This article will describe in detail the Soulblight Gravelord army starting from its lore, describing the main units and their roles, how the army plays and finally our personal opinion of the army.
For a complete run-down of the different armies available in Age of Sigmar, consult our 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.
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Soulblight Gravelords is an army belonging to the Grand Alliance Death, reuniting the most iconic undead denizens of the Realm of Death: vampires, skeletons and zombies.
This army is the successor of the previous Legions of Nagash, a placeholder “soup” battletome that contained all Death units not gathered in other battletomes. It differs from Legions as a few units have been removed, some added and most received new sculpts, but the core and playstyle of the army remains really similar.
The new battletome has been introduced just before Age of Sigmar 3.0, but with AoS3 in mind making it a valid battletome with many options under the new ruleset.
The army has a bit for everyone, from elite cavalry to hordes of skeletons or zombies, but the most effective way to play is to rely on its hordes, both as sacrificial pieces and as your hammer/anvil.
The undead aristocracy has its origin in Nagash, the God of Undead. He once was just a mere mortal in the World-that-Was, but he has since mastered the powers of Death magic and achieved immortality. He was indeed struck down multiple times in his long career, only to return every time.
At the beginning of the Mortal Realms, in the Age of Myth, Nagash was imprisoned in a cairn, and Sigmar was the one that helped him escape. In exchange, the two agreed to collaborate to bring back civilization to the Mortal Realms. Nagash promptly started his conquest of Shyish, the Realm of Death, by absorbing all other death deities, on one side pretending to work with Sigmar’s pantheon, on the other plotting on his long term plans.
To start with, he resurrected his most trusted generals (called Mortarchs): Mannfred, Neferata, Arkhan and Ushoran. While Ushoran ended up with a degenerate curse shared by his progeny, the Flesh-Eater Courts, Mannfred and Neferata created their own lineages by giving the blood kiss to their most trusted servants.
Vampires are however creatures to not be trusted and internecine wars erupted immediately for control of the different underworlds. Nagash allowed everything that was not directly opposed to his own schemes, thus enabling the two Mortarchs to build their own kingdoms in Shysh.
During the Age of Chaos Nagash was killed by Archaon, the Everchosen, herald of the Chaos Gods and destroyer of worlds. Only thanks to his Mortarchs intervention, Nagash’s essence was preserved and he eventually came back in the Age of Sigmar heralding a new age for Death.
His long plan to invert the centre of death magic by transporting a single grain of sand at a time from the outside of the realm to the centre of Shyish, finally came to fruition when the construction of an inverted Black Pyramid was completed and a powerful ritual sent death magic across all realms to awaken undead beings.
Eventually an infiltration of Skaven denied him victory corrupting the Necroquake, but that was enough to awaken magic energies long asleep giving form to Endless Spells and other marvels.
More recently, Nagash tried to propagate the Necroquake by attacking simultaneously the realms of Life, Light and Metal. He sent his trusted advisors to complete the required rituals but they all failed one by one. Once he decided to intervene personally and invade Hysh, the Realm of Light, at a moment from victory, Teclis destroyed his mortal shape banishing his essence to Shyish, at least for a while.
This allowed the vampires more freedom from his control and the beginning of a civil war between Mannfred forces and Neferata’s.
Outside of the two legions directly controlled by Mannfred (Night) and Neferata (Blood), there are many other dynasties that came to pre-eminence. Of those the most important are the Kastelai, the Avengorii and the Vyrkos.
The Kastelai is a dynasty of martial-minded vampires led by Prince Vhordrai. He is a powerful and able commander, cursed by Nagash to never leave too far and too long his home, the Crimson Keep. It’s for this reason that he travels with his keep making it appear directly on the battlefield just in time for his cavalry of Blood Knights to pounce forward and obliterate anything in their wake.
The Avengorii were also once a knightly order more interested in fighting stronger opponents than feeding on weaklings like the humans. However they accepted the beast within and allowed the death energies emanated from the Necroquake to forever change their body in a monstrous aspect. They differ from the Flesh-Eater or other bestial vampires because they still maintain a delicate control over their own actions. From their home in Ghur they prefer to hunt Chaos and Destruction forces.
