Ian Plays Death: Fundamentals

Ian Plays Death: Fundamentals

Ian O'Brien

Hey Guys! Ian here, and today I'm going to be talking about my experiences with the new Legions of Nagash battletome. I've been spamming games with this book since it was released, mostly in a competitive testing environment, and I figured it was about time to commit some of my thoughts to virtual paper. I'm going to start this article series with an overview of what I think of Death as a faction, both pros and cons, so let's take a look at them!


  • Great Battleline
  • Great matchups against armies that want to scrap it out
  • Many ways to vary your army with barely any changes to its unit composition
  • Excellent at playing the objective game
  • Tactical flexibility via gravesites


  • Extremely vulnerable to shooting...
  • ...meaning that our worst matchups are some of the best armies in the game right now (Kharadron, Tzeentch, certain Stormcast)
  • Not a lot of viable units
  • Bad against high saves
  • Poor tiebreaker scoring
  • Turn rolls lead to even more extreme variance than they do for other armies

Lets go into these in a little more detail, shall we?


The Pros

These are the things that I think define Death as an army. They're the mechanical reasons why you would play them over another faction, the things that define their playstyle. Leveraging these things are generally the key to victory with Death. If these pros are things that you like in an army, there's a good chance that playing Death will suit you.


Great Battleline

I'll happily go on record as saying that Skeletons are one of the best battleline choices in the game when you factor in everything that they do. They are:

  • Cheap
  • 2" reach
  • Have enough weight of attacks to not be too worried by high saves or wound counts
  • Tough for their cost when you factor in Deathless Minions, very tough for their cost if they're fighting rendless "chaff killers" such as Putrid Blightkings or Witch Aelves
  • Mobile via Gravesites
  • Get to regenerate!

That isn't to say that they don't have downsides, of course. They can and do evaporate quicker than you can resurrect them without Inspiring Presence. They're slow if you don't buff them in specific ways or use Gravesites. But all things considered, cheap, fast, and tough enough for their cost makes them a great choice and the core of any good Death list.

Great Matchups against "Scrapping" Armies

Although "scrapping" armies - armies that primarily want to win by beating you in melee - are not necessarily the tier 1 of competitive AoS, they *do* make up the bulk of AoS armies that you will face on the tabletop outside of those lists. We're almost purpose built for that matchup - we have lots of bodies to outnumber on objectives, we have lots of debuffs to melee units and movement, we regenerate, and we love not having our characters shot at. I've had some absolutely horrendous games against melee armies, where I've made mistakes, rolled badly, been repeatedly double turned, etc, and still won because I held onto objectives with my many bony bodies.

Nurgle are currently very popular and we have a great matchup against them (we both attrition really well, but we have more bodies on the board and better debuffs), and Orruks and melee-based Stormcast lists are always popular which we have a great game against also. Never underestimate the importance of having good matchups versus the majority of "the pack" when it comes to winning events; your matchups on the top tables don't matter if you can't get there in the first place.

As an aside, GW do seem to be releasing more "anti shooting" tech into the game - see Plaguebearer -2 to shooting, and the Idoneth anti-shooting special rules - so we're potentially going to see more of a move away from shooting armies as they get pushed out of the meta. This is great for us in two ways; we dont care about people investing points into anti-shooting tech, and more people could be playing armies that we want to fight against. Good times!

Army Variation

This is a minor point, but the ability to vary your army without changing your units much is a very real benefit when buying and painting new models isn't always an option due to time or money.

For example, take this list:

  • Lords of Sacrament
  • Arkhan
  • 2 Necromancers
  • Mortis Engine
  • Deathmarch
  • Wight King
  • 40/10/10 Skeletons
  • 30 Grave Guard
  • 5 Black Knights

Playing this list, you can:

  1. Play Grand Host of Nagash. Make the Wight King your general, give him the +1 attack command trait, and give a Necromancer the Ossific Diadem. This provides you with the ability to give a skeleton unit +2 attacks, a second 6++ save, and grants you extra regen on your units.
  2. Play Legion of Sacrament. This gets you Arkhan's command ability, gives your important Wight King Bracers of Black Gold to protect versus shooting, gives one of your Necromancers the Shroud of Darkness to protect him against shooting also, and makes everyone better at spellcasting.

See what you've just done? You've just list tailored to a specific meta (Nagash versus a combat heavy meta, Sacrament versus a shooting heavy meta) without even changing a model!

Excellent at Objectives

AoS is, ultimately, and objective based game, and we play it very well. We have access to high model count, cheap, tough-for-their-points unit with a way to bring them back, we have Gravesites to enable us to threaten objectives anywhere on the board with units deployed from the grave, and we have debuffs to further enhance the survivability of our units against many armies. Not every army can do this well.


