How to build an army in Age of Sigmar can seem confusing and daunting for beginners. This guide will go through all information that you need to build your army in matched play in Age of Sigmar 3.0.
If you want to know more about the different ways to play Age of Sigmar (open, narrative and matched play) you can refer to our matched play article where we go in details on that stuff. That article also goes into details on exactly what “matched play” means. This guide is specific to matched play army building.
A note on rules in Age of Sigmar 3.0: In this and other articles, we take an in-depth look at how Age of Sigmar 3.0 is played. In doing this, we often refer to the Core Rules of the game. Those rules are available as a free download from the Age of Sigmar website here.
How Battlepacks function in Age of Sigmar 3.0
The first and more important thing to familiarise yourself with in Age of Sigmar 3.0 is the concept of the battlepack. You can consider a battlepack as a collection of rules to play Matched Play, providing you with information on which armies are legal to play, which special rules are applied, what terrain to use and, of course, battleplans (the missions you play each game).
In the Core Book for Age of Sigmar 3.0 you can find a simplified battlepack called Contest of Generals with 3 battleplans. But the most relevant for tournaments is Pitched Battles 2021 from the General’s Handbook 2021. This pack is what is used when people talk about playing “matched play games”.
The Pitched Battles 2021 Battlepack is currently set in Ghur, the Realm of Beasts with a set of rules that favour the use of Monsters (and especially heroes on monsters). It also contains 12 battleplans and allows for matches using 1000 or 2000 point limit armies.
Each model or unit in the game has a cost associated with it. This is called its points. You can find the points for your army either in the Pitched Battles Profiles booklet that comes with the General’s Handbook every year, or any battletome published after the General’s Handbook that year (in general around July, where points are updated for all previously published battletomes).
At the end of each battletome there is the Pitched Battle Profiles table that explain various things about your units (points cost, type of unit etc.). Be aware, however, that GW releases a document called an FAQ/errata that updates or clarifies anything in the book, including sometimes points, a few weeks after the publication of any book. Points are also updated towards the end of the year (December/January) through an FAQ. You can find all of them on the Warhammer Community website, so keep an eye on it there.
So sum it up: the Pitched Battle Battlepack is where all of the rules for Matched Play is currently located and what you will need to look at in order to build your army
Step-by-step: How to Build an Army in Age of Sigmar 3.0 for Matched Play
We are going to go into detail on everything further down below, but this is the quick rundown on how to build a legal list for Age of Sigmar 3.0 Matched play:
- Study the Battlepack to understand what is allowed and what is not
- Determine the points limit for the game (1000 vs 2000 points)
- Pick a faction and, if required, a subfaction
- Determine if you are using Core Battalions or not and which ones you are going to use
- Determine which battlefield roles you need and which you cannot exceed
- Choose units until you reach the point limit
- You can include Endless Spells or Invocations if your army has any available, as well Wizards or Priests to cast them
- You can reinforce your troops by paying reinforcement points
- Pay attention to filling the Core Battalions you want
- Pick Enchantments for your army and units
- Choose a Grand Strategy for your army
- Prepare a list of 5 Battle Tactics you think you will use in your match (this list is flexible, you can change it any time before the start of your hero phase and you cannot repeat battle tactics already used)
If you need some help to remember what to do each phase, there’s plenty of cheat sheets online, but this one is one of our favourites from Austin Weirdnobz.
If you want a digital tool to help you, you can use Warscroll Builder or the new app to build your list if you want
Pick your Faction
When selecting an army, you need to choose one of the main Age of Sigmar factions. All units need to belong to that faction, with some notable exceptions.
For example, some factions allow for allies or coalition units that can be added to your army while respecting certain conditions.
Each faction is associated with a Pitched Battle Profile that is a table usually located at the end of the battletome. It describes all units available, their size, point cost, role and notes.
The notes can contain conditional rules and explain how to integrate specific units. For example, “unique” means that unit can only be chosen once per army.
If you want more information about which factions are currently legal armies in Age of Sigmar 3.0, please refer to our Age of Sigmar Army Overview.
Units in Age of Sigmar have different Battlefield roles. How many units from each battlefield role you can take in an army can be limited by the battlepack of the points limit for your battle.
Battlefield roles can also provide bonus victory points in certain battleplans, therefore it’s important to familiarize yourself with them. You can find these roles in the Pitched Battle Profile of the faction (either in the generals handbook or the Battletome for your army, whichever is newest).
Let us go through each battlefield role one by one so you know what is what.
Leaders are the most important units in your army. They represent the commanders of your troops, able to issue commands, perform heroic actions, cast magic spells or invoke divine intervention.
