Monday, 2 July 2012

Lores of Magic: The Daemon Lore of Tzeentch

It's been quite a while since I reviewed a Lore of Magic, but there are plenty that we have not yet looked at. Today we will start looking at those found in the Daemons of Chaos book, starting with the Tzeentch.
What does it do?
Being an older Lore from a 7th edition army book, the Lore of Tzeentch does not possess a Lore Attribute. Therefore we can move straight onto the spells themselves. Again because the spells are pre-8th edition, none of them have boosted casting values. Keeps things simple, right?
Flickering Fire of Tzeentch is what serves as the Signature Spell in this Lore. It's a magic missile with an 18" range - not a great range, but adequate. As with many old spells, the casting value is very cheap - it requires a 4+. The damage from Flickering Fire is highly variable, however. It generates D6+1 hits, with a strength of D6+1 (the hits are flaming, as per the FAQ for the Daemon book). This means it has the potential to deliver a pitiful 2 strength 2 hits, or 7 hits at a frightening strength of 7.
In other words, it could do nothing, or bring down a large target with a single blast. This sort of unpredictability tends to make the spell a nightmare for opponents when it comes to dispelling. Do you rely upon the player rolling poorly on at least one of the dice, or do you stop it on the off chance that the spell is going to hit with brutal force? The decision gets harder when the target is something relatively vulnerable, like a chariot - where you only need a decent roll on each dice to threaten it. A light chariot, Eagle or fast cavalry unit won't appreciate an average roll of 4-5 hits at strength 4-5.
The low casting value, coupled with the ability to get multiple copies (thanks to its being the Signature Spell and the first spell each unit of Horrors receives) means it's quite possible to throw several attempts of Flickering Fire each turn - further compounding the misery of your opponent as he tries to decide what to dispel.
In short, Flickering Fire is a decent spell which is well worth the casting cost. It's not a reliable way to do damage, but it has great potential if the dice are on your side.
Boon of Tzeentch is a slightly strange spell. Its casting level is preposterously cheap, on a 3+. However, it will only be of real use to certain models. The spell generates D3+1 power dice for the caster - but only for him. This means that a level 2 wizard will have only 1 other spell in which to "invest" these newly gathered dice. If that other spell happens to be something like Bolt of Change, you're in luck - people will be falling over themselves to prevent you gathering bonus dice to throw at the spell. However, if all you're going to do is power up an attempt at Flickering Fire, they could probably not care less.
The casting value of 3+ is also a bit misleading. A spell that cheap can easily be cast with a single dice, however there is a very real risk that you will roll a 1 or 2, and the spell will fail automatically (regardless of the low casting cost). That wasn't the end of the world in 7th edition - you could just write the dice off and move on. However, in 8th edition the wizard will lose the opportunity to cast his remaining spells due to the failed casting. So you can't just casually toss a dice at a chance to get between one and three bonus dice - not without taking a risk. Throw more than one or two dice at the spell, and your opponent will just let it through - so it's really all about the single dice attempt. With a decent spell backing it up, there is a high risk vs high reward equation. So, do you feel lucky, punk?
The next spell is Glean Magic. The caster targets an enemy wizard he can see, and then steals one of the target's spells and casts it as his own. Glean Magic can be dispelled, but the stolen spell cannot - it automatically goes off at its base casting level. Obviously, the usefulness of this spell depends upon what the caster can see. If he has an enemy wizard with powerful spells in his sights, your opponent will be very worried by the damage you can do. On the other hand, a Dwarf player will probably laugh at you when you roll up the spell (if he is unkind).
The casting level of Glean Magic might be seen to be largely irrelevant at 7+. It will commonly come into play when a lethal spell like The Dwellers Below is being targeted, and hence both players will be throwing everything at their disposal. The low casting value is most likely to matter when the caster goes through his phase casting other spells, deliberately holding a single dice back at the end. Does your opponent dare spend most of his dispel dice on the earlier spells, knowing that with a single dice you could pilfer his copy of Purple Sun of Xereus and butcher half his army? In situations like that, you don't even have to cast Glean Magic successfully - just having the ability to cast it will give your opponent issues, and see dispel dice being hoarded just in case.
A Lord of Change - greatest practitioner of the Lore of Tzeentch
In many ways, Glean Magic can offer a lot of flexibility to your army. There are limits to what the spells from a single Lore can offer, but when you have your opponent's spells on offer as well, you potentially double your options.
Gift of Chaos is an area affect spell. It hits all enemy units within 12" and inflicts D6 strength D6 hits - even in combat. The strengths and weaknesses of this spell are similar to Flickering Fire - the spell has the potential to be harmful, but it is by no means guaranteed. Unlike Flickering Fire however, Gift of Chaos doesn't boost each roll by 1. So the worst case, best case and average scenarios are all less impressive.
