Give In to the Chaos

Warhammer has never been my thing.

So if I had been walking around Gen Con by myself, I wouldn’t have given Warhammer Champions a second look. The art is exactly as expected for a Warhammer game, the card templating is far from progressive, and PlayFusion is not a company with any kind of notable track record within tabletop games.

Overall, the curb appeal is just supremely low for me.

I already struggle to keep up with other non-collectible games that I do not have enough time to play, like the Arkham Horror LCG. I also obsessively play another collectible game, Star Wars: Destiny. Having experienced what playing two collectible games at once can do to you mentally and financially growing up, I was not interested in going there again. It does not end well.

While Jonathan and I streamed games of KeyForge and Transformers at Gen Con, Steven and Robert cruised the convention hall. One of the first games they brought back for us to try was Warhammer Champions. Almost immediately they sat down to play (pictured above). That night at the hotel room, Steven insisted that I learn how to play.

As you might imagine, I had very low expectations initially. When I found myself asking for just ‘one more’ game several hours later, I knew something special was happening. I think we all did, but were we really ready to get into another collectible card game?

Fresh Perspectives

When I was 9, my mom gave me a Pokemon TCG starter and six booster packs for my birthday. For months, I played the game using just those cards. Almost every time I played, I would see cards I didn’t even know existed. At the time, it was possible to open a booster pack having never seen any of the cards inside of it! The idea of ‘catching ‘em all’ was so implausible, I never even considered it.

Many years after my experiences with Pokemon, all of us at Covenant discovered living card games (LCG). For $15 a month, everyone could own everything. That was pretty appealing, especially after years of playing collectible games with the limited budget of a teenager. By the time Star Wars: Destiny came out a couple of years ago, owning everything had become the expected way to engage with a game – and since I was no longer a teenager, why not?

When Champions entered the mix, I had a tough decision to make. Fully collecting two games just was not feasible, but I did not want to miss the boat on what seemed to be an incredibly exciting development in the genre.

So instead of passing wholesale, I started questioning whether or not owning everything was the best approach.

Growing up, I didn’t own everything. I dreamed of owning cards, but I was forced to make good decks using only what I had. Net decking was impossible, because I couldn’t build most of the decks (and the internet wasn’t really a thing yet). Our local meta was completely unique, because everyone had very different and incomplete collections.

This situation made every new pack that was opened – by your or your fellow players – a big deal. Cracking the right card or making a big trade could literally break the local meta wide open!

Owning everything comes with benefits, of course. It means you can build any deck you want, including the ones that are deemed ‘the best’. If most people own everything, anyone can build any deck. This means when one deck is more efficient than the rest, everyone has access to it. In a way, this is good. When I was a kid, there would be months of time when someone simply had the best deck. Giving everyone access to everything means that this cannot happen, so the meta evolves quickly and a truly “global” meta can exist.

Unfortunately, it also has the tendency to destroy the uniqueness of your local meta. Most people don’t have time to grind out hundreds of games (or even a few games) with a deck to make it as efficient as possible, and so they often copy decks from the internet. This prevents players from losing big all night and allows them to have a better time during play, but can also lead to everyone playing against the same, super efficient decks and cards over and over and over. If most people show up to an event with similar decks, one of the biggest original upsides to playing a big, expandable game is gone.

Interestingly enough, this is one of the reasons that Richard Garfield, the designer of Magic the Gathering, was compelled to create KeyForge – marketed as a “unique deck game”. At the FFG In Flight Report this year, he mentioned that he never planned or expected anyone to ‘own it all’ and that he felt a lot of the intended energy of the game was lost because of it.

The announcement of KeyForge was fresh on our minds when we started discussing whether or not we wanted to get into Warhammer Champions. Then, suddenly, the idea seemed to hit everyone all at once: what if we played this game like we used to play card games? What if instead of buying everything, we did our best to recreate that sense of excitement and imperfection that we had experienced as kids?

Over the next few days, a plan was hatched. The four of us (Jonathan, Robert, Steven, and I) were going to each grab a different starter and sign up for a single booster box subscription. Any time a new set released, we would split a box into our four factions and play the game using only those cards (mostly). For roughly $20 a set, we could play Warhammer Champions almost exactly like we used to play collectible games as kids!

Of course, we conceded that we would miss out on the open constructed environment – as our imperfect decks would likely get trounced. But we would get to experience the game in our own way, with a totally unique meta to us.

