Sunday 12 May 2013

Lores of Magic: The Lore of High Magic

Well, the High Elf book has been replaced and this includes a substantially different Lore of High Magic. People are likely to see a lot of High Elves in the coming months, so I figure it's a good time to have a look at this new Lore of Magic.

Lores of Magic: The Lore of High Magic
High Magic remains solely in the control of High Elves, despite the fact that Slann have been able to use it in previous editions. Of course, rumours suggest that the next book we will see is Lizardmen, so maybe that's about to change as well...

As a general rule, bear in mind that High Elf Mages who choose High Magic add +1 to their casting rolls. So the spells are slightly easier to cast (and harder to dispel) than they might otherwise be.

What does it do?
The Lore Attribute for High Magic is Shield of Saphery. Previously this was a spell in its own right, but now it rides on the coat-tails of all the other spells in the Lore, freeing up space for other things. Whenever a spell from this Lore is successfully cast, the caster and his unit have their Ward save improved by +1 for one full turn. If they didn't have a Ward save to begin with, they will get a 6+ (which will then start improving if they keep casting spells, as the effects stack to a maximum of 3+).

As far as Lore Attributes go, Shield of Saphery is a pretty good one. It's slightly inflexible in that it can only affect the caster's unit, however players are likely to take this into account when they're equipping and placing their mages. It also seems like a pretty simple spell effect, however the High Elves seem to have a fondness for Ward Saves in the current book, and it means the final result will be pretty varied. Dragon Princes will immediately improve to a 5+ Ward courtesy of the Dragon Armour. Swordmasters will have a 5+ against mundane shooting because of their magically enhanced fly-swat swords. The obvious one is Phoenix Guard, who start with a 4+ Ward anyway, so they will immediately improve to the maximum save of 3+, which is rather formidable. At least there won't be many Parry saves to worry about, as Nobles and Princes are about the only models in the army that may find themselves fighting with a hand weapon and shield.

Wanting to put a Mage in the front line in order to make use of Shield of Saphery may seem risky, however players will probably start buying their mages decent Ward saves to begin with, confident that they will get the odd spell through and quickly improve the Mage's survivability as they do so.

Unlike other Lores of Magic, High Magic gets two Signature Spells. Mages using the Lore can swap spells for either or both of these Signature Spells, if they so wish. This makes them rather flexible, as the effects of the spells are rather different.

The first Signature Spell is Drain Magic. Every time High Magic gets revised, this spell does something wildly different. In this particular iteration, Drain Magic can be cast either as an augment or hex spell (whichever is convenient), and targets a unit within 18”. It immediately ends any Remains in Play spells that are affecting the unit (remember that this could be a spell that is affecting other units as well – it will still be ended). In addition, the effects of any other spells on the unit are also negated. So that means all of your “lasts one full turn”-style spells, of which there are a great many in this edition. Unlike Remains in Play spells however, Drain Magic doesn't actually end these spells. It just stops the spell from having any effect on the target (so if it's a spell with an area effect such as boosted Soul Blight, it will continue to affect all other units as normal). Drain Magic can be boosted, in which case its casting value goes from a 7+ to a 14+, but it will affect all units within 18” (friend and foe alike).

Being able to dispel a Remains in Play spell is nothing special, and it's probably unlikely that Drain Magic will be used for this specific purpose. By the time you can cast Drain Magic, you are just as easily able to use your power dice to dispel the spell using conventional means. Granted, 7+ may be cheaper than the casting cost of the spell in play (Transformation of Kadon, anyone?), but Drain Magic can itself be dispelled. It is more likely that the boosted version of the spell might be used, if your opponent has managed to get off a number of Remains in Play spells all at once (in which case, what the hell have you been doing with your dispel dice, man? Play better...)

The real use of Drain Magic lies in its other effect. There are an enormous number of spells that do not Remain in Play, but have lingering effects upon units, whether they are augments or hexes. They are everywhere. Some of them are enormously powerful, like Okkam's Mindrazor. Some of them are crippling, like Ash Storm. You can't do much about the impact of these spells in your opponent's turn, but you can turn the tables on him in your turn with Drain Magic. The tactic of casting spells to dissuade the High Elf player from charging will become highly risky if he has this spell up his sleeve.

