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Hold the Pass

Waaagh! Magic

by Avian

Traditionally, greenskin magic has been highly destructive and highly random. Back in the old days of 5th edition, I would normally field a level 3 Shaman (back then there was a point in taking one) and around four level 1s and 2s, including quite a few level 1 Night Goblins, who were dead cheap at 28 points each and had a nasty tendency of blowing up. Back then every Shaman had to be within 12" of one or more decently large greenskin units to cast any spells at all, and at the start of each magic phase they had to roll over the number of such units (Orc Shamans could add their level to the roll) on a D6 to be able to cast safely. If you failed this roll, you had to roll on the old equivalent of a Miscast chart. This meant that each and every Goblin Shaman had at least a 1-in-6 chance of something nasty happening if they wanted to cast anything at all, and at least a 1-in-36 chance of blowing up at the start of each and every Magic phase, including the opponent's.

These days the Shamans are fewer (the number of characters you can take is now limited, not their total cost), the cranial explosions are rarer and magic is a good deal more dull. The previous edition overdid the greenskin magic a bit, mainly due to a couple of the spells and a couple of the available items being a bit too good, and predictably in this edition the army book writer saw fit to go too far in the opposite direction. Waaagh! Magic is now mostly notable for being excessively deadly to your own guys, with not a whole lot to compensate for it. Still, magic can do some things that nothing else in the army can do, which makes it useful. The situation is comparable to comparing Wolf Riders and Spider Riders. The Wolf Riders are probably a bit more cost-effective than Spider Riders, but Spider Riders ignore terrain as they move and Wolf Riders don't.


Converted Goblin Shaman riding in Wolf Chariot

 

Contents

Considering greenskin magic

The Lores

Using greenskin Shamans

Shaman setups

 

Considering greenskin magic

People often ask if greenskin magic is really any good. As I see it, it adds some more tactical options to a greenskin General and I have always been a great fan of flexibility and having many options available to me, thus I tend to take a bit of magic in my Orcs & Goblins armies. It is worth noting, though, that you will probably have to spend quite a few points on magic before it starts to become cost-effective, and that it is a lot cheaper and easier to go all-defensive instead. You don't actually need to cast spells, though if you do choose to not to go for any spellcasting at all, I would suggest that you spend some more points on shooting (which is to say war machines) and/or Fanatics (more of a semi-guided missile than a unit, really) to compensate for this. I would personally not want to field an army with little or no magic, shooting or Fanatics, as this would limit me to dealing with enemy units at an arm's length only.

 

How much magic is enough magic?

Assuming you want to sling some spells around in your magic phase (if you don't, skip to the next section), then my experience tells me that in an enviroment with a medium of magic, you will need at least four levels of Shamans and both Bound spells to be cost-effective. Take less than this at the 2,000 point-level and you will probably find that getting spells off is mostly a matter of luck and hoping your opponent does not manage his Dispel Dice well (the latter may of course happen, it is perfectly possible to be successful with 6 Power dice against 8 Dispel dice if your opponent consistently uses too many or too few dice to counter your spellcasting). My favoured setup at around 2,500 points (my preferred points level) is two level 2 Shamans, one a Goblin with the Staff of Sneaky Stealin', the other an Orc with a Power Stone and a Dispel Scroll. My Black Orc Warboss General takes the Horn of Urgok and my Black Orc Battle Standard Bearer takes the 'Itty Ring. This gives a nice mixture of offensive and defensive capabilities, it is reasonably effective against opponents with comparable amounts of magic and it is quite fun to use as well.

To get more spells off - especially in a more magic-heavy enviroment - you upgrade one level 2 Shaman to a level 4, downgrade your Warboss to a Big Boss and get 8 Power dice. If you have a decently large Orc unit in combat you get a further Power dice, which lets you cast three spells with three dice each, in addition to your two Bound spells. Taking more magic than that means that you are either forgoing on the Battle Standard Bearer (very useful in a greenskin army) or running a Shaman (preferably an Orc Great Shaman) as your General, neither of which I think is very wise in this edition.