All Leaders are Heroes, special units that, aside from the abilities mentioned above, can also be equipped with extra enhancements. Not all Heroes are Leaders, so be careful when picking them.
The hero phase is one of the phases of your turn where heroes can perform specific hero actions.
In a 1000 points game you need at least 1 Leader up to a maximum of 3, while in a 2000 points game you can have between 1 and 6.
Heroes can perform Heroic Actions, in addition to the other abilities they can perform. You do it in the hero phase and you can only do one heroic action. Here is the list:
- Heroic Leadership: a chance to get a command point only that hero can use.
- Heroic Willpower: one non-Wizard hero can attempt to dispel or unbind a spell for one phase like he was a wizard.
- Their Finest Hour: once per game improve save and wound rolls for one hero.
- Heroic Recovery: a chance to heal some wounds to a hero based on his Bravery characteristic.
Battleline units are the most common units present in an army and they represent the core of your army.
All units in Age of Sigmar 3.0 have to be taken in their minimum size, this is the number in the second column of the Pitched Battle Profiles of that faction. If they still have the old profile, ignore the maximum size value and use always the lower value.
Then, depending on the battlepack rules and the point size used, you can reinforce a few units. Reinforcement means doubling the minimum size. Only battlelines can triple their minimum size by using two reinforcement slots instead of one.
In a 1000 points game you need at least 2 battlelines (there’s no upper limit) and in a 2000 points game at least 3.
Up to 2 units (in 1000 points) or 4 units (in 2000 points) can be reinforced.
For example, if you have a unit of Chainrasp Horde (from the Nighthaunt faction), you can take them in blocks of 10 (minimum size), 20 (paying 1 reinforcement) or 30 (paying 2 reinforcements).
Glaivewraith Stalkers have a minimum size of 4, but they are not battleline, so they can be reinforced only once (to a maximum of 8 models).
A Black Coach has the battlefield role “Single“, which means it can never be reinforced.
There are also conditional roles, for example in Flesh-Eater Courts, Royal Terrorgheists and Royal Zombie Dragons can become battleline in a Gristlegore subfaction. If that happens, they lose any other battlefield role (Behemoth in this case) and they become the new role with all associated rules.
Behemoths and Artillery
Behemoths are unit so big and powerful that they can influence the game by themselves. In a 1000-point game they are limited to 2 (or 4 in a 2000 point game).
Behemoths can also be leaders; in that case you need to respect the maximum number allowed for either category at the same time.
Some Behemoths can have the monsters keyword, special units able to perform a Monstrous Rampage at the end of the charge phase. Note that not all monsters are behemoths.
Artillery units are special units that can shoot far and wide representing a threat to your opponent backline. They have the same limits as Behemoth units. Again, artillery is a role that can be in addition to existing roles and therefore all relevant limitations count.
For example, in Ossiarch Bonereapers the Mortek Crawler counts as Behemoth and Artillery, so each Crawler also takes a Behemoth spot.
Monsters can perform special abilities called Monstrous Rampages at the end of the Charge phase. Each action can be performed only once per phase therefore only up to 4 monsters can perform one at a time. Here is the current list:
- Roar: a chance to prevent an enemy unit to issue or receive orders in the following combat phase
- Stomp: a chance to do D3 mortal wounds to a unit
- Titanic Duel: + 1 to hit rolls against another Monster
- Smash to Rubble: a chance to demolish a terrain feature, disabling it’s scenery rules
Battalions are formations of specific units that provide access to additional abilities. Which ones to use is determined by the battlepack. Warscroll Battalions (the old formations used in Age of Sigmar 2.0) don’t have any pitched battle profile and point cost and are therefore not valid in Matched Play (it is also stated in the battlepack that they cannot be used).
You can now use Core Battalions, that are free and are a good way to group your units. For more information please refer to our guide on battalions here.
Subfactions in Age of Sigmar
Most factions have a battle trait (or set of rules) that specifies if you can (or must) choose a subfaction for your army. Each subfaction will represent a specific way to play the army or a thematic approach to it and will present its own set of allegiance abilities.
Subfactions can be a good way to choose how to play an army, in particular for armies with many models to choose from, where you don’t yet know which approach to follow. Also remember that subfactions may unlock conditional battlefield roles, for example expanding your list of potential battlelines.
For more details on subfactions you can refer to the individual army guides (will be published when new battletomes are released for armies in Age of Sigmar 3).
Wizards of all armies can summon powerful magic entities directly on the battlefield called Endless Spells. Priests have a similar concept called Invocations.
Those have a point cost associated that you have to pay in advance when building your army, but you will not summon them immediately. Instead you will be allowed to evoke them during your Hero phase. Beware that the enemy may be able to unbind, dispel or banish them or you could lose control of them if they go too far from your wizards.
