The power of eternal drifting.
Today I’ll be starting a special 3 part article series dedicated to the journey of my Thorns of the Briar Queen deck: Swarming Spirits. This will be based on the format pioneered by Steel City Underworlds. The path is long, complex yet ultimately rewarding, so let’s begin!
After the July 2019 restricted list the game’s meta was thrown into disarray as super strong builds were effectively neutered. Once everything settled the game is now currently the most balanced it has been in a long time. However there was a problem for me, my Thundrik’s Profiteers were no longer playable in the state I desired. They now suffer from something I like to call “the Mollog effect”. You basically have to choose whether to have a reliable objective deck and dedicate all your restricted slots to it or go for more damage with Trap and Pit Trap at the cost of the deck no longer being super reliable. Plus they generally had a low glory ceiling generally capping out at 16 to 17 glory.
There was also another factor. After winning with all 16 warbands I was free to play whatever I wanted. While writing an article about player characteristics, I remembered I’m a mix of a character loyalist and technician. Due to all of this I decided to pick a warband that I really liked, had a lot of tools and was something that I would have stuck with throughout Nightvault if I had the choice. This made it easy: Thorns of the Briar Queen. While brainstorming ideas I was chatting with one of the many Robs in the Underworlds London scene, specifically Rob and David “the stat man” Smee from the very strong group of Reading players. He brought up the idea of swarming the opponent to score the cards Nowhere to Go and Ganging Up which also support some of the faction’s objectives too. With that I went to work.
As a side note Stormsire’s Cursebreakers were also in the running. I built a super efficient aggro/magic build but I just found it boring to play with and against. The Thorns are just more fun plus people generally have a good time playing against them, especially as my build is generally always interacting with my opponent.
Freedom of Boards
A crucial thing to mention here is that Thorns of the Briar Queen give me the ability to use whatever board I want to again. As you know I love boards, it’s why I’ve written so many articles about them like this one. They’re a crucial part of the game. With no care for Calculated Risk I can pick boards without lethal hexes! It’s still advantageous to pick boards with lethal hexes as Thorns ignore them but it’s not essential.
Another key point is you actually want to setup quite aggressively. When winning boards I go for the Molten Shardpit and the Shattered Tower set wide as they give 4 fighters the quickest path to the enemy. You need to keep that gap rather short to the opponent especially against those sitting at the back.
When losing boards (yay 3 objectives) I always place the Shattered Refractor first then either the Soul Refractor or Shyishian Stardial. The first board gives you a balanced deployment to gauge what the enemy will do while the latter 2 give you a multitude of blocked hexes to play around help trapping fighters who come to you.
Remember however these are just recommendations. I flip between all 12 boards during tournaments. You still need to pick the right board for the right occasion and not fall into the trap of always picking the same boards.
Here’s the decklist:
I’ll explain how it works below.
Following how I build decks, with the main concept established using Nowhere to Go and Ganging Up I identified the flaws. Once your opponent knew what you wanted to do they would just sit back and stall you out. You also needed a reason for the opponent to come to you as not everyone will just mindlessly charge in. To counter this flaw I added Supremacy and Our Only Way Out. These 2 objectives gave me lots of glory and meant my opponent had to come to me otherwise I’d score 5 glory for free. It does clash with the swarming aspect but all you need is 2-3 Chainrasps to swarm plus you can use Varclav, the Briar Queen and a 5th Chainrasp to capture objectives.
Keep Them Guessing was in there as Thorns score it reliably, it’s an objective I always work towards scoring even if I don’t have it in-hand. Plus I always like going on guard. Death Sentence and Deathly Clutches all contribute to swarming. I dropped Swarming Spirits as it took too much to setup and score, 2 activations and an appropriately positioned enemy fighter is too much to ask for consistently.
Treacherous Foe is there because it’s possibly the easiest objective to score in the game.
Martyred remains the best/worst objective in the deck. It’s a double-edged sword. Great when your opponent is trying to kill you but terrible when they’re not as you can’t kill your own fighters without card investment. It’s the weakest link in the deck but it’s so useful against aggro warbands that it can’t be dropped.
For restricted cards it’s my trifecta of Precise Use of Force, Escalation and Superior Tactician. Precise is my only aggro objective. As it’s based off of killing it’s effectively a 2 glory card. Escalation is there because everyone plays upgrades. Superior Tactician is my old reliable. I’ve been playing it for 14 months now. There are arguments for and against its use but as I’m so experienced with the card it stays in plus gives me a huge 3 glory boost.
All this means the glory of the deck is 20 from cards but actually 21 when including the kill glory from Precise Use of Force. Now that’s good but it must go even higher! I’ll get to that part later but for a Grand Clash you need a really high glory differential to place well. Thorns bleed a lot of glory too so I have to play around that. The deck is also designed so I can switch-up objectives or ditch a few without loosing too much impact. Just never ditch Superior Tactician.
Also no Shortcut. I’m not a fan of it. Partly because my friend David wrote an article about Card Combos here. I don’t run objectives that solely rely on cards to have it scored. It’s not consistent enough, especially with a 22 card deck. Plus it could setup situations where you can score Shortcut at the cost of the swarming objectives. A case could be made to drop Martyred and cut down to 20 for the power deck but I wouldn’t advise it.