In all, Drain Magic is a very useful spell, but it's very reactive rather than proactive. You can't cast it in advance to prevent spell effects – you can only cancel something that's already there. Whether people will choose it over the other Signature Spell – well, we shall see.

The second Signature Spell is Soul Quench. It's the old Fury of Khaine, returning in an updated form. The spell is a magic missile with an 18” range, and it does 2D6 Strength 4 hits. It's cast on an 8+, however if you boost the spell to a 16+, it instead inflicts 4D6 hits.

Soul Quench is not a complicated spell, but that doesn't hurt its effectiveness. The base level of the spell is a pretty typical magic missile, however the boosted version means you've effectively just hit the target twice with the same spell. 4D6 Strength 4 hits is an absolute pummelling for a lot of units. There's not much to say about it. For a Signature Spell it's incredibly dangerous. It's not quite as flexible as Fireball, as the range of the spell is always 18”. Still, once you're in range the spell hits very hard. When you consider that it's possible for more than one Mage to be waving this thing around, a big roll on the winds of magic will have nearly any unit looking rather nervous.

So, we've finally made it out of the Signature Spells. The first “normal” spell in the Lore is Apotheosis. It's an augment spell with an 18” range, cast on a 5+. The target model regains 1 wound lost earlier in the game. You can boost it to heal D3 wounds on the target instead, but this doubles the casting value to 10+. Being able to heal models is always useful, especially in an army with some pretty substantial monsters up its sleeve. Star Dragons and Frostheart Phoenixes are tough enough without them healing the wounds you worked so hard to inflict upon them.
The High Elves have a number of big toys that opponents will not want you healing.
The spell has an additional effect – whether or not you healed a wound on the target, it causes Fear for one full turn. This means that you can actually target an unwounded model if you really just want this secondary effect. It's cute, and your opponent may well not care about it, but then there is the Shield of Saphery Lore Attribute to think about as well.

Next we have Hand of Glory. It's an augment spell that boosts one of the target's Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Initiative or Movement by D3. It has a range of 18” and is cast on a 5+, however for 10+ you can instead improve all 4 stats by the D3 roll.

This spell is effectively the opposite of Melkoth's Mystifying Miasma in the Lore of Shadow – you boost your own unit instead of slowing down your opponent's. Which approach is superior really depends upon the situation. If you have one unit fighting 2 enemy units, bolstering your own will impact both enemies at once. However, adding D3 to High Elf Weapon Skill is potentially not as good as lowering enemies by D3 – if you want to make them hit on 5+ it's easier to do it by dropping the enemy than boosting your own stuff.

The benefits of boosting Ballistic Skill in the High Elf army are a bit questionable. As a rule their ability to hit is not what slows them down – they need help wounding rather than hitting. Still, if you had a large unit of Maiden Guard or even Archers, you might find them shooting like Tomb King Skeletons – “through the window, down the hall, under the table, nothing but target!” (stupid Asp Arrows). That might come in handy sometimes, provided your firing unit is big enough to be worth the effort.

When it comes down to it, Hand of Glory is not an immensely powerful spell. It will shift things subtly in your favour rather than destroying the enemy in its own right. However, due to its limitations it is also very cheap to cast. Once again Shield of Saphery becomes half your opponent's concern when you throw the odd dice at the spell.

The next spell is Walk Between Worlds. It's an augment spell with a 24” range, cast on an 8+. An unengaged friendly unit becomes Ethereal until the end of the phase and immediately moves up to 10”. You can boost the spell to 16+, in which case the target can move up to 20” instead.

For those who are not familiar with the rule, Ethereal lets you move through all sorts of terrain (even impassable terrain) without penalty, however it doesn't let you move through units. It also makes you immune to non-magical attacks, however given that the effect ends almost immediately, this is only really likely to come into play against Orcs and Goblins, where Fanatics and Mangler Squigs will suddenly find themselves in real danger of being stomped upon without doing damage in return.

So, Walk Between Worlds gives you a free move for one unit. It can't charge, but potentially moving up to 20” is a very significant re-deployment. It could easily put the target in the enemy's flank, or so close to them that they can't possibly escape a charge the following turn. There will normally be a good enough target for such a spell that your opponent will not want it to go off.

