Warband Review: Thorns of the Briar Queen

The horrors of the Nightvault are unleashed upon the mirrored city.

In my second Warband Review I’ll be looking at the Thorns of the Briar Queen who came out in the Nightvault starter box.


This warband is led by the banshee known as the Briar Queen. In eons past she was a powerful death mage who commanded legions of undead warriors against the city of Shadespire. In a climactic final battle she was captured and sentenced to life within the Nightvault. There she remained, tortured and imprisoned for a countless time. She was driven mad and lost what was left of her humanity.

When Nagash broke open the Nightvault, he chose the Briar Queen to punish all those who dared entered his city. Shaping her into the form a banshee, he gave her command of the Chainrasp horde. He second-in-command is Varclav the Cruel, Nightvault’s chief warden who imprisoned for his chain of sadistic murders. The most unique Chainrasp next to him is the Ever-Hanger, a serial murderer who was finally stopped by the hangman’s noose but lives again to continue his work.


They’re amazing, easily my 2nd favourite warband after Skaven and beat the amazing Sepulchral Guard into 3rd. Each model has so much character and gives hints to their narrative. Varclav will always be my favourite and not just because I can keep making “I am the Keymaster” jokes. There’s just something so great about a deadly ghost armed with only keys and a candle.

A special mention goes to the Briar Queen herself. Games Workshop have advanced so much with their miniature technology. They’ve perfectly captured her vines growing out to ensnare foes. She looks elegant but deadly at the same time.

The Fighters

The Briar Queen, your faithful leader. A level 2 wizard with a range 2 attack and 2 defence dice. She inspires like all the other models, gaining +1 damage and move. With 3 dice, it offsets the Swords symbol and gives her a 42.13% chance of rolling crits.

Once inspired, she becomes a true menace. With a strength upgrade or ploy, she can one shot any 4 wound model. I put her as a slower but mildly tougher Skritch thanks to 2 defence dice when not inspired.

As your only wizard, she is the only one with access to magic. Plan her use carefully. She’s your best harraser.

Our resident key master. He feels more like the real leader of the warband. He’s like the Sepulchral Warden on steroids. 2 defence dice from the start and can push all Chainrasps up to 2 hexes. Pushing 5 models continually? Amazing.

As a note to people questioning whether Chainrasps can be pushed through hexes or fighters, please note the following. Their fighter cards only say when they move, not move action. Now look at this.

From the rules. So yes, you can also use Varclav’s ability to push Chainrasps through blocked hexes and fighters. He’s so versatile that it’s insane. Plus he goes up to damage 3 when inspired. Varclav the Beast.

However yesterday the head rules designer said on the WHTV stream that this cannot be done via pushes and the Thorns can only pass through stuff with move actions. It’s currently RAW (rules as written) legal in my eyes but just discuss it with your opponent before games until a FAQ is released.

The only named Chainrasp. Our rope-loving fellow begins with movement 4 making him the most mobile fighter from the beginning, making him important for distant objective grabbing and quick kills. His 2 hammer attack with 2 damage helps support this.

Inspired he gains cleave and 2 defence dice. Not bad. Makes him into a slightly better fighter. Still, don’t send him against the big guys. 3 wounds only goes so far.

This represents all 4 remaining Chainrasps. They all have varying stats capping at 1 to 2 damage depending on the ghost. They’re your chaff and there’s a lot of them. They’re best used as bait, objective caddie or Shadeglass weapon users. Just be prepared because they will die a lot.

The warband shares the common traits of inspiring by being adjacent to enemy fighters at the start of your activation. You have to play smart to inspire these ghosts and can’t recklessly charge in hoping to survive.

They also ignore lethal hexes as well as blocked hexes and fighters for the purposes of movement but must end on empty hexes. Feel free to use either kind of hex to bewilder and trap your foes.

The Cards

Just like Stormsire’s Cursebreakers, these guys come with a lot of faction-specific cards despite being a starter set warband. Just like the Cursebreakers, these guys have some incredibly powerful and balanced cards.

As Nagash Commands: Great if it wasn’t a 3rd end phase objective. Competes with Superior Tactician but a decent alternative if you lack it.

Death Sentence: One I’m on the fence about. It’s good if you can set it up but can become impossible at times. I think it’s good but you have to dedicate yourself to it.

Drag Them Down: Great reward but difficult to achieve. 3 successful attacks is a lot and won’t always be achievable due to how badly the majority of the warband hits. Still, it is a score immediately card.

Execution: Reprint of Assassinate. It’s alright.

Take the City: I’m torn. I like it but it really should be 2 glory. Holding all objectives on one side isn’t an easy task. Still it’s not a bad choice, just a low scoring one.

The Vengeful Dead: A reprint of Heroes All. Not very easy to score with a 7 model warband.

Vengeful Advance: A reprint of Swift Advance. Very difficult to score, more so than The Vengeful Dead.

Grasping Chains: A decent ploy. Helps when you setup inspiring then charge in with another fighter like the Briar Queen.