Not all vampires are direct descendants from the two Mortarchs. Legend says that Belladamma Volga bargained with the undead godbeast Hrunspuul receiving from him her powers (and curse) reflecting the most sacred of the animal-spirits she venerated: the wolf. It is so that the Vyrkos Dynasty was born and why they hold so dear the wolf as their symbol.
Be it a vampire or a human necromancer, any death lord couldn’t be called this way if he was not able to re-animate and command hordes of undead beings: from the lowliest zombies to the skeletons of long-dead champions.
Some were once powerful rulers and even in death they maintain control of their minions. Those wight kings are allowed to rule over vast territories in exchange for answering the calls to war of their masters.
But how does a Soulblight Gravelord army play on a tabletop? First let’s go through the main rules for this army.
The first thing you need to do is to choose a lineage. You have five to choose from:
- Legion of Blood (Neferata’s personal army, greater focus on Deathrattle units)
- Legion of Night (Mannfred’s minions, focus on ambush tactics)
- Vyrkos Dynasty (Belladamma’s children, with focus on magic and summonable units, in particular Dire Wolves)
- Kastelai Dynasty (Prince Vhordrai dynasty, focused on Blood Knights and vampire units)
- Avengorii Dynasty (Lauka Vai is their queen, focus on monsters like Zombie Dragon and Terrorgheist)
Every lineage is suited for a specific playstyle with unique battle traits, command traits and artefacts. The Avengorii also allow you to choose a cursed mutation for one or more Zombie Dragon or Terrorgheist in the army (it counts as a unique enhancement).
The second thing to understand is an important keyword: Summonable. Not all units have this keyword: We are talking mostly of the underlings of the army like zombies, skeletons and bats. Thanks to this keyword, those units can be healed, outright resurrected once destroyed or set in reserve to summon them from the gravesites: 4 spots on the terrain that you can pick at the beginning of the match.
This is an important part of the playstyle of the army as the infantry is all relatively cheap and weak and bringing back the lost models or units is essential to maintain control of the objectives.
Other keywords to remember are Deathrattle (your skeletons, including Skeletons, Black Knights, Grave Guard and Wight Kings) and Deadwalkers (Zombies, Dire Wolves and Corpse Carts) as certain abilities can be used only on one of the two groups, Vampire being the third keyword for rules mostly concerning heroes or Blood Knights.
Every unit in the army close to a friendly hero or gravesite receives an after-save ward of 6+ (meaning they can ignore a wound or mortal wound after a save failure on a 6 or more).
There are two spell lores: Lore of the Vampires (usable by most hero wizards) and Lore of the Deathmages (usable by the Mortarchs, Necromancer and Torgillius). In addition every wizard in the army can use Invigorating Aura once per hero phase even if another already attempted it. This spell allows to heal summonable units.
Nagash knows all spells from both lores. Any wizard that does a 9+ on a natural spell cast, resolves the effects of that spell twice.
Units and their roles
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.
We would be amiss if we wouldn’t start the list from Nagash, the Great Necromancer and Supreme Lord of the Undead. He is an expensive centrepiece (in money and point cost) but he is almost immortal in the new edition when played correctly and at top health he can perform 8 spells per turn!
He can defend himself in melee but his role is to buff the rest of the army thanks for his multiple spells and command ability. One of his spells is an iconic and fun spell: Hand of Dust. Once cast you choose a dice and put it into one hand, if the opponent guesses correctly in which hand is, nothing happens, otherwise the targeted miniature is outright killed…
And let’s not forget that he can make all units immune to battleshock every round. He always counts as a bonus general in a Soulblight Gravelords army.
If you want some magic power but don’t want to commit too many points, then you have available the Mortarchs, Mannfred von Carstein and Neferata. They come from the same kit (that can also be assembled as Arkhan the Black) and they are bonus generals of their respective legions even if they are not the chosen option.
Mannfred is an extremely useful piece since he can run away from any fight he does not want to commit to at the start of the combat phase. Once he commits he can perform some damage, and if he kills someone, he can buff nearby units.
Neferata has a similar profile, slightly less performant in melee but compensates with a powerful command ability that reduces the to hit characteristic of nearby enemy units.
