Posted 21/07/2017

Tactical Toolbox: Summoning

Summoning is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled general, allowing savvy Warhammer Age of Sigmar players to suddenly reinforce fragile battle-lines or bring a game-changing monster onto the board just when it’s needed most. Strategic mastermind Matthijs is on hand with a Tactical Toolbox on making the most of this magical mechanic.


Matthijs: Summoning is a great and misunderstood tactical tool in Warhammer Age of Sigmar. It lets you adapt your army on the fly, allowing for some crazy flexible and strategic plays. In this tactics article, I will explain the fundamentals of summoning and how you can use it to kick butt. My goal is not to tell you what to do, but to increase your understanding of the game so you can make better choices.

What is Summoning?

Summoning is the ability to set up a new unit on the table through a spell or ability. You can summon plenty of units in Warhammer Age of Sigmar. Usually, the spell that allows you to summon a unit can be found on the summoned unit’s warscroll. All wizards from the faction know these spells unless the warscroll says otherwise. For example, all Death wizards can summon Skeleton Warriors, while only Slann wizards can summon Skinks.

Most summon spells have the same restrictions: the new unit must be set up within 18″ of the caster and 9″ away from any enemy models. In most cases, these units are not allowed to move in the Movement phase of the turn they come into play.

When you summon a unit in matched play, you will have to pay for it with points from your “reserve pool”. You determine the size of your reserve pool on your army list, and it counts towards the total point value of your army. Some spells allow you to place more models if you get a higher casting result. It is important to realise that it only raises the number of models that you can set-up – it does not force you to.

Summoning Offers Flexibility

The biggest strength of summoning is the flexibility it offers. Summoning allows you to set up a unit of your choice pretty much wherever you like. This means that you are not as limited by your army list as your opponent, allowing you to adapt to the way the battle unfolds. This not only allows you to counter your opponent’s actions, it also stops them from predicting your moves. When your opponent can’t predict your actions, you can dictate the flow of the game. Since you can strike virtually anywhere, you force your opponent to play defensively. In an objective-based game, that is huge. I can’t stress enough how powerful that is.

Location

Most summoned units must be placed within 18″ of the summoner and 9″ away from enemy models. It is important to note that a unit is “within” a certain distance of something else as long as the shortest distance between the two units is equal to or less than the stated distance, as was stated in this FAQ. This means you can set up your summoned models however you like as long as they stay in unit cohesion, allowing you to reach a lot further than 18″.

By keeping two of my ten Skeleton Warriors a bit closer to the Necromancer, I was able to set up 8 Skeletons 24″ away from my Necromancer. This way I can reach all the way across the table into my opponent’s deployment zone. This allows you to capture objectives, prepare devastating charges or deny the movement of enemy units. You can read more about area denial and zoning here.

Balewind Vortex

The Balewind Vortex is a summonable piece of terrain that costs 100 reserve points. It allows the caster to stand on top of a magical vortex that increases its casting rolls by 1 and doubles the range of its spells, allowing you to set up summoned units within 36″ of the caster.

When the Balewind Vortex is summoned, all models around it need to be moved so that they are not within 3″ of the base of the Vortex. Since the base of the vortex is roughly 4″ in diameter, you can use it to push friendly models in a direction of your choice. For example, you could summon a Bloodthirster 9″ away from the enemy and behind the Bloodthirster, you could summon a Herald of Tzeentch. When this Herald summons a Balewind Vortex, it can push the Bloodthirster forward up to about 5″, putting it very close to your enemies!

Overruling Restrictions

All armies can include a limited number of heroes, behemoths and artillery in their army list. With summoning, you can override those restrictions, since you do not have to specify what you will summon on your army list.

It even allows you to break allegiance without losing its benefits. This allows for some amazing flexibility in your list building. For example, it would allow a pure Tzeentch army to summon a Bloodthirster without losing its use of destiny dice.

Reducing Deployed units

Every unit that you summon during the battle does not have to be set up during your deployment. This can allow you to finish your deployment earlier than your opponent, giving you the choice for the first or second turn. Having that choice enables you to determine the development of the battle and who gets the first chance for a double turn.

Double turns are especially good for summoning since most summoned units cannot move in the turn they are set up. Check out these articles for more about deployment and the double turn.

Summoning Support Units

Summoning goes far beyond the offensive. It is about controlling the battlefield, knowing what to place where, and when to do it. Support units play a huge role in this.

Death has some great ways to mitigate shooting damage by summoning Bat Swarms, Chaos can summon a Blue Scribe for re-rolls on casting attempts, Order can summon an Astrolith Bearer for increased casting results – and those are just a start.

It is important to note that summoned casters can cast spells on the turn they are set-up. This means that your summoned summoners can immediately start summoning. Even though this is quite a tongue-twister, it allows for some nifty plays.

The great thing about summoning support units is that you only have to pay for them when you need them, allowing you to field a more efficient army. Finding the right support units that you can summon is a process of trial and error. Look at the weakest points in your army, in offence and defence, and see how these specific units can make things a bit better. Test your ideas and improve on them where necessary!

Physical models and their Psychological value

In order to summon a particular unit, you will need to have the physical models available. Even though this brings some extra costs and effort, having the models also brings one huge benefit: you can use them to pressure your opponent, just like you would by showing or hiding your fake money during a game of Monopoly.

The models that your opponent can – or can’t – see will influence the decisions they make. Knowing that you could summon a Mourngul will force your opponent to brace for impact, while knowing that you could summon a Balewind Vortex forces them to reconsider your threat range.