Maddening Cackle: A better Cruel Taunt. Only problem is relying on your opponent to fail their attack. Still it’s a nice surprise against Skritch or Riptooth.

Rending Scream: Our first gambit spell! 2 lightning bolts mean it’s not easy to cast. It also requires the Queen next to multiple fighters. Very risky and not reliable due to no innate access currently.

Spectral Parry: Putting a fighter on guard is great and synergises with Change of Tactics. A great card.

Spectral Touch: Dishing out cleave is good due to how prevalent shields are. Still the Briar Queen dishes out enough dice to mitigate shields and Varclav being in combat can be a very bad sign. In the end it’s down to player choice.

Vengeful Curse: Death Throes reprinted. Useful as your ghosts will die a lot but eats up a valuable gambit spot.

Chill Touch: A reverse cleave. Really good until you realise that it can only be put on Chainrasps. Has an interesting role with the inspired Ever-Hanged.

Creeping Terror: It’s interesting. The damage from passing through fighters can be changed with cards like Ready for Action but that 50/50 chance is really underwhelming. Especially as it works best with an inspired fighter due to movement 4. At least it can go onto any fighter.

Curse of Unbinding: A solid unbinding upgrade. 33% chance to stop a spell and isn’t discarded when used. Becomes stronger once more magic is around.

Driven by Hatred: The Thorns generally have low dice output, this card helps counter that. Good for aggro players.

Face of Death: The potential to knock opponents down to 1 attack dice is huge especially when you’ll have 1 or 2 defence. Shame it’s Chainrasp only.

Grasping Touch: I can see the appeal of pulling enemies through lethal hexes but I find this too risky. Your ghosts are fragile after all.

Sadistic Strike: Interesting against wounded opponents with an un-inspired Varclav but the strength upgrades are better and not limited.

Strangling Coil: Amazing if you don’t have access to Shadeglass Dagger or Hammer. Even then it’s a strong persistent weapon.

Neutral Cards

Nightvault has a lot of reprinted cards. I’ll only be covering the new ones here.

Lucky Trinket: Not great at all. Mainly for warbands with no magical access.

Determined Effort: A good neutral. Extra dice can sometimes make all the difference.

Vital Surge: I’m not a fan. The game is currently in a state of 1-hit kills and this does nothing to help with that.

Grinding Earth: Good but abusable due to Great Concussion. If it had more range I would have loved it.

Escape Artist: Once again requires your opponent failing but the choosing push is not great either. Lightning Reflexes is better for you Shadespire players out there.

My Top Picks

The cards from the Nightvault box that I think definitely deserve a place in any Thorns deck.

Swarming Spirits: An amazing score immediately objective. Very easy to do, especially while charging.

Treacherous Foe: Perhaps the easiest to score objective in the game. Quick Thinker, Ready for Action, Trap and Endless Malice will all score this. Just insanely good.

Sudden Appearance: Like Illusory Fighter but on steroids. Always take.

Drifting Advance: Only works on Chainrasps but pushes them all up to 2 hexes. Push them only 1 hex or even none at all. A very good push card that has so many uses, namely inspiring your ghosts. Clarification is needed if you can push Chainrasps around enemy fighters they are adjacent to or whether they just stay put.

Endless Malice: I love it. Your fighters are less than reliable for attacking and this covers that flaw.

Howling Vortex: Amazing if it needs 1 swirl. The Briar Queen has a decent chance of casting it and it works like a better Great Concussion. Very flexible for use.

Inescapable Vengeance: Amazing. Nowhere is safe from the Queen with her range of 2. Even use with Quick Thinker to move completely out of range or Deathly Fortitude to mitigate the movement penalty.

Shacklegheist Chains: I love +1 glory kill upgrade cards and with Varclav’s great attack profile, this gets even better. Helps mitigate glory bleed and stacks with your score immediately cards.

The Decklists

Now we come to my suggest decklists for new players and experienced a like. I’ve had a fair number of games with the Thorns so I feel I have a good understanding of them so far. Their movement ability is amazing and they can instantly redeploy or swarm opposing warbands. They’re fragile, however, so aggro play is risky. They do better at objective control due to their amazing mobility. Just remember to abuse blocked and lethal hexes!

Before going into the deck building section, please read my article on the subject: here. It’s how I approach deck building and will give you a solid basis to start from.

Firstly I’ll go over a deck for players new to the game who don’t have access to Shadespire cards.

Objectives (12)

N30 – As Nagash Commands

N31 – Death Sentence

N32 – Drag Them Down

N34 – Swarming Spirits

N35 – Take the City

N37 – Treacherous Foe

N330 – Hold Objective 1

N331 – Hold Objective 2

N332 – Hold Objective 3

N333 – Hold Objective 4

N334 – Hold Objective 5

N374 – Supremacy

Gambits (10)

N39 – Drifting Advance

N40 – Endless Malice

N42 – Howling Vortex

N43 – Maddening Cackle

N45 – Spectral Parry

N46 – Spectral Touch

N47 – Sudden Appearance

N48 – Vengeful Curse

N403 – Confusion

N409 – Determined Effort

Upgrades (10)

N50 – Creeping Terror

N51 – Curse of Unbinding

N52 – Driven by Hatred

N53 – Face of Death

N55 – Inescapable Vengeance

N57 – Shacklegheist Chains

N58 – Strangling Coil

N504 – Great Fortitude

N505 – Great Speed

N506 – Great Strength

Using all the cards in Nightvault I’ve made a solid deck that revolves around objectives and then using that glory to make people stay away from you. Either go in for kills then redeploy onto objectives or vice versa. Balanced play that should be great for beginners.