They are both valid wizards, double-casters, but with no innate bonuses to casting.
Prince Vhordrai is the leader of the Kastelai Dynasty and treated as a bonus general in an army using that sub-faction. He comes from the same kit as the Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon with which he has many commonalities.
He is a powerful unit, counting both as monster and hero, with the ability to heal and transforming his lance in a deadly weapon when charging. He is usually used in combination with another powerful hero as he can make a nearby hero fight in the hero phase.
As a wizard he does not excel (single caster) but it’s always a good bonus to have and he can buff himself. He will not resolve fights by himself but is an interesting utility piece to keep in consideration.
The generic version has a really similar profile with a missile weapon able to auto-hit any unit greater than 6 models (Vhordrai gives mortal wounds instead on a 3+). It can also change the weapon profile from lance to sword, but lance is more reliable and can increase damage when charging. His signature spell, Curse of Exsanguination, is another fun spell that can potentially kill any hero 1 mortal wound at a time provided you keep rolling high on your dice!
He is the classic general to choose when you need a valid melee general with high survivability and good damage output.
Lauka Vai is the Mother of Nightmares and leader of the Avengorii Dynasty, counting as a bonus general in an army with that keyword. She could be a good model with a decent melee damage output if not for her unpredictability that may prevent her from using any command abilities in later turns.
Undeniable Impulse is an ability that would drag her towards her enemy faster, preventing her from efficiently lead the army. However, in practice it means she can’t run and charge when she needs it (you need a 1 on turn 1 or 1 or 2 in turn 2) and she may not be able to use command abilities when you need it the most (if you do less than 4 on turn 3 or less than 5 on turn 4).
From the same kit you can make a more generic version of a Vengorian Lord that is slightly more useful because he doesn’t have to be in an Avengorii Dynasty, is cheaper and has the same traits of Lauka Vai: single caster and area around him that reduces rend by 1. While he still has the Undeniable Impulse that can prevent him from using command abilities, his signature one can heal a hero or monster up to D6 wounds.
Belladamma Volga is the first of a long list of Vyrkos characters. She counts as a bonus general in a Vyrkos army and she is a good double caster with a +1 bonus on casting and unbinding. One of her signature spells even transforms slain enemies into Dire Wolves that can hinder your opponent’s plans. She can bounce off wounds to a nearby unit of Dire Wolves on a 3+ and in general she is a definite must in a Vyrkos based army.
Radukar the Beast is the bestial version of the leader we found in Cursed City. He is now enraged and no longer trying to control the urge within him.
He is a powerful piece, useful in a Vyrkos army and outside, being also able to summon a unit of 10 Dire Wolves once per game. His weapon profile is interesting and he has many traits from the vampires (like healing) at the cost of not being able to use magic anymore. In exchange, he can provide a +1 bonus to attacks to any unit charging around him. This can easily be combined with a Vampire Lord command ability for a further +1 attacks and the Necromancer magic spell that allows you to double attack in the combat phase.
Now a potential unit of 40 zombies (reinforced once) would be on a 120 attacks (twice) with mortal wounds on a 6, piling in 6″ and for every enemy slain a high chance to bring back another fallen zombie…
Or if you want something more reliable you can use a unit of 20 Grave Guards (also reinforced once) with 63 attacks on a 3+/4+, rend -1 and 2 damage per hit with an additional mortal wound on a natural 6, attacking twice…
To give some statistics, against a unit with a standard 4+ save, buffed this way a unit of Zombies can make an average of 23 wounds (but bringing back slain models) while a unit of Grave Guard is around 41.
You can achieve these results with other pieces, but Radukar in his bestial form remains an important piece to consider.
The generic Vampire Lord also got a new refreshed model. Beware if you have the previous models, as the base size increased to 40mm (from 32mm) , awaiting confirmation from Games Workshop on official base sizes. From a vampire you would expect a bit more oomph in melee: his profile is less than average, and his magic skills are alright (single caster, no bonus and no signature spell). However, the reason why you take him or her is the ability to add +1 attack to a single unit per combat phase (which lasts until your next hero phase) as mentioned above.
