This article will detail Nagash, a powerful hero belonging to the Grand Alliance Death who can be used in any army from that alliance. We will start from its lore, going into detail of its rules and seeing its usefulness in the armies it belongs to.
For a complete run-down of the different armies available in Age of Sigmar, consult our Age of Sigmar army overview article.
In this article we will refer often to Matched Play and other technical terms like allegiance abilities, command points, army roles in building a list, core battalions, Endless Spells/Invocations, etc. We assume the reader will be knowledgeable with those terms, otherwise please refer to the relevant guides for more details.
Overview and Lore of Nagash, the Great Necromancer
Nagash, the Great Necromancer, is the God of all dead and undead, the most powerful being in Shyish, the Realm of Death. But he once was a mortal whose story predates the Mortal Realms and starts in the World-That-Was in the long forgotten kingdom of Khemri.
He became a god way before the forces of Chaos destroyed the Old Warhammer World, having studied the death energies for centuries culminating with the creation of the first vampires and their bloodlust. After the Mortal Realms took form on the ashes of the World-That-Was, he was found by Sigmar entrapped in Shyish. Once freed, he joined Sigmar’s pantheon, assumed control of the Realm of Death and collaborated with the other gods to restore order and civilization to the Mortal Realms in what was the golden era of the Age of Myth.
When Chaos found his way even in the new world, the pantheon split, each god trying to save its own realm. Nagash initially sided with Sigmar against Chaos, but eventually abandoned him. It was in vain, as Archaon would then reach Shyish and defeat Nagash forcing his soul to escape and wait to be reformed. It was not the first time Nagash body was destroyed, and would not be the last.
When Sigmar reopened the doors of Azyr and started the Realmgate Wars to reclaim the land now devastated by the Chaos forces, Nagash took the opportunity to return back to Shyish and consolidate his power. He architected a plan to collect all death energies under his control to then dominate all Mortal Realms and defeat all Chaos forces (and all living beings) at once. Unfortunately, not for the first time, the Skaven disrupted his plans and the ritual went sour. The resulting energies formed the Necroquake that allowed magic to maintain shape and roam wildly across the realms.
The war for souls that Nagash fought against Sigmar and the other gods, ended in a climatic battle against Teclis in Hysh, the Realm of Light, where only the tempestive intervention of Teclis’s allies saved the world. Nagash body was once again disintegrated and he is now recovering in the Realm of Death waiting for his next opportunity.
Rules for Nagash, the Great Necromancer
Nagash is a powerful wizard, even greater than Teclis by some accounts. In game this is reflected by the ability to cast and unbind 8 spells per phase at full health.
Being a monster, he has a damage table that provides decreasing efficacy of some abilities depending on how many wounds have been allocated to this model. At full health he can cast 8 spells with a straight +3 to the cast/unbind roll (good upgrade from previous version).
In addition, he knows all spells of the faction that he has been added to and can unbind or dispel as many times as he wants. So, for example, when in a Nighthaunt army he knows all spells of the Lore of the Underworlds.
He has two signature spells, including the most iconic and dreaded Hand of Dust. This spell, once cast, is played by taking a dice and hiding it in one’s hand (or behind a container). The opponent then has to to guess which hand or container contains the dice. If he is correct, nothing happens, if the dice is not there, the selected model is outright slain. There’s only few things that are immune from this, like Morathi-Khaine or Gotrek Gurnisson.
The other spell, Soul Stealer, is a damage dealer, able to heal back some wounds to Nagash at the same time. It is more reliable than in its previous iteration.
Nagash is also a Warmaster, meaning that he can be used in any Nighthaunt, Flesh-Eater Courts, Soulblight Gravelords and Ossiarch Bonereapers army without breaking the army coherency rule but also without taking advantage of their allegiance abilities. He counts as a general when fielded in those armies even if he is not picked as the main one. He knows all spells from those armies, but that is the only thing he can use from those allegiances.
Until now we discussed a great wizard, but how does he fit in the Death armies? He has three main abilities, the first one Invocation of Nagash changed a bit. Now, you have a range (decreasing the more damage he takes, starting at 24″), where he can heal all units with specific keywords, in particular Summonable (most non-hero Nighthaunt units and core Soulblight troops), Mordant (most Flesh-Eater Courts except the top hierarchy) and Ossiarch Bonereapers (the entire army). The healing is either 3 wounds straight, or if no wounds are allocated, models can be brought back as long as their combined wounds is 3 or less. So, for example, a Kavalos Deathrider or 3 Chainrasp/Skeletons.
It is a much easier ability to use than its previous verbiage, can heal back Ossiarch heroes and has a potential huge range of units that can be healed/restored. In addition, each hero phase he has a chance to bring back half a unit that was destroyed (following the same keywords as above but with a 3 wounds base characteristic as a limit). This is in addition to the other ways these armies have to bring back units, greatly increasing the wave of undead coming back each turn.
The ward changed as well, it is now a 5+ straight ward against any type of wound to himself and any unit within 12″. It’s a short bubble, but is a great ward to have.
In combat, he lost the missile attack, but has a new combat profile, not as strong as the previous one, but it does not deteriorate anymore. Still, even with the universal command ability All-out Attack, and the heroic action Their Finest Hour, he still does much less damage than a slightly buffed unit of 5 Skaven Plague Censer Bearers (that cost less than a tenth).
As a Hero and a Monster, Nagash has access to both heroic actions and monstrous charges. For more information please consult our guide.
Nagash role in Death armies and verdict
Let’s address the elephant in the room immediately. Nagash is a powerful wizard, in melee opportunely buffed can do some damage but you take him not for that but mostly to support your units and his incredible magic potential (from mortal wounds to various buffs/debuffs depending in the army he joins). However it also costs half of your army (as of May 2023) and it does not punch for that value.
His ward and healing abilities now benefit every single army, but synergies end there. The 5+ ward is juicy, and if you want to risk Nagash on the front lines (he can get 2+ save/5+ ward easily) he can protect several type of units.
All the negatives we had about using Nagash earlier like the low synergies with Flesh-Eater (he can now heal them) or Ossiarch (no command points generated) are now gone. And being able to bring back a destroyed unit in any army in addition to the existing mechanics for those armies, favour the use of hordes (that is the only thing you can afford when you have a single ~1000 points model on the table).
Flesh-Eater Courts still need to receive a new battletome (scheduled for winter 2023), so we will see what other things he can do then, but for now the major drawback is that he is a single model and if you can afford to build an army around him (you will be extremely limited in the amount of other heroes that you can add in a 2000 point list), he can definitely scare many opponents, but he suffers mortal wounds as most heroes.
Of the armies he can be used in, Nighthaunt has the best lore and Soulblight seems to be the one where he feels more at home, but if you are playing with friends, he could be lots of fun. In competitive play, he could still struggle to see use.
If you are interested in the competitive standpoint, when we talk about statistics, a tremendous effort is done by Rob from the Honest Wargamer, Ziggy and Tsports Network! in the AoS Stat Centre with precious information, constantly kept up to date.
Really good informative material is also collected by Dan from AoS Shorts.