Below 2,000 points, an effective amount of magic still probably involves two level 2s, though it is less important to have both Bound spells at this level. You could try running a single level 2, though at lower levels equal amounts of magic leads to more equal numbers of Power / Dispel dice, it becomes less effective. For example: If both players field two level 2s, the ratio of Power to Dispel dice is 6 to 4, If both players field a single level 2, the ratio drops to 4 to 3, which means that casting is much more difficult, especially since most greenskin spells require 3 dice to get a decent chance of being cast. If you are just running a single level 2 at lower points, I would suggest you take (at least) one of the Bound spells as well.

 

All-defensive magic

Choosing not to go for any spellcasting at all and instead going all-defensive has never been a better option, especially now that Waaagh! magic is both expensive and risky if you want something out of it. It is no wonder that you see a lot of greenskin armies which include Mork's Spirit-totem and possibly a single level 1 Goblin with some defensive items. It gives you a quite decent protection against hostile magic and it doesn't cost much, leaving more points to spend on troops, which is always a good thing. As mentioned above, I like the extra options magic gives me and rarely go all-defensive.

The basic setup for all-defensive magic involves an Orc Battle Standard Bearer with Mork's Spirit-totem in a decently large unit of Orc Boyz (or some type of Goblins). Making the BSB into a Black Orc, buying him heavy armour and mounting him on a boar will set you back 35 points, but is well worth it if you ask me. Just going for a common Orc on foot with light armour carrying a highly useful magic standard is quite like writing "Please stab me!" on his banner. It is possible, though not really cost-effective to field the Spirit-totem as a unit standard carried by either Orc Big 'Uns or Black Orcs, though both of these units tend to lose their (very expensive) rank bonus too fast for this to be very good.

Against armies with moderate magic, the 5 Dispel Dice you get out of the above combo is often enough and you don't really need any more than that. The odd spell will probably get through, but the points you save on not taking any Shamans will get you more troops, which tends to weigh up for this. Below 2,000 pts, taking more than the Spirit-totem is most likely a waste of points. If you do want more insurance at higher points levels, then the basic options are a level 1 (Night) Goblin Shaman with either two Dispel Scrolls or the Staff of Sneaky Stealin'. The former option gives you more protection against the few nasty spells you really need to stop, while the latter option gives more protection against armies with a higher average amount of magic but fewer "killer" spells. Going more defensive than this is probably overdoing it and rather defeats the point of going all-defensive in the first place (i.e. saving points).

 

Orc or Goblin Shamans?

Those who select their Shamans based on the background of their army (presumably choosing Orc Shamans for a predominantly Orc army, for example), may want to skip this part. Those who want tactical advice unrelated to the flavour text may read on...

Whether you want an Orc or a Goblin Shaman is, as I see it, mainly a question of which Lore you want. Goblin Shamans get the Little Waaagh! which has a couple of very nice spells for a quite low casting cost (Gork'll Fix It and the Foot of Gork), while the Big Waaagh! is on average slightly more easy to cast but the really nasty spells have a high casting cost. The best combo is probably to have Goblin Shamans in an army which has a lot of Orcs in it. The Orcs will generate extra Power dice which the Goblin can use and the Little Waaagh! also contains the handy Hand of Gork spell which is much better used on Orcs than it is on Goblins.

Other than this, there are some minor differences you should take into consideration:
Firstly, the magic items; out of five greenskin Arcane Items, only one of them is what I would consider particularly good value. That is the Staff of Sneaky Stealin' and it can only be taken by a Goblin. I can heartily recommend this item, even if you don't want to go all-defensive. With two level 2 Shamans, five Dispel dice is a lot better than four, as with 4 DD, you will in my experience spend 3 DD on a decently nasty spell only to be left with a single dice which isn't good for anything much.
Secondly, the stats and cost: Orc Shamans have slightly better stats than Goblins, though they cost a bit more. This usually doesn't make a whole lot of difference, as all types really don't have impressive characteristics values and if they end up mattering you have probably done something wrong anyway. It is worth noting that you can use Shamans to increase the Leadership of units of lesser greenskins, for example by having an Orc Shaman lead a unit of Goblins, or have a common Goblin Shaman lead a unit of Night Goblins, though you still end up with mediocre Leadership in an unreliable unit, so it's not a terribly good idea.
Thirdly, mounts: This is covered in a separate section on mounted Shamans (see below). Personally I tend to leave my Shamans on foot, so their options for mounts tend not to matter to me.