Lady Annika and Kritza are vampires with the same profile as the generic one, so the differentiation comes from Annika being able to avoid wounds and mortal wounds on a 4+ and heal all her wounds if she slains an enemy, while Kritza is able to return back to the field after being slain (on a 4+).
The Coven Throne is a behemoth belonging to an older kit that can also be assembled as a Mortis Engine. More recently it got the option to be built as the Bloodseeker Palanquin, which is a Mortis Engine with the Vampires swapped in place of the Necromancer.
The Coven Throne is a buffing model and a wizard, but don’t get fooled by the amount of weapon profiles and attacks: on average, it does even less damage than Mannfred or Neferata and with a 4+ save is less than immortal.
The Bloodseeker Palanquin should be a vampire buffing model with a shooting attack with an area of effect. However, buffing Vampires is inefficient most of the time. Maybe if you use lots of Blood Knights, you can consider this model. In melee it performs worse than the Coven Throne.
The Necromancer is a little hero whose survivability really depends on his ability to shrug off wounds towards nearby summonable units. And you do want him close to them as the main reason you take this guy is for his spell: Vanhel’s Danse Macabre that allows any summonable unit to fight a second time that turn. We already discussed how efficiently certain units can be buffed, so imagine if they can do it twice…
Careful because, as with all spells, you cast it in the hero phase, so your opponent will be warned well in advance and has time to react accordingly.
The Wight King and Wight King on Skeletal Steed represent the skeletal leaders of a Deathrattle army. They have really similar profiles and their only use is to allow a unit of Deathrattle to re-roll hit rolls of 1. If you have the old Wight King on Steed, be aware that the base has now been increased to 75mm.
Radukar the Wolf and his court are now available separately from the original board game Cursed City. We have reviewed that game and we go in detail on the units available from that box. For the purpose of this guide, in a Soulblight Gravelords there is not much use for them. They are all linked to the Vyrkos dynasty, preventing them from taking any other benefits from other lineages and are in general not great warscrolls.
Radukar himself is much better in his bestial form even if this one is a wizard. Note that you cannot field both options in the same army: either the Beast or the Wolf.
Gorslav the Gravekeeper allows you a further way to re-summon a unit of zombies or dire wolves that has been destroyed a bit more reliably and could be interesting as support for units of Deadwalkers if that is your theme,
Torgillius the Chamberlain is a Necromancer with the ability to get extra command points if close to Radukar the Wolf (not the Beast), but the only reason you take Necromancers is for their signature spell which Torgillius doesn’t have.
The Watch Captain Halgrim could be interesting in a Deathrattle army since it can increase the movement of up to 3 units per turn by 4″, but apart from that, doesn’t do much else.
The Crimson Court comes from the Warhammer Underworlds card game and as many warbands from side games, their use in Age of Sigmar is limited. In this case we are talking about a warband of 3 vampires led by Prince Duvalle, a 5-wounds vampire with a profile pretty similar to that of the normal Vampire Lord, without his cool command ability but with a signature spell. If you can base them on the correct size you could use them as alternative vampire lord sculpts.
A note on all named characters mentioned above, as they all belong to a sub-faction already (except Prince Duvalle), they cannot benefit from allegiance abilities of another lineage when taken in a sub-faction different from their own. For example, if you take Belladamma Volga, who is a Vyrkos, in a Legion of Blood army, Belladamma will not be able to re-roll casting rolls because she is not in a Vyrkos army and she will be unable to use Legion of Blood abilities (like providing buffs to the Deathrattle units around her) because she is not a Legion of Blood unit and cannot be assigned another lineage keyword.
Monsters can perform special abilities called Monster 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
Some of the most imposing heroes are also monsters: Nagash, Mannfred, Neferata, Prince Vhordrai, Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon, Lauka Vai and Vengorian Lord.
However the Zombie Dragon is also available unmounted and he is a veritable monster. You may have seen it in Flesh-Eater Courts armies, both unmounted and with an Abhorrant Ghoul King on top: it’s the same versatile kit (7 warscrolls from one single box!).
He has a classic shooting attack that auto-hits against horde units on a 2+ and some powerful attacks able to tear apart the less resistant units. He can be further buffed when in an Avengorii army, or used to disrupt the casting rolls of your opponent wizards (using the cursed mutation Nullblood Construct).
