screaming Skull Catapults. Lots of units would make it into a list but when you realize you are right on the points limit they rarely make it into the army.
Q15. From your experience so far with the new book do you feel there are enough options for there to be several tournament competitive lists or, taking into account the current tournament meta-game (in the UK at least), are there only a couple of ways you can go with your list if you don't want to get stomped into the sand?
I think there is potential but no one has really played the list and explored it yet (it's not popular enough) and too many people just want to know what the best list is without experimenting/testing.
Whatever build you take, it's a very challenging book to use, this also makes it very rewarding. Personally I think the Tomb Kings can mix it up, especially with a move back towards cavalry as they have a lot of Killing Blow. Ogres could be a tough match up but with shooting and Heroic Killing Blow then I think they could deal with them quite well. I found that you need to play very well to win games and I was entering into a lot of "coin toss" situations where the games could go either way.
Q16. Looking forwards, assuming all other 8th edition army books follow the trend established so far, do you think Tomb Kings will become more competitive if the power levels stay roughly the same?
Definitely less competitive or stay the same, books don't tend to get stronger. I think as GW gets more refined at writing 8th ed books the early books will start to look weak in comparison. Already Ogres and Vampires both look stronger than the Tomb Kings and, more importantly, have more options for competitive play.
Q17. As an undead army that has the ability to raise models back, magic is very important to Tomb Kings. As well as the casting boost from the Heirotitan they can generate extra power dice through the Casket of Souls and, in theory, can gain more dice for casting by making use of the Lore of Death attribute. However, pretty much every tournament restricts magic dice to a maximum of 12 per phase, rather the maximum in the pool at any one time. Does this affect the Tomb Kings or are players on the wrong track if they are hoping for bonus dice from Lore of Death spells to give their magic phase a boost?
Twelve dice a phase isn't really an issue. The problem is when tournaments restrict the amount of dice you can add a phase, which is usually two. A Casket being D3 should be an exception in my opinion (and is in SCGT comp). I honestly don't think the Tomb King army is strong enough to warrant any form of comp. This is an example of blanket restrictions which do nothing to balance the power level as every book is hit the same but some armies rely on a strong phase.
Q18. Prior to the release of the army book what did you think needed doing to revitalise the army for 8th edition?
The army needed new units, access to combat units and the ability to dish out damage. There was a lot of potential for the new book but the army needed a complete overhaul.
Q19. How has the final book met, exceeded or failed in meeting your hopes for the army? Are there any clear missed opportunities with the new book?
For my hopes, to start with I was excited and optimistic but after playing with the list and the book I felt like I was running uphill again just like they were in 6th/7th. Although I love the challenge and excitement of it, I honestly wish they had added a bit more bite to the army. I found reading the book I would look at a unit and go "that's really cool. . . but oh wait that doesn't quite work". It's almost like the synergy isn't quite there with the army. The book feels unpolished and like the list needs some tweaks which would have made it a lot better.
Reading the Ogre Kingdoms and Vampire Counts books there are units and support units which you read and go "yes I can see those units working together being greater than the sum of its parts". The Tomb King book doesn't do this and, with the inability to really power up a unit through character combos, it makes it hard to compete against "death-star" style lists. The book is great for exciting fun play, if I wasn't focusing on ETC I would be playing it. But overall it just fell short for me. I think the next incarnation will be one to watch.
That wraps up this article. Hope you have all enjoyed it and thanks once again to Russ for giving his thoughts.
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