This simple idea still gets me more excited than I have been in a long time about a card game! So much so that I am now writing a blog about my Chaos deck.

Giving In to the Chaos

In my time playing the Conquest LCG (most of my exposure to the macro Warhammer universe), I was drawn to the mechanics of Chaos – so that is where I started. After a few games, it was clear that I had made the right choice. I play Kylo Ren in Destiny, so… yeah it makes sense.

When I first started browsing through all of the Chaos cards in the starter, the first thing that stuck out to me was how many of the units remove one of my own units. At first, I couldn’t see how this was good at all. Over time, I started realizing just how important this was to my faction.

Chaos has a lot of units with Last Stand effects. These abilities trigger whenever a unit is removed, even by your own units or abilities. For example, the Gore-Slick Skullreaper (pictured above) does 2 damage to your opponent when he is removed from play. This disincentives your opponent from removing him, since they will take damage when they do. It also increases his damage output from four to six total damage, assuming he makes it to his last side and is then removed.

Removing your own units has the added benefit of clearing the way for other units to be played. This doesn’t seem extremely useful initially, until you start to understand both questing and lane position.

Chaos can move through units faster, increasing the speed at which they do damage over the course of a game. This also allows them to get to their blessings faster, since many of the Chaos champions require playing a unit to complete an objective (the icon on each corner of a champion).

Working with our very small card pool, I started building my first deck by putting aside all of my cards that remove a unit or have Last Stand effects. From there, my choices were relatively limited. There were several days where I swore off wizards, since they can’t play units (unless they are a Warrior Wizard) and they can’t play abilities if they have a spell in play. The more I leaned into removing my own units though, the more I realized I typically had at least one slot on the board that was empty. This led me to put a wizard back in and my win rate went up dramatically afterward.

Below is my initial deck list, working from a starter and about 10 booster packs worth of cards.

Champions:
1 x Gaunt Summoner
2 x Aspiring Deathbringer
1 x Bloodthirster of Unfettered Fury

Blessings:
1 x Berserker Rage
1 x Chaos Runeblade
1 x The Path of Skulls
1 x Outrageous Carnage

Actions:
3 x Pack of Bloodletters
3 x Insatiable Bloodreaver
1 x Reckless Juggernaut
3 x Gore-Slick Skullreaper
3 x Fanatical Skullfiend
3 x Rejoice in Slaughter
1 x Gift of Change
1 x Pain Induced Fury
1 x Frenzied Bloodreaver
1 x Transmogrifying Flamer
1 x Furious Strike
1 x Brutal Smash
2 x Opportunity Strike
2 x Frenzied Devotion
2 x Blood Hunt
2 x Mystic Shield

One of the unique things about building a deck with such a limited card pool is how many different cards and themes you get to explore. You’ll notice I have a lot of one of cards. While this isn’t atypical of my constructed decks in other games, in this case it is simply because I am using what I have and actively trying to explore the various aspects of Chaos.

There are a lot of cards I would absolutely include if I had three copies, like Blood Hunt and Gift of Change. However, being limited to two of each of these meant that I included cards I probably would have glossed over otherwise. A great example is Mystic shield.

When we first started playing, this spell seemed alright. As I start playing against more and more experienced players though, they tend to stack up multiple turns where I am being damaged several times a turn. I have had a single Mystic Shield block more than ten damage, which is enough to completely turn the tide of a game.

We were just charged for the first set reprint through our booster box subscription, so we should have our first booster box within the next two weeks! In my next blog I will be talking about the cards I got and my initial decks lists. I am hoping to explore the various themes of Chaos and potentially even a double wizard deck.

If you are hesitant to try the game (like I was), don’t be! This game is incredible. We just posted our Learning Champions series, where we cover everything you need to know to decide if this game is right for you. You can also try the game by downloading the app or grabbing a Campaign Bundle, which includes four fully playable decks. Seriously, give this game a try!

And if you are concerned at all about trying to keep up with another game, consider taking the more casual approach that I have outlined here. I love having everything available for all of those deckbuilding options, but I have to say – this past month with Champions has been incredibly refreshing.

If you would like to learn more about our Champions Booster Box Subscription, check out its dedicated product page or leave a comment below. All subscribers are charged minimum advertised price (20% off) a few weeks before a new set releases, and every subscription ships for free. Unequivocally better than a pre-order!