Alternatively it can be assembled as a Terrorgheist, gifted with a bravery based missile attack that is a hit and miss: against Death or Demon armies with high bravery it mostly doesn’t do any damage, against low bravery units like Destruction armies can be extremely powerful.
The Terrorgheist can also do straight-up 6 mortal wounds on a natural 6 on his 3 maw attacks and when dying can damage all nearby units. Careful: that also means your own units!
Deathrattle Skeletons are your standard battleline. They have to compete with Zombies that at the moment are fighting for one of the best battlelines in Age of Sigmar. The main thing that Skeletons lost in the new warscroll is the 2″ range as now blades and spears are all treated with the same weapon profile. While this makes assembling the unit much easier, it also means with the coherency rules they lost a good portion of potential damage as the third line cannot fight anymore now.
They also lost the musician that gave them a bonus to charge, in exchange they can now be resurrected on the spot while picked for fighting that makes them extremely useful to replenish before attacking. Unfortunately with AoS 3.0, those returned models still count for battleshock…
Dire Wolves are a chaff unit, fast (10″ movement) and with enough wounds to block certain types of units a round or two. There are different ways to summon them (Radukar the Beast or Belladamma) so having a few spare units of them can help. They can also be buffed in a Vyrkos army as they count as Deadwalkers but can be used as cheap sacrificial pieces in any army.
The Deadwalker Zombies are the great winners in this army. They can be taken as a unit of 20, 40 (reinforced once) or 60 (reinforced twice). They pile in within 6″ and for every enemy model they slay they can replenish their number. Ideally you want to use them against other infantry units to ensure that they stay in position, and buff them with different other supporting units.
You could improve their to hit or to wound characteristic, but you are here mostly for the mortal wound on a 6, so adding more attacks is the best way to buff them. Corpse carts can give them a save roll for a bit more survivability but what you really want to ensure somehow is some battleshock immunity, since otherwise they will crumble fast.
But don’t worry even if the unit is destroyed, you still have a chance to return half of that unit every battleshock phase!
The Black Knights can become battleline in a Legion of Blood army. They are assembled from the same kit that makes the Hexwraiths. The new warscroll does not do them justice as there’s not much to say about them. They are faster skeletons but without all benefits of skeletons and a much larger base…
The Blood Knights can become battleline in a Kastelai army. They are overall really useful units, with the damage of a vampire and the ability to do mortal wounds when walking across other units. They are one of the first units where it doesn’t matter which weapon you decide to put on your miniatures, as they all have the same profile.
The Vargheist can become battleline in a Legion of Night army. Their kit is the same as the Crypt Horrors/Flayers from the Flesh-Eater Courts army. Their ability to fly and to be put in reserve for the best occasion to pounce on the battlefield, makes them extremely versatile. Combined with a decent damage output this makes them a decent alternative in certain builds.
Terrorgheist and Zombie Dragon can become battleline and lose the behemoth role if used in an Avengorii army.
Grave Guard can become battleline if any of the two Wight Kings is the general in your army. They are the unit that can do the most damage, especially if equipped with the Great Wight Blade and let’s be honest, that is the only weapon profile you should consider. The other one adds +1 to their save (going to 4+) but reduces the damage per attack from 2 to 1. The way Age of Sigmar 3.0 works is that by getting a +1 save from the shields, they cannot improve their save past 4+ anyway, but the loss in potential damage is incredibly worse.
As we discussed above, Grave Guards are used as a powerful glass hammer with the right buffs.
Wizards and Priests
This army has no priests but a huge block of wizards. Almost all vampires are wizards, but the greatest wizard in the army is of course Nagash with his potential 8 spells and unbinds per turn (at maximum health).
Other wizards in the army include: Mannfred, Neferata, Prince Vhordrai, Belladamma Volga, Lauka Vai, Radukar the Wolf, Torgillius, Prince Duvalle, Vampire Lord, Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon, Vengorian Lord, Coven Throne, Bloodseeker Palanquin and Necromancer.
Once you removed heroes, monsters and battlelines usually all is left are specialist and elite units. In the case of this army however there’s really little left and only one worth of your attention.
