Thursday, 15 September 2011

Lores of Magic: High Magic

I promised a while ago that I would go back and review the Lores of Magic contained in the various army books, as an accompaniment to the reviews Ive already done for the Lores in the rulebook. The main reason this is worthwhile is that often a mage has a choice between a race-specific Lore, or the generic ones on offer in the main rules. Over time I will cover every Lore in the game to give the reader an idea of how they stack up, and which Lore is best suited to a particular purpose.

Lores of Magic: High Magic
High Magic is used exclusively by High Elves. The Lore is contained within the High Elf army book, which was released under 7th edition, in November 2007. This makes it the 5th oldest book currently being used, so you can imagine that it wont be around forever. Regardless, the Lore is still active and thus we shall review it…

What does is do?
Being a Lore from a pre-8th edition army book, High Magic does not have a Lore Attribute. High Elf mages add +1 to dispel attempts, however this is a racial attribute rather than one inherently tied to High Magic. Another feature of the Lore which is symptomatic of those from older books is the consistently low casting values required for all spells, with no boosted versions available. This reflects the paradigm shift coming into 8th edition, where it has become easier to get more power dice, lower level mages can throw more dice at attempts, and wizard levels are added to the roll.

Mages who choose High Magic automatically get a bonus spell in Drain Magic. The spell lasts for 1 full turn and increases the required casting values of all spells by 3. This can be stacked with multiple castings from more than one mage, however this scenario is pretty unlikely a player is more likely to be using a range of Lores if they have more than one mage. This spell is of limited usefulness in 8th edition. Previously it would have come into its own in preventing races like Vampire Counts from spamming waves of single dice castings, but this tactic fell out of favour now that a failed casting ends the magic phase for the wizard in question. 

In reality, the spell will only impact an opponent who is trying to cast a number of spells by narrow margins, in which case he will really need to allow an extra die for each spell. It also makes those super spells (with boosted casting values above 20) that much harder to achieve, but with the threat of double 6s anyway, this will be less of a factor. A saving grace is that a casting value of 7+ means the spell can be achieved with a single leftover power die, and as a bonus that doesnt actually take up any of your spell slots, it might prove handy on occasion.

Shield of Saphery performs the role of the Signature Spell for High Magic. It gives a unit within 18” a 5+ Ward Save for a full turn. This is a handy spell anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a Daemon or Bretonnian player rolling a fiendish number of 5+ saves can tell you how important this can be. When you consider the relative fragility (and price) of some High Elf troops, its the sort of spell most Elf players will be happy to have. The casting cost of this spell is a mere 5+. Like Drain Magic, this means its an excellent candidate for a throwaway attempt with a single die, although having 2 spells that fit this category is not all that useful. More often the player will genuinely want to get Shield of Saphery off and through more than 1 die at it, as it will not only keep models alive; it could also see a losing combat become a winning one.
Another inherent trait in the practitioners of High Magic is the ability to balance upon preposterous piles of rock.
The usefulness of Curse of Arrow Attraction really depends upon the nature of your army. If you have considerable firepower from missile troops, this spell becomes quite potent. Most High Elf armies I see at the moment do not have much shooting at all, and for those armies the spell is utterly useless. It targets an enemy unit within 24”, and allows all shooting at the target to reroll failed hits that turn. Its great if youve got a battery of bolt throwers about to concentrate fire on an unfortunate target. If all you have is a handful or archers, you will get little mileage from the spell and your opponent probably wont even bother to dispel it. The subjectiveness of the spell is exacerbated by the fact that hitting is not the greatest weakness of elf archers they have good Ballistic Skill already. Unfortunately the arrows are still only Strength 3, which means theyre not going to fell real numbers of tough or armoured enemies, no matter how many times you hit. The casting value of Curse of Arrow Attraction is only 6+, however the weakness of the spell is not how hard it is to cast its that you often will not want the spell at all.

Courage of Aenarion is next cab off the rank. The spell makes all friendly units with 12” of the mage Stubborn for one full turn. How useful this spell is will also depend upon your army selection. A High Elf army that sets out to win combats is really rather good at doing so. There is very little that can out-fight a Horde of Swordmasters (so long as they still have good numbers), and White Lions are Stubborn anyway. Being Stubborn only becomes important when you are losing combat. Having said all this, in the new era of Steadfast, High Elves are generally too expensive to field in deeper formations than the enemy. This means that even units like Spearmen (who are by no means guaranteed to win every combat they find themselves in) will not necessarily enjoy the benefits of Steadfast. If youre planning on using Spearmen, Phoenix Guard, or anything else as a holding unit rather than an unstoppable combat machine, this spell could prove very useful. Courage of Aenarions casting value of 8+ is cheap, so in critical situations the question will not be whether you can cast it, but whether you can get it past your opponents magical defences.