You cannot include the same spell/invocation more than once in your army.
For more information you can look at our article for Endless Spells.
Enhancements and Triumphs in Age of Sigmar 3.0
Each faction has a set of enhancements available to choose from. Those can be of different types:
- Command traits
- Artefacts of power
- Spell lores
- Prayer scriptures
- Mount traits, triumphs
- Unique enhancements
These can be assigned to the appropriate units to improve their performance in battle.
Enhancements have to be picked after you choose the Core Battalions and at a minimum you can choose one of each type as described in your allegiance abilities. Battleplans or Battalions may allow you to pick some in addition.
Whenever you are able to choose a specific enhancement, if you are not forced by subfaction rules to choose a specific one, you can also pick from the Universal Enhancement list available in the Core Rules (section 27.5). Battlepacks may also add some extra enhancements to choose from.
Enhancements cannot be given to Unique units (except spells, prayers and wherever is noted otherwise) and the same enhancement cannot be given to multiple units. Allies cannot use enhancements either (but coalition units can).
Triumphs are special enhancements that you pick for your army but can use only if you have less points than your opponent. For example, in a 2000-point game, if your army is 1990 points and your opponent is 2000 sharp, you can use the triumph you selected.
We will soon have a guide explaining the different enhancements in more detail.
Grand Strategies and Battle Tactics in Age of Sigmar 3.0
The last part of building an army is to set your Grand Strategy. Pitched Battles 2021 provides you with a list of 8 strategies to choose from, and the battleplans will determine how many victory points you will achieve if you complete it at the end of the game.
Be aware that a Grand Strategy can also be used as a tiebreaker in case you and your opponent have the same victory points and battle strategies completed, so choose carefully.
For example, consider these two Grand Strategies: Vendetta can be achieved if your chosen general is still alive at the end of the game, and your opponent is not, while Prized Sorcery is achieved if any of your starting wizards is still alive by the end of the game.
To achieve Vendetta, can be risky as it requires to have a powerful and almost immortal general (read Morathi, Archaon, etc.), and your opponent to have a squishy one, while Prized Sorcery can be much easier if you have a good number of wizards in your army, say for example in a Tzeentch list.
On top of Grand Strategies, at the start of each of your hero phases, you need to select a different Battle Tactic. Pitched Battles 2021 provide 8 to choose from and some of them provide bonus victory points if they are achieved using a Monster.
Battle Tactics are even more important than Grand Strategies as they are used as a tiebreaker before Grand Strategies, and they can provide up to 15 victory points in certain battleplans.
You can use each tactic only once per game, so it’s important to choose carefully. For example Ferocious Advance requires 3 units to run in the same movement phase and to finish within 3″ of each other, but if you choose it later on in the game you may not have 3 units able to finish close to each other or it could prevent you from charging or shooting.
Sharing your army list with your opponent
Once your list is ready, be prepared to share it with your opponent before the match. In friendly matches at your local game store or between friends, ensure they are readable and include everything mentioned above.
You can use tools like Warscroll Builder from Warhammer Community website, or the Azyr app (soon to be replaced with a new app) to have a nicely formatted list.
Tournaments may dictate the way you write your list, as they need to easily be validated to ensure you are compliant with the rules and that your opponent can easily see what you are bringing to the table.
Another important tool you can use is AoS Reminders, that presents a nice list of all rules/abilities and whatsoever that you need to remember related to the army list you built.
Some useful tips and tricks for list building in Age of Sigmar 3.0
List building in itself is an exercise that many wargamers learn to love more than the game itself. A good strategy is to not only fill in the slots as described above but also to use troops that will be able to counter-attack your opponent.
The first thing to understand is that there is no single army that can win every single match effortlessly, and this is good for the balance of the game. If the rules in a new battletome gets exploited with some strategies Games Workshop hasn’t caught in the development of the book, an FAQ a few weeks after the book in question, or the half annually released points update, should correct the situation.
Even when you hear about a super competitive list or army, it is not necessarily the strongest thing you are going to encounter. So here we introduce the concept of meta. Meta is short for metagaming which can have different meanings, but in this context, we refer to the strategies (and armies) most adopted in the environment where you play. If you are just a group of friends at your local club that plays casually, you are most likely not going to see the top armies, therefore preparing to counter one of those, it may hinder you more than it helps you.
Tip number 1: know your meta, and prepare to face that, not potential threats you’ll never encounter.
And how do you prepare yourself for that? First you need to consider the role of the different units. Note that these terms are not referred to in your battletome, but many wargamers will refer to them. If you want to know which of your army units can occupy these roles, you will need to read the specific army guides or listen to relevant podcasts. For example The Honest Wargamer prepares periodically a Faction Reaction show worth your time.