The Mortis Engine behaves similarly than the Bloodseeker Palanquin but is not a hero. Sadly, it’s not a Monster either, despite being a Behemoth. Otherwise would have been definitely worth more. It has a shooting attack with an area of effect and a once per game damage to all units in range. But the real reason why you can consider taking the Mortis Engine is the bonus to casting that it provides to nearby wizards, something in short supply in this army.
The Corpse Cart comes in two versions: with Unholy Lodestone that buffs Zombies’s save and casting rolls of nearby wizards, and with Balefire Brazier that debuffs enemy wizards and enemy fighters (-1 to wound roll).
Both options are valid and considering the low cost they can easily be included in any army. Which one to use will depend on the composition of your army. If you need protection from wizards the Brazier is the best option. If instead you need to buff your Necromancer and unit of Zombies, then the Lodestone is the best option.
Fell Bats should have been your screening flying chaff unit. In the past they didn’t have excellent profiles but had purposes. That was lost with the new warscroll and a pity because the models are nice. For a few points more you can have a unit of Skeletons, that at least counts as 10 models on an objective.
From the Radukar’s Court there are other models that are not heroes: Vyrkos Blood-born (weaker vampires unable to heal), Kosargi Nighguard (big Ogor zombies that can be buffed and protect Radukar the Wolf) and the Vargskyr (a medium sized beast able to charge from 18″ distance).
The Sepulchral Guard is another Warhammer Underworld warband, from the first season. Nice models, but they don’t match the current playstyle.
Endless Spells, Terrain and Start Collecting
Soulblight Gravelords do not have faction specific endless spells or invocations. They can use all the generic ones, and the ones from Forbidden Power match this army aesthetically. For example, the Horrorghast can help ensuring enemy units cannot skip the battleshock phase and increase the number of fleeing models (in certain match-ups).
The Chronomantic Cogs are an evergreen with their ability to increase the spells available to the many Soublight wizards, and speaking of green, the Emerald Lifeswarm is another way to heal your units in case you need some more.
While technically there is no terrain for Soulblight Gravelords, you still need to place 4 tokens on the battlefield to represent gravesites. From these spots you can bring back destroyed units, protect them with the 6+ after save or summon units previously put in reserve. They are essential to your strategy as you can extend the reach of your heroes, encircle your opponents, hit their backline or grab an objective.
You could use the chapels from the Sigmarite Mausoleum to represent them, at least at the beginning of the game, but be ready to replace them with a token once your opponent tries to block them by “occupying” them.
Soulblight Gravelords have a Start Collecting box containing a Wight King on Skeletal Steed, 5 Black Knights and 20 Grave Guards. It is an interesting box and, as of August 2021, the only way to get the new model for the mounted Wight King. If you are interested in Deathrattle armies it can be a good value, but Black Knights and Wight Kings stocks are going down at the moment…
Tactics and Final Verdict
If you were a Legions of Nagash player, then you should already have a good core of models for this army and be familiar with most of its rules. There are some winners and many losers compared to the old warscrolls, but the new models are much nicer than the previous versions.
The legion black coach and the bat swarm are the missing units from this army (being retired), as well as all Nighthaunt units that are now relegated to allies, and Arkhan the Black and the Morghasts that are now not usable at all. Overall it’s not a great loss considering that Grave Guard can compensate for the absence of Grimghast Reapers and Zombies work much better than Chainrasps.
If you are a new player: welcome, you are in for a fun ride in the most classic tropes of Death armies: vampires, skeletons and zombies.
The vampires represent the leaders of the army as you would expect. They come in many forms and they influence which lineage you should take. The average vampire is neither an excellent fighter nor a good wizard, staying in that middle that makes him a bit anonymous.
There are some exceptions. In particular, Mannfred is a sneaky character that can decide when to commit to a fight and when to run, as well as the generic Vampire Lord that is able to provide +1 attack and the Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon that combines the vampire-ness with the brutality of the monster he is riding.
Accurately played, Nagash is almost immortal and really buffs all Death units, but he is priced correspondingly.
There are so many heroes to choose from, that you may feel overwhelmed, but it’s important to remember almost all named characters are forced into a specific sub-faction, outside of which they are not as effective. So, once you choose a lineage, your options will be drastically reduced.