With a limited range and pretty moderate threat level to targets, Gift of Chaos will often feel like an underwhelming option. If you're only going to hit a few units, your opponent will most likely accept that each unit will cop a few hits at moderate strength and move on. As with most things however, there will be times when the spell comes into its own. If your forces are tangled up with a dozen small targets, with diverters and harassing units abounding, Gift of Chaos has the potential to clear the lines a bit. Even though on average the spell is only doing 3-4 strength 3-4 hits, if you get enough chances to roll then you're going to hurt something and your opponent will know it.
It will never be worth throwing a lot of dice at the spell, but a casting level of 9+ can be achieved with a minimum of fuss. Then your opponent has to decide whether to give you the chance to roll well and cream his more vulnerable targets (and potentially mess up combats that had previously been under control), or if it's best to stop it and let other stuff through.
The second last spell in the Lore of Tzeentch is Bolt of Change. In 7th edition, before spells like The Dwellers Below and Okkam's Mindrazor began to hog the limelight, Bolt of Change was one of the most feared spells in the game. If you're a character on a Dragon (or some other "vulnerable" target), it's still one of the most terrifying spells around. It's an 18" magic missile, which once again does a random number of random strength hits. However, this time we're talking 2D6 hits and strength D6+4. That's an average of 7 hits at strength 7 or 8. That is dangerous, to say the least. No single model or small unit wants to cop that sort of punishment. Anyone whose general has borne the brunt of 11 strength 10 hits (yes, I've seen it happen - that poor Dragon) will tell you that Bolt of Change is a terrifying spell.
The great strength of Bolt of Change is that for many targets, it effectively eliminates one of the random rolls. Where Flickering Fire can hit at strength 2, Bolt will hammer in at strength 5 at least. You can still roll a miserable 2 hits (disappointing as that would be), but the odds are stacked toward something more favourable.
There will always be a target that can't afford to be hit by Bolt of Change. So long as you have this spell, it will be top of your opponent's list of "things that must not happen". The casting value is a 12+, but expect the dice on both sides to be totalling more than 20 most of the time where this spell is involved - it's far too exciting or terrifying (depending on who you are) to expect to see anything less.
The final spell in the Lore is Tzeentch's Firestorm. After the apocalyptic potential of the previous spell, this one feels like a bit of a let-down. It's a 24" magic missile which inflicts 2D6 flaming hits at strength 5. Additionally, each 3 unsaved wounds inflicted results in a Horror being created in a new unit near the target (so it will be a unit of between 1 and 4 Horrors, assuming you do at least 3 wounds).
So then, this spell has 2 main uses. The first is to cull or wipe out enemy units, which it is reasonably adept at. The spell will most likely claim light targets with a single shot. It also does enough damage to cause a panic test on a moderate-sized unit, should you find a suitable target outside of the enemy's bubble of reliability (within range of the BSB and general).
The second purpose of the spell is to create at least one Horror, with which to mess with your opponent's charges or movement. The Horror will most likely lead a short and eventful life, and will yield 50 victory points at the end of it. However, the ability to intercept an impending charge and delay it for a turn can potentially be game-changing. This is where Tzeentch's Firestorm has an advantage over Bolt of Change - it won't do as much damage, but it will do some damage. And many opponents are more likely to let this spell through in order to save dice for the other one. In the right situation, it could prove their undoing.
How will it be used?
Heralds of Tzeentch are the only ones in the army that can be upgraded to level 2 wizards - in fact they come with the upgrade. They are the designated spell-casters in the army, and only an upgraded Greater Daemon offers more firepower in the magic phase. However, you rarely see the Lore of Tzeentch used. This is due to the obvious advantages offered by the Daemonic Gift, Master of Sorcery. It doesn't really matter whether the spells in the Lore are handy when you can spend 25 points and not only gain access to one of eight new Lores, but also know all the spells in it thanks to Loremaster. This is an incredibly powerful ability, and one that will doubtless be changed when the book gets a revision.
You most frequently see the Lore of Tzeentch being used by units of Horrors - the one place where the player has no choice in the matter. Often you're talking about minimum units of 10 models, resulting in multiple copies of Flickering Fire being bandied about and little else. Players would happily cast Bolt of Change from the units, however to qualify for that spell there need to be at least 26 Horrors in the unit, and things start getting pretty expensive - especially when you want more than that, in order to prevent the enemy just shooting a couple and ruining your game plan.
Given the potential versatility offered by Glean Magic and the sheer threat potential of Bolt of Change, it is a little disappointing that we don't see the Lore being used more often. Unfortunately with a moderate Signature Spell and a couple of spells that could be better, it's best suited to characters who can pick and choose their spells - or who come with Loremaster. That means that apart from Horrors, the most likely character to choose the Lore of Tzeentch is a Lord of Change. A player taking the Greater Daemon and choosing not to get Master of Sorcery will not really be choosing a sub-par option - just a less popular one.

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