 

Great or not-so-great Shamans?

A Great Shaman is, as briefly mentioned above, essentially two lesser Shamans rolled into one. He generates four Power dice and two Dispel dice, the same as the two lesser ones combines, can also take a total of 100 points worth of magic items, and having +1 Toughness and +1 Wound means that he is more or less as resilient as the two not-so-great Shamans. Taking a Great Shaman thus frees up a character slot, so you can include an additional Big Boss or Shaman if you want to. The immediate downside to this is that the "combined" character takes up a Lord choice instead of two Hero choices, so unless you are playing at 3,000 points or above, the maximum possible Leadership for your General goes down by one point. Personally I am willing to accept a Leadership 8 Orc Big Boss as my General, though I do not like having a Ld 7 Goblin Big Boss leading my army. Thus my all-Goblin army does not include a Great Shaman unless they can also take a Goblin Warboss.

The Great Shaman gets four spells (there is essentially no reason not to upgrade him from level 3 to level 4), which is the same number as two level 2s combined, though he has a lower chance of ending up with no useful spells, something that might easily happen to a lesser Shaman. This, as will be explained in more detail below, is a thoroughly bad thing as one Shaman who isn't able to cast anything useful makes it much harder for your other Shamans to get their spells off. This kind of situation should rarely happen with a Great Shaman, who should have at least two useful spells to cast each turn. He can also choose to spend four or five dice when casting a spell, though with the chances of Miscasting and blowing up, this is not really recommended and he should stick to rolling three dice per spell like the lower-level spellslingers.

Another downside to a Great Shaman is that he is much easier to neutralize than two lower-level Shamans and should you happen to lose him to an unlucky Miscast, cannon shot or some twerp of an enemy Hero on a Pegasus or similar, you have lost pretty much all of your magic capabilities in one go (not to mention quite a few victory points). This is especially damaging to your counter-magic; it is less of a problem for your offensive magic, since one out of a pair of level 2s lost often means that the remaining one struggles to get anything cast anyway. If you do take a Great Shaman, prepare to work extra hard at protecting him.

On the positive side, a Great Shaman has more flexibility in which magic items he can take and has more options for mounts, but over all these are not terribly great advantages as I see it. Personally, I tend to reserve my Great Shamans for larger battles, where I can still take a Warboss. Sure, he is nice enough, but the loss of Leadership is something I quite dislike, a Big Boss is much more of a wimp than a Warboss and the risk of having a 300+ point character spontaneously blowing up due to an unlucky dice roll is just a bit too great nowadays.

 

Those Bound spells

It should be realized straight away that the two Bound spells available to greenskins, the Horn of Urgok and Nibbla's 'Itty Ring, are basically force multipliers - they are something you take to make your Shamans' spellcasting easier, not because they are terribly good on their own (which they are not). In an ideal world, your opponent spends one of his precious Dispel dice per turn to stop the Ring and two more to stop the Horn. That is three Dispel dice less to stop your normal spells, which means that they have a much higher chance of getting through. As mentioned in the first section of this article, I consider both Bound spells to be semi-compulsory if you want a decent magic phase.

Then on to the downsides. Firstly, they cost quite a few points (60 in total) and you need two different characters to carry them as they are both Enchanted Items and each character can only have one of those. If everything goes well, then 60 points to burn three enemy Dispel dice per turn is not a bad deal. But sometimes things go wrong. If your opponent is going to expend his limited Dispel dice on these two items, he must feel that there is a reason to do so. If you blow the Horn in one of the first couple of turns, when nothing is in combat and you aren't likely to be able to cause any Panic tests in your Magic or Shooting phase, then there is no reason for a clever opponent to dispel it (though of course a less than clever opponent might). Similarly, if you use the Ring against a more or less worthless victim, then your opponent will probably take it on the chin. Furthermore, some people get inherent advantages against the Bound spells, for example if they get a bonus to dispelling or they have Magic resistance on an affected unit (as the Horn affects all enemy units, any unit with Magic resistance may use the extra dice to stop it). Fortunately, in my experience, both of these are reasonably rare and only Wood Elves (Wardancers and Wild Riders), Tomb Kings (Tomb Scorpions) and Bretonnia (all wizards) tend to have Magic Resistance by default. Of course, if your opponent is expecting the Horn, then most armies have some way of getting Magic resistance at a not too high cost, which renders it somewhat useless.