The best heroes used as a wildcard are the Necromancer for his spell and the Vampire Lord for his command ability, other than the aforementioned Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon, a classic choice for general.
Remember that Hero Monsters, like Nagash or the Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon, are able to perform Heroic Actions and Monstrous Rampages, greatly increasing their potential.
The skeletons or Deathrattle represent the main troops of this army. They could be self-sufficient, with leaders, hammers, anvils and cavalry. However the wight kings are mostly useful only to give Grave Guard the battleline role. Skeletons are not bad, they just miss a bit of oomph and they have been arguably nerfed in this iteration.
Black Knights are probably the worst of the lot and there’s almost no point cost that would make them worthy.
A Deathrattle army can work, in combination with a Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon and a Necromancer and actually do some damage, in particular coming from well-buffed Grave Guards.
The zombies or Deadwalkers are the great winners of this army. The Dire Wolves are excellent chaff unit (units that you can sacrifice and use to delay enemies from getting where they can hurt you or force them to act against that unit instead of others). For example, are you afraid of Unleash Hell? Charge a unit of Dire Wolves into the shooting unit you are afraid of and let them decide if they want to spend a command point to blast off the wolves or take the charge and prevent Unleash Hell on other units.
The Zombies, the unit with 20 or more models, is an excellent anvil. The ability to replenish and be buffed makes them hard to move when in big numbers. Unit coherency in AoS 3.0 may hurt them a bit because it now limits their 6″ pile in a little, but at the same time, if you lose some zombies at the end of the turn, it may not be the end of the world.
What makes them excellent is their wounds per point cost ratio. At the moment they can reach 60 wounds for less than the cost of Neferata and statistically (assuming they all fight and have no buffs) they do double the damage.
All of them can be further buffed by the Corpse Cart, a really useful piece so cheap that it will easily find a place in most army lists. They are actually both so interesting, they could both appear in a list to meddle with the magic winds too (one gives +1 to cast to friendly wizards, the other -1 to enemy wizards).
Soulblight Gravelords monsters are divided in two categories: the heroes that are also monsters already discussed above, and Zombie Dragon / Terrorgheist. The best version of those is actually… the Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon that since he is a hero can take also command traits, artefacts, etc. In an Avengorii army those beasts can take mutations but it’s probably not enough to justify taking that dynasty. It can be fun to play, and having a centrepiece like a dragon can be fun, but don’t expect them to do the heavy lifting. That is usually done by Grave Guards or Zombies.
And this brings us to the 5 different sub-factions available. Let’s start with immediately discarding Avengorii because it is more thematic than competitive. The same can be said of Legion of Blood, that buffs Deathrattle, but not enough.
Kastelai Dynasty buffs Blood Knights that are an interesting unit, so if you are leaning heavily on that, that is the lineage for you.
This leaves Legion of Night and Vyrkos Dynasty. Vyrkos has the advantage to provide a home to all those heroes otherwise unable to use other allegiance abilities. It is decent for magic casters and provides some buffs to Dire Wolves. They are not life-changing units but extremely versatile and can pop up here and there to disrupt your opponent moves.
The Legion of Night on the other hand provides some of the best command traits and artefacts available to melee heroes and some interesting tricks with any unit put in reserve and appearing from the battlefield edge instead of the gravesites.
The subfactions provide a way to play the army, so you can choose whichever you prefer, but the army itself is solid and reliable. How it will fare in tournaments will depend upon the evolution of the meta and how Age of Sigmar 3.0 will shake every army, but so far it’s a competitor for the top spots, with performances more in line with the average group, also defined sometimes as the “fat middle” (the place where most armies would find themselves once all tournament results are combined in an average score).
If you like the classic death tropes, leading an army of vampires, skeletons and zombies to battle, terrorize your opponent with undead creatures returning back mid game and filling the field with numbers, this is the army for you.
If you are more competitive, this army needs fine balancing to win matches. Hammers and anvils require proper screening and buffing to work fine so surgical piece removals may hinder your plans. Be careful of shooting and use your reserve and chaff units accordingly. Maintaining control of the objectives through an attrition war will be the key to win most games.