The first concept is the anvil. This is a unit that can be placed on top of an objective and withstand what your enemy is going to throw at it without wavering too much. We are talking about units with high saves (2+ or 3+), high wounds, maybe the ability to re-roll failed save rolls and even an after-save ward. Those units are useful to maintain control of an objective.
The second type is the hammer. These are units that can deal a lot of damage. They are not necessarily resistant, hence they usually need to hit fast and first. They are useful for taking control of an objective by getting rid of any resistance encountered.
Another term that you are going to hear is that of a deathstar. This is a unit that can deal an absurd amount of damage if you apply the right buffs to it (via spells or command abilities), but it costs a lot of points and usually requires a lot of effort to create/maintain.
Their nemesis is what is commonly called chaff: inexpensive units to sacrifice strategically to opponent units delaying them from grabbing objectives. These can also be used to run towards an abandoned objective, increase the body count on one to alter the balance, and so on.
Almost every army has chaff, the other roles may not be available so easily. You need to learn the strength and weaknesses of your army and understand what you can use for different purposes.
Tip number 2: learn which roles your units can perform. You need objective grabbers, objective holders and units to delay the units you cannot cope with.
An important aspect of playing matched play is that it is an objective-based game with a currency, called victory points, that determines the winner. Usually who obtains more objectives at the end of the game is the winner but it is not always this way.
There are many ways to obtain victory points, from completing battle tactics or grand strategies, using monsters or defeating monsters (in the Pitched Battle 2021, you obtain 1 victory point every battle round you kill an enemy monster). Therefore:
Tip number 3: study the battleplan accurately and determine which objectives you can comfortably control and ignore the others. Obtain the remaining victory points in other ways. Also if you start second on the third battle round, you can remove an opponent objective.
The last two things to consider regard mobility and shooting. Being an objective based game, even with smaller sized boards, mobility is important to get where you need to be when you need it. Really slow deathstar units are not going to help you if your main objective is 36″ away and you keep being delayed by inexpensive troops.
Things that allow you to go faster or slow down the enemy are important, so consider which options you have available. Sometimes the answer is not necessarily in your army. For example Kharadron Overlords can use the Skaven Endless Spell Warp Lightning Vortex to stop units from running while the spell is active on the table.
Shooting is another important component because you can take care of key pieces from your opponent army while maintaining a safe distance. There are counter-measures, like Look Out, Sir rule that forces a -1 penalty when sniping a hero protected by other units, or Cover that allows a +1 save when on a terrain feature or faction based abilities like Idoneth Deepkin Forgotten Nightmares, that forces the shooting attacks always towards the nearest enemy unit.
However, be careful, shooting is still an important component, and the new command ability, Unleash Hell, allows a unit to shoot a nearby charging unit during their charge phase (so in the opponent turn).
Tip number 4: beware of shooting and try to screen your units efficiently. High mobile cheap units able to engage shooting units will delay their effort, and in the meantime, take cover and duck. What they can’t see, they can’t shoot.
Same concept can be applied to Magic. As magic is important, you need to see how you can cope with powerful wizards and if you can’t compete, invest somewhere else. Be ready to face what you are most likely to encounter (see tip 1, if all your friends have Teclis and Nagash, and you are playing Nighthaunt, don’t bother trying to insert too many wizards to counter them).
Tip number 5: build a list that can effectively complete a battle tactic each turn
A final note goes to the battle roles we discussed above. Many battleplans and battle strategies give you points tied to certain roles. The battle tactics will overall be the key to earning the most victory points. However, you can also concede points to your enemies by having those same roles defeated. Choose carefully and consider units without roles that can be sacrificed easily to avoid conceding points to your opponent. But don’t forget that monsters, in the Age of the Beast, are really important!
Overall, think about battle tactics that can be easy to complete with the units you take. Got a lot of units? Completing Ferocius Advance might be super easy on the first turn (run and finish within 3″ of each other with 3 units). Can you get 2 units of cheap deep strike units? Well, easy points form the Savage Spearhead tactic (have 2 units wholly within opponents deployment zone).
Other resources for building an Age of Sigmar army
If you need some inspiration for lists, AoS Shorts does an amazing job of collecting lists from all over the world with tournament results, while down at the The Honest Wargamer you can find list submissions created by other gamers.
Another important source of information for the reviewed factions can be found in Goonhammer, keep an eye there too as they do some amazing guides.
If you are a fan of statistics, you can compare your different weapon profiles using Statshammer tool.
Finally, if you want to try your super-duper list and how synergistic it is, from the same herokuapp you can also find an experimental List Analyzer and some other useful content.