Fury of Khaine is a solid magic missile, of the sort previously found in a whole range of Lores. It does 2D6 Strength 4 hits for a casting value of 8+. This sort of spell has always been ideal for wiping out small, pesky targets such as diverting fast cavalry or Mangler Squigs. There is nothing fancy about the spell, however this sort of solid damage potential is a useful inclusion in any Lore.

Flames of the Phoenix was one of the precursors to the current wave of super spells such as The Dwellers Below. For an 11+, the spell hits every model in the target unit at Strength 3. It remains in play, which means it can be dispelled. If it is not dispelled, it will do another wave of hits in the caster's the next turn, at Strength 4. The Strength keeps increasing until the spell is gone or the target is. I say the spell is akin to Dwellers, but in truth it will generally be far less dangerous. Only against Toughness 3, barely armoured, single-wound troops will Flames of the Phoenix do anything like the same amount of damage. However, against the right targets, the spell is about as effective. 

In essence, Flames of the Phoenix is an anti-Steadfast weapon. As a general rule, any troop cheap enough to be fielded en-masse will be vulnerable to hits from the spell, and you will get huge mileage from it when the target unit is 40-50 models or more. Targets like Skaven Slaves, Zombies, Empire State Troops, and even some more expensive but flimsy enemies such as other Elves will want nothing to do with this spell. Knocking half the models off your target unit will generally cripple it, or at the very least will reduce its effectiveness in its intended role (even if that role is to hold things up and eventually die).

Against armies that are comprised entirely of small units of tough troops (some Warriors of Chaos and Ogre Kingdoms armies are likely examples), you wont get much from Flames of the Phoenix. However, in most games there will be a worthwhile target, and its always fun to roll 50 dice at once.

The final spell in the High Magic set is Vauls Unmaking. This spell is the only one that is truly unique to the Lore in its effects. You choose an enemy unit within 24”, your opponent has to list all the magic items in that unit (if youre playing with open lists, you already know), and you destroy one. Its as simple as that. There is no rolling required once youve cast the spell.

Vauls Unmaking is an elegant solution to some of the magic items in the game that cause players the most grief. Items such as Pendant of Khaleth, Infernal Puppet, Book of Hoeth and the Drakenhof Banner are all examples that can dictate a game (to greater or lesser extents). The ability to remove such items from play is a huge asset. In the case of items like Infernal Puppet, you can even try to force the spell through on double 6s, safe in the knowledge that if you pull it off, your opponent wont be able to use it against you when determining the miscast result. Admittedly you may die anyway, but at least that will be your doing, instead of your opponents…

It should be noted that Vauls Unmaking cant destroy Virtues, Big Names, Vampiric Powers or (perhaps most significantly) Daemonic Gifts. Its not a solution to all your problems. It should also be noted that if youre playing with closed lists, you may not know what items your opponent has, nor which unit they lurk in. However, an educated guess (for instance targeting units harbouring the BSB or Lord characters) will put you in pretty good stead.

The casting value of 12+ is not a lot for such a useful spell, however its almost irrelevant. When the spell really matters, its likely that both players will be pouring dice into casting and stopping it, and the rolls will probably be well over 20 anyway.

How will it be used?
High Magic is a slightly difficult Lore to peg down. It has spells that a player may not want (Curse of Arrow Attraction and to a lesser extent, Courage of Aenarion), but then it has some very handy spells, including Vauls Unmaking, which is potentially one of the most useful spells in the game. 

As a whole the Lore lacks a bit of the potency of some of the Lores in the rulebook, which means it is probably not really enticing to Archmages; the player will probably want more bang for his buck, with the ability to throw boosted spells with a reasonable certainty of success thanks to the +4 casting bonus.

High Magic is more of a supporting Lore, then. The main mage in the army will take a Lore like Shadow or Life, whilst a secondary, lower-level mage takes up High Magic in support. The casting values are low, making them well suited to a mage who is only adding +2 to casting attempts, and to one who is potentially only going to get the dregs of the power pool. The Signature Spell is good, so you should be able to ensure your mage has at least one spell you would like to cast. And if you roll the right spells, the mage could be a serious menace in his own right.

There is a strong likelihood that a player would take a level 2 mage with an item like the Seerstaff of Saphery or the Silver Wand, allowing him to choose his spells, or at least a better chance of rolling what he is after. Picking and choosing from High Magic, you can almost certainly find 2 or 3 spells that your opponent will wish you didnt have. Combined with the Banner of Sorcery (an apparent must-have in all High Elf armies nowadays), there should be enough power dice for you to threaten to use the spells after the Archmage has had his say.

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