You can influence the way your opponent plays by showing what you can summon. For example, by placing a Mourngul and a unit of Morghast Archai next to the table, your opponent will probably suspect you plan to summon one of those. This could motivate them to protect their units against big models, while you actually plan to flood them with loads of small ones.

The Downsides of Summoning

Summoning is great, but it has some heavy limitations that you need to deal with to use it efficiently, such as the Rule of One. In matched play, each spell can only be attempted once each turn. You only get one try per summon, and you cannot summon the same unit multiple times in one turn. This means that you need a relevant unit to summon for each spell you can cast, so you might need quite a few more units than you can actually summon. When building your army list, look for different summonable units that can fulfil the same role, so that you can try with a different unit if your summon spell fails.

Summons can fail or be dispelled

The fact that spells can fail or be dispelled tends to give a feeling of unreliability to summoning. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to boost your spellcasting. Every faction has some means to increase the results of your casting or allow re-rolls. There are also plenty of characters that are inherently better at casting spells than others, such as Kairos Fateweaver, Arkhan the Black, Weirdnob Shamans, etc.

Because summons can fail, and each can only be attempted once, it is a process of risk management. Before you start your summons, look at the whole picture. What part of your army needs to be protected, what part of the enemy must be pressured and what objectives need capturing? What will happen if you fail your summons, and how can you deal with it? Summon the most important units first, and use the casters that can get them on the table with an 80% (or better) casting chance.

On this table, you can see the chance your casts will succeed. It includes positive roll modifiers and a table for re-rolls. As you can see, you need +5 on your to your casting rolls or +3 and a re-roll to get a reliable 10+ summon off.

The more you rely on summoning units, the more important your summoners become. Summoners can die, and if your last summoner dies before you have depleted your reserve pool, you practically lose all those points. So it speaks for itself that you need to protect your summoners and keep them out of your opponent’s threat range.

Against most armies, this is not a problem, but playing against shooting heavy armies it can be hard. If your opponent can easily kill all your casters in one turn, it can be smart to summon another wizard or force your opponent to choose between other threatening targets. By summoning a threatening unit in a key location that needs to be dealt with, you give your opponent a difficult choice. If they do not focus on the threat they will suffer heavy casualties, if they do not focus on your summoners there are plenty more to come. Quite a pickle you will put them in!

Even though the Freeguild Handgunners can’t attack my Necromancers, the three Cannons can kill them quite easily. Most of the units I summon will get shot down, but I know one particular monster that is pretty beefy.

By summoning my Balewind Vortex I was able to summon a Mourngul 36″ away, putting it right behind the Cannons and Handgunners. Since a Mourngul has a 3+ save that ignores rend and an ability to ignore mortal wounds on a 4+, my opponent must focus all its firepower on it to mitigate its damage output. My Necromancers live to fight another day!

This will hardly ever be a problem since there are few reliable ways to kill multiple heroes in one turn, but it is good to know how you would deal with these situations.

Another limitation to summoning is the limited variety of units each army can summon. When writing your army list, you should try to figure out how your existing army can work together with what you can summon. Figure out what the weaknesses of your casters and battleline units are, and how you can fix them with summonable units. Just like with any army list, it is a tough process of trial and error.

Since you must set-up most summoned units 9″ away from enemy models, it can be hard to make the charge. You will only be able to complete a 9″ charge about a third of the time, making it very unreliable. If it is important that you make a specific charge, you should improve the unit’s chances with some buffs, or have multiple units that can attempt the charge.

Summoner efficiency

Summoning allows you to do all these amazing things, but it also needs a unit to cast the spells. Summoners are, in relation to the units they summon, quite expensive. When choosing a summoner and their support, it is important that you weigh their point costs against the benefits you will get out of them. Do this by looking at what each potential caster brings to the table besides their ability to summon. On average, wizards cost about 100 points per spell they can cast.

For example, Arkhan the Black costs 340 points and can cast 2 spells. As long as he has suffered no wounds he also gets +3 on any spell that summons death units. This makes him pretty efficient. That he can hold his own in combat is a bonus. Looking at this you can conclude that Arkhan is a great choice as a dedicated summoner.

A Necromancer costs 120 points and can cast 1 spell. They also know the spell Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, which lets one death unit within 18″ pile in twice. Using a Necromancer to summon would mean that you can’t cast Vanhel’s Danse Macabre. Necromancers are mediocre dedicated summoners, but are great as support after one or two summons.

When picking summoners, look at models that can cast multiple spells or have other things to offer besides their spellcasting. It is important that you pick a summoner that stays relevant once your reserve pool is depleted.

Gryph-hounds

Summoning does not have too many hard counters, but Order Gryph-hounds are definitely one of them.

Whenever an enemy unit is set up within 10″ of a Gryph-hound, all units within 2D6” of the Gryph-hound can shoot their missile weapons at the newly arrived unit. This means that your opponent can use a few Gryph-hounds to effectively stop you from setting up units on objectives and near key targets. Try to kill these bird-dogs as soon as you can, or force your opponent to split them up. Even though Gryph-hounds have great potential, they are quite situational and therefore rarely used by most players.


Matthijs hails from the Netherlands, and after getting absolutely destroyed in the first turn of his first tournament, he was hopelessly hooked on Warhammer Age of Sigmar. He saw it as a game that held a true tactical challenge, which he wanted to unlock. With his blog, aos-tactics.com, he tries to encourage others to see defeat not as a setback, but as a chance to learn and to get better. In his words: ‘Understand the game, make better choices and wreck face!’

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