Additionally, each time you use one of the Bound spells (whether it is dispelled or not) you have a one-in-six chance of taking a Strength 5 hit which ignores armour saves. For Hero-level Shamans, this has a better than even chance of bringing them down to half their number of starting Wounds, which gives away quite a few victory points to your opponent. On one occasion I had a Goblin Shaman who managed to kill himself with the 'Itty Ring during the first two turns of the game. Realizing that the chance of giving away quite a few VPs was actually quite high, I now tend to away the Bound spells to more resilient characters, preferably to those with Toughness 5 or 3 Wounds or both. In addition, I don't use them if it is apparently of next to no use, to avoid unnecessary risks.

 

... and other magic items

The individual magic items available to greenskins deserve an entire article on their own and though I have not finished this article at the time of writing, I shall therefore not go through them all here. Instead I shall deal more with the issue of items in general and less on specific items in particular. I must admit that I tend to take as many points worth of magic items as I possibly can. Thus my characters tend to use up pretty much their entire items quota and any unit with the option for a magic standard gets one. As I see it, that is one of the main reason to take characters in the first place - a basic character is rarely all that special and the same number of points spent on units tends to be better. It is the magic gizmos they can take that really make them attractive to me.

The sad part of this is that in this edition, the items available to greenskin Shamans are a bit miserable. Out of five Orcs & Goblins Arcane Items, two are rather overpriced (the Idol of Mork and the Staff of Baduum), another two are cheap but encourage overly risky behaviour (Waaagh! Paint and the Magic Mushrooms) and the last is decent, but a bit dull (the Staff of Sneaky Stealin'). Added to this, the Common Arcane Items are also either overpriced (the Staff of Sorcery and Power Stones) or dull (Dispel Scrolls). This alone is worth going all defensive for. I blame Mat Ward for taking away all the nice Arcane Items from the old list instead of doing the sensible thing and modifying them somewhat, if he thought they were too good.

Anyways, one important consideration when selecting your magic items is how well you can combine them with other items. You can only have one Arcane Item, for example (apart from Dispel Scrolls, Power Stones and Magic Mushrooms). Additionally, as your items quota is limited, a 30-point item that is not overly expensive on its own may prevent you from taking any other useful items because they all cost 25 points or more. Fortunately for the greenskins, most useful items either cost 25 or 50 points. Personally, most of the items I tend to take for my Shamans come from the "dull but effective" category, with one or two from the "overpriced but still useful" category. I seldom take any of the "risky but potentially very effective" items nowadays, as they have too often caused the death of my Shamans. (Kids! Learn from the exploding Shamans, eating wierd 'shrooms can be really bad for you!). Items for Shamans tend to be mostly Arcane Items (about 50/50 greenskin and common ones), with now and then some Enchanted Items. For some time I used to field a Night Goblin Shaman with Mad Cap Mushrooms in a unit of Night Goblin Archers with three Night Goblin Fanatics and do all kinds of sneaky things with them, though far too often the very expensive Leadership 5 unit would leg it off the battlefield, so I rarely use it now. Great Shamans will occasionally get a Ward, though magic weapons are effectively never used, due to the miserable combat capabilities of Shamans (more on this below).