The gambit deck was designed to heavily support the swarming aspect of the deck with aggro to a little extent too. Drifting Advance, Sudden Appearance, Hidden Paths, Quick Advance and Confusion all contribute to swarming and hold objectives. Confusion deserves special mention, it’s a crucial card to the deck. This card allows you to easily score Ganging Up and Nowhere to Go. Have a fighter on an edge hex and get an adjacent enemy to fail their charge or push next to them etc. Confusion said enemy into an edge or corner hex. If done correctly you’ll only need 3 to 2 fighters to score those former objectives. Do it in an edge hex and you score Death Sentence too!
Originally I had Transfixing Stare but I dropped it. Rebound and Last Chance fill its role perfectly while also scoring Treacherous Foe. You ideally want a charged fighter as they’re easier to abuse compared to fighters with move tokens. Those 2 gambit ploys also work as useful defence cards. Fear the Robound, curse the Last Chance.
Endless Malice makes those crucial attacks all that more reliable. It is also a reaction and helps score Keep Them Guessing. Charge, miss/fail, play Endless Malice and make a new attack action. In the space of a single activation you’ve now achieved 2 requirements of Keep Them Guessing.
Maddening Cackle is my favourite card in the deck. Once again it’s a reaction but permanently uninspiring a fighter is huge. I run it to shutdown Mollog but it also hurts Stormsire and Ylthari by capping them at 1 damage with magic as well as hurting any other deck relying on key inspired fighters. It also combos great off of Rebound and Last Chance to eat the reaction window of cards like Lightning Assault. Credit goes to a chap I played at the Games Table in Norwich who used it on my Ylthari to neuter her, I’ve never forgotten about how effective that was.
Ready for Action is my 4th restricted card. It’s obviously strong and helps score Keep Them Guessing and Treacherous Foe. I also mainly use it to move over attacking. It gives me more positional power to setup swarming or assassination with the Briar Queen. Never underestimate the power of a free move.
My 11th card is Howling Vortex. Yes, I’m running a 22 card deck because it gives me enough tools to do everything I want. Plus I like 22 cards. It’s wholesome. Anyway Howling Vortex is my only gambit spell. It’s busted but kinda unreliable at 1 focus. Still when it goes off it’s like a super Great Concussion, an old favourite that I have endless experience with. It also helps set up swarming and inspiring while shutting down hold objective players.
The Upgrade deck is the aggro heart of the build with most of it supporting killing, after all I’ve gotta use that glory for something. Still I have stuff there to boost survivability. Acrobatic and Spectral Armour provide extra dodge bonuses. Faneway Crystal gives me more mobility and objective capturing power. Inescapable Vengeance allows the Queen crazy movement. The Formless Key provides me extra glory. Originally I had Tome of Glories but it’s not worth the waste of activations. I get more out of drawing a card or cycling an objective plus the Formless Key is very reliable.
Quickening Greaves deserves its own mention too. It’s basically one of the best upgrades in the game. The push after the final end phase pretty much guarantees the equipped fighter holding that objective. Makes Supremacy and OOWO super reliably along with the Formless Key. Helps the Queen teleport, charge then push onto objectives. Allows the Queen to setup inspiring and later game attacks. Super versatile upgrade.
Potion of Rage, Great Strength and Gloryseeker are all about that aggro goodness. Potion or Rage also is a reaction which helps with Treacherous Foe. Heroslayer is my favourite weapon. Reliable with Potion of Rage and Endless Malice. It also pretty much guarantees the use of Endless Malice to help score Treacherous Foe. Also surprisingly effective against trapped targets. Makes any Chainrasp a dangerous threat.
Finally there’s Tome of Offerings, my final restricted card. This is the cream of the crop and what makes the aggro side so efficient. Pays for itself after a single kill and combines nicely with Precise Use of Force. Generally put on the Queen but also used on the Ever-Hanged or any other applicable fighter. It really comes into its own against horde warbands and a few kills with it makes up for discarded objectives. Also pushes your glory difference up to beat ties in scored objectives. Tome of Offerings is what helps the deck score 20 glory on average with 24 being my peak.
This deck was the final version after multiple weeks of theory-crafting and a single practice game. I’ve rewritten the deck about 20 times, mostly making minor tweaks here and there.
The deck’s playstyle is swarming and true flex, it contains aspects of all playstyles in the game (aggro with the upgrades, hold objectives, control and magic with everything else). It’s a deck that’s very adaptable but relies heavily on the user’s decision making, match-up knowledge and positioning skills. The wrong action or movement can spell a disaster that turns into a chain reaction of doom.
The deck was also designed to play against the meta and peoples’ expectations. People assume Thorns players will sit back on objectives and then send in the Queen into assassinate people. I do that too but too a far lesser extent and actually rarely attack unless needed. This also plays against peoples’ expectations of me, the aggro king. I’m known for rushing in and wiping people out quickly. Once again it punishes the opposing player for being too presumtious.
Once again this deck is not easy to pilot but once you master it, this thing is almost unbeatable. I also built it to play to my needs. I have a good knowledge of all the game’s playstyles and what each warband wants to do. It takes all my experience and skills but it is very enjoyable to play despite how draining it is on the user. Even opponents generally have a good time against it!
So how did the deck do then? Well tune in for my next 2 articles where I go over how the deck performed at 2 store tournaments and finally the Scottish Grand Clash at Tabletop Scotland 2019. Keep your eyes open and your crits warm.