Next we have Tempest. Cast for 12+, it's a direct damage spell with a range of 30”. The spell uses the large blast marker, which then scatters D6” after being placed. Anything touched by the template takes a Strength 3 hit, although things that Fly take a Strength 4 hit instead. In addition, units that take unsaved wounds from the spell are at -1 to hit for combat and shooting for one full turn. Things that shoot without a Ballistic Skill need to roll a 4+ to fire.

This is the sort of spell where there will be good targets and bad targets. Strength 3 hits are not terribly intimidating for some enemies, and there are units that will shrug it off entirely. But really, that's not the main effect of the spell. You're not trying to wipe enemies out – you're trying to give them a penalty to hit. You can't cast it into combat (not intentionally, anyway), but you can target enemies that are about to charge and hope to wound them in order to give them -1 to hit. If the unit is a decent size, you should at least partially hit it, and hopefully at least 1 wound is a given.

The wording of the spell means you can deliberately try to hit 2 targets at once and penalise them both. Whether this is 2 combat units lining you up, or the enemy gun line where 2 units of missile troops are side-by-side, the size of the template may make it possible. In all however, Tempest is probably not the best value, nor the most threatening spell in the Lore of High Magic.

Getting toward the pointy end of the Lore, we have Arcane Unforging. Cast on a 13+, it's a direct damage spell with a 24” range that targets a single enemy model, even in a unit. The target takes an armour save and suffers a wound if it's passed (like Metalshifting on spells from the Lore of Metal, effectively), with only ward saves to protect it. Regardless of whether the wound is inflicted, the target must then reveal all of his magic items. One is randomly selected and destroyed on a 2+. Items that have been used up already don't count and can't be randomly selected.

So here we have the replacement for Vaul's Unmaking. It's nowhere near as reliable as the old spell, however it does have the added bonus of trying to knock wounds off the target. The 2+ to destroy an item is fairly reliable, however choosing the item in the first place could be an issue. With cheap and cheerful items like the Dragonbane Gem and Charmed Shield kicking about, many characters end up with several at their disposal. Getting through to the one that matters could be pot luck. The exception is the enemy BSB, where a magic banner is generally alone on the character and should be easily exposed. Whether you can target a unit's magic standard – who knows?

And finally we have Fiery Convocation (or in the terms of the last book, Flames of the Phoenix). It's a direct damage spell with a range of 24” and the hefty casting value of 19+. Every model in the target unit suffers a Strength 4 Flaming hit. The spell then Remains in Play, and will continue to inflict a hit on every model in the unit at the end of each subsequent magic phase.

Spells that hit every model in the unit are nasty, especially if they're going to find targets to burn on a 3+ (large Toughness 3 units will live in fear of Fiery Convocation). The real teeth to this spell however, is the casting value. 19+ is an expensive spell to cast. It's also very expensive to dispel, and given that it's the base casting value of the spell, it will remain hard to dispel once it's in place. Your opponent will need 5 or 6 dice to reasonably reliably get rid of Fiery Convocation, so provided you didn't maim the target so badly he's already written it off, he will waste a fair chunk of his next magic phase trying to dispel it.

How will it be used?

High Magic offers a good all-round set of spells to the player. There are 2 good offensive spells, augments, and the ability to heal models and move units. It lacks the “killer” spells of some of the Lores in the rulebook, but something tells me those are going to get trimmed back when 9th edition comes around, given that we're not seeing their like in the books that will live beyond the change of edition. The Lore also lacks punch beyond Strength 4 – heavily armoured and high toughness units can shrug off the worst of the damage and the High Elf player will be left to use other means to deal with them.
With more character options like the Loremaster, some High Elf players may not opt for an Archmage at all.
The real question for this Lore will be whether players want to use it with their Archmage character (if they even choose one with so many Lord options in the new book). It's definitely a good choice for lesser Mages, with 2 useful Signature Spells and a handy Lore Attribute to boot. For the more powerful Archmage, the Lore offers a lot of flexibility, but lacks some of the more game-changing power spells from the Colleges of Magic. Given that the High Elves have access to all such Lores, the decision may be difficult. It may come down to exactly what the player is looking for from his magic, and if he doesn't have a particular strength in mind, High Magic seems like a pretty good option.


  1. Thanks for that, valuable write-up

  2. Are you planning to write one of these for Lizardmen using the lore?

    1. I will need to do something. I will most likely update this article to reflect things from the Lizardman perspective.