 

Heads will pop

You will just have to accept it - if you intend to do any decent spellcasting at all, then sooner or later your Shamans will Miscast and their heads will explode. If you are using three dice to cast a spell, then the chance of Miscasting is 7.4% (about one out of every fourteen rolls) and the chance of dying outright is about 1%. The Waaagh! Miscast chart (traditionally called the 'Eadbangerz chart) has a one-in-six chance of the Shaman simply being killed with no chance of doing anything about it, and a further chance of taking extra damage, which may or may not kill him directly or indirectly, depending on whether or not he was wounded already and what happens next. Over all, the chance of a Miscast leading to the death of a Shaman is around 25%, which is considerably worse than for the normal Miscast chart in the rulebook, though it is considerably less nasty than the greenskin Miscast chart in 6th edition, when the chance of dying was about 50%! One may of course wonder why greenskins have such a nasty Miscast chart; back in the old days it was apparently to compensate for the fact that they could get a lot of extra Power dice (or cards, as it was in 4th and 5th edition), but these days you can't get many extra dice and the fact that you can easily lose dice instead (more on this in the next section) means that this little rule is balanced pretty much on its own. So why the nasty Miscast table? The spell lores are not overly powerful, the Wizards not particularly cheap and the reason appears to simply be tradition - the Orcs & Goblins Miscast table is nasty because the Orcs & Goblins Miscast table has always been nasty. Bah!

And these days there is also no way at all of avoiding a Miscast other than rolling fewer dice, which is generally not an option if you want to cast your spells. Thus you have the option of either going all defensive with your magic and avoiding Miscasts by not trying to cast anything, or you accept that there is nothing to be done and live with it. Well, nearly nothing. As mentioned, you will probably need three dice to cast anything other than casting level 5+ spells and at that level, the chance of an unlucky casting causing the death of your Shaman is a more or less acceptable 2-ish per cent. With more spells used to cast, however, the chance of Miscasting goes up drastically, being roughly twice as high when you use four dice (one out of eight) and three times as high when you use five dice (about one out of five). A 6% chance of a 300+ points Great Shaman dying when you attempt to cast Waaagh! with five dice is rather too high for my liking and thus I tend to stick with only three dice per spell, even if I could have used more.

 

Extra Power dice rule thingy

Errr, yes, this rule. Ever since 4th edition (that is to say, 1992), Orcs & Goblins have received extra Power cards/dice for having units in combat and to weigh up for this we get an extra nasty Miscast chart. These days, as I have just mentioned, the benefits are considerably less and yet we still have a nastier Miscast chart, for no real reason. These days we get an extra Power dice for having a unit of 20+ Orcs in close combat in our own Magic phase, but we lose one Dispel dice if one or more units of this type is fleeing in the opponent's Magic phase. It is important to not that the maximum number of dice you can gain or lose in this way is one per phase, not one per unit. Thus if you have five blocks of Orcs in combat, you still only get a single extra Power dice. Suffice to say, I don't think this is much of an advantage at all and it just narrowly escapes being a disadvantage as I reckon it. And it doesn't affect Goblin armies, despite the fact that Little Waaagh! spells are on average a bit harder to cast than Big Waaagh! ones, which means that Goblin armies need the extra Power dice more.

Obviously, this rule encourages you to take nice, big blocks of Orc Boyz, as if you did not have enough reason to do so already. Not one of the better rules in the army book.

 

The Lores

The new book went away from the 6th edition system of having one Lore for Great Shamans and another Lore for the not so great ones, and we now instead have one Lore for Orcs and one for Goblins. On one hand this is nice because you will be able to use either Lore without fiddling around with your army list too much, but on the other hand, it makes Great Shamans somewhat less attractive at a point when they could really do with more reason to choose them. As I consider it, two two Lores are on average more or less equally good, though the Little Waaagh! is much more variable than Big Waaagh!, in addition to being on average more difficult to cast.

In analyzing the two lores available to greenskin Shamans, I have chosen to focus on three different aspects of the spells.
Targeting: How easy it normally is to find a legal target with the spell.
Flexibility: Average chance of a legal target being a worthwhile target
Usefulness: Degree of effect on a legal, worthwhile target
All aspects are rated 1 - 5. To give an overall rating of the different spells, these scores are then multiplied with each other and divided by the casting value multiplied with itself. This figure is then multiplied by a semi-arbitrary number (5) to give a score of 1 to 5 which I believe gives a decent view of it's usefulness under normal conditions. The overall score for the lore is then the average score for the individual spells.
A major priority is being able to cast something with all your shamans each and every turn and for that, the two most important aspects are targeting and flexibility. Thus if you have one spell with low ratings in these aspects, you will probably want another with high ones.