Gravesites are great. They should have been called Greatsites. Many people had concerns initially that they were too easy for your opponent to block, but in reality with good placement, your own units to interdict enemy movement, and the need for enemy units to often be places that are more important than sitting on a gravesite, they work really well.

You can use them to keep things safe from turn 1 shooting (Kharadron Overlords hate when you hide 30 Grave Guard from them), you can use them to deploy small objective holders in a reactionary way (great in Starstrike), you can use them to threaten opponent's backfield objectives (great in Knife to the Heart and many more), you can use them aggressively simply to get units further up the field. They do a lot!



The Cons

As with anything, though, there are also downsides to playing Death. Mitigating these weaknesses is an important part of being a good Death player, and if any of these weaknesses are things that you heavily dislike, then Death might not be a good fit for you.

Shooting Vulnerability

For a long time, shooting has been the best "thing" in Age of Sigmar. That's maybe starting to change as mentioned above, but for now, shooting is still very powerful, and this is not good for us. We're *highly* reliant on small, easy to snipe characters for our defining special rules - Deathless Minions, Summoning, and Gravesite activation, as well as our spells. We're also not a particularly fast army; though we do have tricks to mitigate this, we're not pushing massive threats into our opponent's faces early on (for the most part), meaning shooting armies can potentially pick us apart before we do enough. Add to this the fact that our debuffs all effect melee only (seriously GW, why?), our spells are all short range, and we have no real shooting of our own and it's a recipe for disaster.

Also, because we want our units to still be alive come our hero phase so that we can regenerate them, we dislike opponents having the ability to focus our units down one by one, and shooting armies are much better at this than melee armies.

This is a really bad thing overall when you consider that some of the best armies in the game right now are shooting armies. They are certainly winnable games, but we're not favoured in them, relying on a combination of luck and playing to your outs to take games in these situations. This will be the subject of a future article!

Not a lot of Viable Units

Most armies, when you really break them down, don't have a ton of viable units - there's almost always a few standouts that are better taken in multiples rather than taking a more varied force, if you're playing competitively (except if you're a Stormcast player.. that book is probably one of the most balanced, and awesome, ever to come out of GW!).

One of the disappointing things about the new Death book was how some units were nerfed, and how some bad units weren't fixed, leaving us with only a few truly good unit choices and a whole bunch of borderline stuff. In my opinion, the really great units in the book are:

  • Necromancer
  • Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon (and Vhordrai)
  • Skeletons

And then the "good enough" units:

  • Arkhan
  • Black Knights
  • Grave Guard
  • Dire Wolves
  • Morghasts
  • Zombie Dragon (but more on this hidden gem in a future article...)

While that might look like a long list, most good armies have a lot more than just 3 really great, defining units.

Everything else we have is either overcosted or doesn't do enough, but in some cases we still have to use to take fill some roles (Wight Kings come to mind). Which is a shame. At least we get plenty of variation from our Legions!

Bad against High Saves

To some extent, this is an artifact of our units that do have good rend not being that good, and our good units mostly being rend-less, but we also do lack rend in general. We're much better at weight of attacks, and though that is a reasonable substitute, excessively save-y armies like Stormcast can give us potential trouble in the killing department. Which leads me on to...

Poor Tiebreaker Scoring

We're an army that primarily wins via objectives. We're not necessarily good at killing things, and lacking shooting we're actively bad at catching that last one guy in a unit that runs away and denies us his kill points. I frequently win games bu huge VP margins, but only score 700-1000 kill points. This is bad in tournaments, and I don't yet have a good answer to this (but I'm working on it!)

Turn Roll Susceptibility

Turn rolls are something that is both loved and hated by Sigmar players, and I'm no different - I'm in the hate camp, personally. Death doubles down on this, though, due to Deathly Invocations. If enemies get a double turn, we can lose a whole unit before we ever get a chance to regenerate a model. If we get a double turn, a unit of 10 skeletons can be back to 40 before the opponent gets to do anything (I've done this to people more than once...).

Personally I'm not a fan of added variance, but your mileage may vary.



My overall take on Death at the moment, using Legions of Nagash, is that we're a solidly Tier 2 army. We are eminently capable of winning games, and we have plenty of strengths and weaknesses to exploit or be exploited. Our bad matchups versus the best armies in the game is the major thing that is holding us back right now.

With that said, please check back and join us for the next articles in the series where I'll be talking about various Death builds and how to get the most out of your army (including against those pesky shooty players). Death are a really exciting faction with a lot of unique play options, and I'm really looking forward to writing about them!




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