Objectives (12)

243 – Change of Tactics

257 – Escalation

278 – Our Only Way Out

284 – Precise Use of Force

291 – Superior Tactician

296 – Tactical Supremacy 1-2

297 – Tactical Supremacy 3-4

N30 – As Nagash Commands

N34 – Swarming Spirits

N35 – Take the City

N37 – Treacherous Foe

N374 – Supremacy

Gambits (10)

329 – Great Concussion

334 – Inspiration Strikes

347 – Quick Thinker

360 – Sidestep

L38 – Inspired Command

L42 – Quick Advance

N40 – Endless Malice

N42 – Howling Vortex

N47 – Sudden Appearance

N403 – Confusion

Upgrades (10)

373 – A Destiny to Meet

384 – Deathly Fortitude

395 – Incredible Strength

410 – Shadeglass Dagger

424 – Tethered Spirit

428 – The Fractured Key

429 – The Hallowed Key

N55 – Inescapable Vengeance

N57 – Shacklegheist Chains

N506 – Great Strength

With this deck I’ve used the whole Shadespire collection. I’ve gone for a more focussed Hold Objective goal with some more easier to score instant objectives. The power deck backs up the objective element while also giving you an attacking element when needed once you have all that glory. Go for the objectives then murder everything in sight.

To sum it up, the Thorns excel at hold objective with their great mobility. They start off weak but are no slouches in combat once they get inspired and powered up with glory. Use their ability to pass through fighters and blocked hexes to your advantage as well as the excellent ploys and spells to run rings around your opponent. Keep Varclav safe so you can always push the Chainrasps in safety.

With that, I’ll be signing off. I hope you all enjoy Nightvault and may your crits stay spooky.

5 thoughts on “Warband Review: Thorns of the Briar Queen

  1. Nice article, John. I agree with you on pushing Chainrasps through hexes: as written, the rules clearly allow it. I think Drifting Advance is pretty clear that you can’t push a fighter who is already adjacent to an enemy fighter, as there is no way to “take them closer to the nearest enemy fighter,” as the card requires.

    I’m very tempted to run Maddening Cackle, on the simple premise that someone will miss EVENTUALLY, and I can then simply drop the hammer on that fighter. Gurzag, Fjul, Skritch … all these fighters start with 2 hammers, and many of them stay at 2 hammers. Gonna be a tough one. Pretty good against Farstriders, too, and it can also stop some opponents from scoring Heroes All or Shining Example. That’s gotta be worth something; whether it’s worth a gambit spot is the real question, I suppose.

    I’d love to hear how you get on with Sidestep and Confusion with that second deck you suggested. I have a feeling Distraction will prove to be a better card, both to drag an enemy fighter toward your fighters in the power phase so that they’ll be inspired when you begin your activation, and to move a fighter off an objective if you need to score As Nagash Commands late. Also, I’m dreaming of getting Shacklegheist Chains on Varclav and playing Mighty Swing, and I’d hate it if I passed up on a potential 2 glory 🙂

    Keep rollin’ crits!


  2. Really nice deck, i would try and fit extreme flanks, keep them guessing and fired up.

    As an old time spectral guard player i am quite bothered that thorns can do everything better than guard. Im having a tough time trying to come up with a competitive deck for the guard that can perform better than a similar thorns deck…


    1. Thanks, this was made before those cards were released but definitely would be added.

      My SG friend feels the same way. Pretty much a straight upgrade


      1. Damn! I was hoping you guys could figure out some way to play SG that i wasnt been able to find.
        Sad news as SG are without doubt my favourite shadespire/nightvault miniatures. But their only advantage, (resurrecting warriors)seems more of a way to give oponents glory (apart from ocassional resurrected champion being useful) if at least there were more ploys that worked around resurrecting skellies…


      2. Seems that the dutch nationals was won by guard. I like the deck, but still think that same deck with night haunts would work even better…

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        Faction: Sepulchral Guard

        Objectives (12)
        Change of Tactics
        Defensive Strike
        Master of War
        Our Only Way Out
        Superior Tactician
        Extreme Flank
        Great Gains
        Keep Them Guessing
        What Armour?

        Gambits (10)
        Restless Dead
        The Necromancer Commands
        Great Concussion
        Hidden Paths
        Last Chance
        Quick Thinker
        Ready for Action
        Inspired Command
        Quick Advance

        Upgrades (10)
        Frightening Speed
        Lethal Lunge
        A Destiny to Meet
        Great Fortitude
        Tethered Spirit
        The Formless Key
        Faneway Crystal
        Slumbering Key


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