 

Little Waaagh!

The spells of the Little Waaagh! are somewhat variable. A couple are very nice for their cost, another couple are okay, and the last two are just plain not good, or just a bit too variable. Thus the problem is to get useful spells for your Shaman, a problem you can do nothing about as the first spell is rubbish and the only choice in the matter is whether or not to swap an obviously better spell for the Gaze of Gork. It is particularly annoying that Little Waaagh! spells tend to be more difficult to cast than Big Waaagh! spells when Goblins have more difficulty getting extra Power Dice than Orcs do. Thus a good combo is to include Goblin Shamans in a mixed greenskin list, to take advantage of the extra Power dice. As a side note it is a mystery to me why the Little Waaagh! has four Gork spells; I thought Mork was more fond of little 'uns than Gork was.
# Name Rating Notes
1 Gaze of Gork
Targeting: Short range
Flexibility: Low T, good armour
Usefulness: Medium damage
I consider this to possible be the worst default spell of any lore and personally I never trade in any other spell to get this. It is only really useful against Toughness 3 knights and for that purpose, the short range is a real bother.
2 Brain Bursta
Targeting: Average
Flexibility: Not too high resilience
Usefulness: High damage
A "generic large magic missile", as I like to call it. Fries skirmishers and other lightly armoured infantry and has a decent chance of wiping out entire units of fast cavalry. Narrowly avoids being a very good spell due to the average targeting restrictions.
3 Gork'll Fix It
Targeting: May be cast into combat
Flexibility: Just about anything
Usefulness: Severely hampers unit
Highly useful spell and not too difficult to cast either. Contends with the Foot for the best spell in the Lore. When I field two level 2 Goblin Shamans, I tend to hope that both get the Foot while one also gets this spell and the other gets the Hand. This spell effectively lowers the unit's WS, BS, S, armour and ward saves by 1, in addition to it's effects on spellcasting. All that for a spell that isn't particularly difficult to cast!
4 Foot of Gork
Targeting: Unlimited range, no line of sight
Flexibility: Any small unit with not too much armour
Usefulness: High damage
This my favourite spell of the lore, mainly because there is almost always something worthwhile to cast it on, and it does a lot of damage. I can get to all of those pesky enemy units that are hard to hit with normal missile fire and has a high enough Strength to worry heavy cavalry.
5 Hand of Gork
Targeting: No line of sight
Flexibility: Unit that wants to move closer to the enemy
Usefulness: Random distance extra move
This spell is a bit annoying in that only Goblins can get it, while it is most effective on Orc units, who tend to prefer charging more than Goblins do. Still, any movement spell can be a game winner on it's own, letting you pull off those nasty flank charges that were impossible at the start of the Movement phase. Also highly useful in that it requires no test to charge an enemy unit that causes Fear or Terror.
6 Mork Wants Ya!
Targeting: Short range, no line of sight, free targeting
Flexibility: Low Initiative, high resilience
Usefulness: High damage
Not one of my favourite spells, as its usefulness depends quite a bit on the army you are facing and the fact that even in armies with generally low Initiative (such as Dwarfs), the characters often have decently high Initiative. Over all a bit too difficult to get anything out of for my liking. Note that it is brilliant against war machines if you manage to get within range of them, as you can target the machine itself and it will automatically fail the test to avoid damage, as it has Initiative 0.

 

Big Waaagh!

Big Waaagh! spells are on average somewhat easier to cast than Little Waaagh! spells, with four spells being 8+ or easier to cast. The downside to this is that you tend to get what you pay for, and as a consequence, Big Waaagh! spells are on average slightly less useful than Little Waaagh! spells. The two last Big Waaagh! spells can be horrendously effective under the right circumstances, but they require quite a bit of luck to get off and then a bit more luck to get the most out of them.
# Name Rating Notes
1 Gaze of Mork
Targeting: Average
Flexibility: Small units with not too high resilience
Usefulness: Medium damage
The "generic small magic missile". I don't tend to cast this very often, mainly because my dice does not often add up. As this is the only useful Waaagh! spell that is best cast with two dice (you can also cast the other Gaze with two dice, but that is not a useful spell), this tends to leave me with too few remaining dice to cast any other useful spell. Thus with six dice available it tends to be two spells with three dice each instead. Only if I'm fielding a Great Shaman (which often means 8 available Power dice) does this get a decent chance of being cast, though more often I will be casting one of the two following spells instead (Great Shamans tend to get the Staff of Baduum, in which case there is a decent chance of getting off 6+ spells with two dice).
2 'Eadbutt
Targeting: Free targeting
Flexibility: Character, champion or similar
Usefulness: Medium damage
A bit limited in what there is any point in casting it on (not too tough characters, champions and the occasional knight), this spell tends to suffer from the fact that since you are probably going to need three dice on it anyway, you might as well cast a more powerful spell.
3 Bash 'em Ladz
Targeting: No line of sight, short range, only affects units in combat
Flexibility: Depends on combat abilities of unit
Usefulness: Significantly increases damage
A bit limited in when you can cast it and what you can cast it on, but when you get it off on a decent combat unit (which tends to mean something with a fighter character in it), the number of kicked butts go up by quite a bit. As it is quite situational, you will probably be wanting another, more flexible spell to go with it. Ending up with this spell and Waaagh! on a level 2, for example, can lead to very little being cast for the first couple of turns.
4 Fists of Gork
Targeting: May be cast into combat, no line of sight, short range
Flexibility: Large units with not too high resilience
Usefulness: High damage
This spell really requires a large enemy unit to cast it on to really be effective, and the range could have been better, but against massed infantry armies, this is the most destructive spell. It is also nice in that you get a chance to hit champions and fragile characters inside units without giving them getting a Look Out, Sir! roll (as the spell does not use a template).
5 Gork's Warpath
Targeting: Unlimited range, no line of sight
Flexibility: As Foot of Gork, also dangerous to own units
Usefulness: Very high damage
This spell got a really bad reputation back in 6th edition, mostly because of the Mork Save Uz spell, which generated re-rolls which could be used, should Gork stomp on something you did not want him to. These days, the re-roll spell is gone and the chance of Gork re-stomping on an enemy unit has gone down, which makes this spell somewhat less attractive, especially if you have vulnerable units of your own. As with the single-stomp Foot of Gork, the really nice part of this spell is that you can pretty much always cast it.
6 Waaagh!
Targeting: Unlimited range, area effect, no line of sight, indiscriminate
Flexibility: As Hand of Gork
Usefulness: Significantly increases movement and damage
A Waaagh! spell at the right time which isn't dispelled can easily win a game, though sadly most opponents will realize this and do their best to stop it. Thus placing all your units in dangerous situations and hoping for an Irresistible Force is probably not such a good idea. It also affects all your units, whether you'd like them to move or not, which can put a cramp on your shooting for a turn or two. Obviously, this spell is better in later turns of the game, so any Shaman who ends up with this will probably want another spell that can be cast for the first couple of turns as well.

 

Using greenskin shamans

After going through all the various things to consider before the game starts, now follows some thoughts on how to actually go about using them in battle. This part is mostly concerned with using greenskin magic in particular and less on using magic in general. When I get around to a generic tactics article on magic, I will go more into detail on the best order to cast spells in (rule of thumb: the ones you are most likely to get off first) and how many dice to use when dispelling (rule of thumb: one more dice than was used to cast it).

 

Where to place your shamans

When deciding where to place your shamans during a battle, the position that gives you a good range of targets mush be weighed against the chance of something nasty happening to them. Moving them around on their own in between friendly units tends to give the best targeting opportunities, though it makes the poor spellslinger much more likely to be shot or zapped by the opposing army. In previous editions, single characters could not be targeted by shooting or magic missiles when they were within 5" of a sufficiently large friendly unit, though that rule is now gone and shooting a fragile caster moving around on his own is now much easier. If you get an opportunity to launch a Brain Bursta at a lone enemy wizard, I suggest you take it. Because of this, it is generally recommended to place your shamans in units, unless the enemy army has next to no ranged capabilities.

So which unit do you place your shaman in, then? Most greenskin units make bad company for shamans, due to a number of reasons. What you are looking for is a unit that fills as many of the following criteria as possible:

  1. The unit cannot squabble
  2. The unit is immune or at least quite resistant to Panic
  3. The unit is so large that the shaman cannot be hit with normal missile fire and will get a "Look Out, Sir!" roll if hit with a template weapon
  4. The shaman will not take the place of a model that fights well
  5. The unit is not excessively exposed to getting charged, shot or zapped

Of these, I would rate protection from squabbling as the most important. Most greenskin units have to test for Animosity each turn and a squabble will prevent your shaman from casting any spells at all. This is essentially the same as giving away free Dispel Scrolls to the enemy, and if you just have a couple of shamans in your army, having one of them unable to cast often means that the other one struggles to get anything through. With two shamans in your army, both placed in units that are prone to squabble, you will on average only have four effective turns of spellcasting in a six-turn battle. This is horribly bad if you'd like a decent return on the points you have invested, and therefore I strongly urge you not to place shamans in units that test normally for Animosity each turn.
Secondly, due to the low Leadership of some of the obvious "bodyguard" units, shamans can have an annoying tendency of being dragged off the table by the wimps you set to protect him. As mentioned above, I had this problem with a Leadership 5 Night Goblin Shaman in a Leadership 5 Night Goblin archer unit and eventually gave up on it. Keeping the unit close to the army general so that they can use his Leadership will probably help, though in my case it was my general's unit fleeing through the archers that was often the cause of Panic in the first place! Units high up in the Size Matters hierarchy are less prone to Panic, both due to their higher Leadership and the fact that they don't test for Panic caused by lesser greenskins and Snotlings are also Immune to Panic.
Thirdly, if you place a shaman in a unit you expect will see combat, there is a good chance that your precious spellcaster will be stabbed, being more fragile than most rank and file troops. Not only is this bad enough in itself, but even if the shaman is not hurt, he will take the place of what is generally a more combat capable warrior. Placing shamans in units of Black Orcs are therefore not really a very good idea.
With those priorities, good places to put shamans are as follows (in no particular order):

 

All casting, all the time

As should be obvious by now, having a decent magic phase is expensive. Not being able to use all your Power dice because a Shaman has no useful spell to cast makes it effectively even more expensive. This was touched upon in the previous section, though it is important, so it is worth going into more detail. If you run with the suggested minimum of two level 2s and both Bound spells and your opponent has a comparable amount, you are looking at 6 Power dice plus the two Bound spells versus four Dispel dice and possibly some sort of defensive bonus. Normally, this tends to mean that he can use his dice to cancel one of your spells and one bound item, letting the other item go through (probably the one your opponent reckons has the least effect) plus one spell. This is assuming that all your shamans and Bound item-carriers are free to do their thing. If one shaman is unable to cast, either due to his unit squabbling or because none of his spells are useable, your opponent is probably able to cancel the spell the other shaman is casting, he can stop one Bound item and you are reduced to getting one not-terribly-effective Bound spell through. Not terribly effective for something like 300 points spent on magic.

The second step to avoid this is keeping your shamans from squabbling or running away in panic and the ways in which this can be achieved is discussed in the previous section. The first step, which comes before the actual battle, is to make sure your shaman has a useful selection of spells at his disposal. With my other main army, Ogre Kingdoms, this is not a problem, because every wizard knows all the six spells in the lore by default and I never have to worry that an unlucky roll for spells leaves them with two sub-par ones. This can certainly happen with low-level greenskin shamans, though for Great Shamans it is not usually a problem. Sadly, though, one third of the time your second level shaman will roll up the first spell in the lore, in which case he has no choice at all and cannot do any swapping. Furthermore, with a Goblin shaman you will probably rarely want to swap any spell for the Gaze of Gork, unless you are facing an army with a whole lot of Toughness 3 knights (and possibly not even then). Two thirds of the time, however, you do get a choice, in which case it is important to consider if you want to trade in one of your spells for the relevant Gaze spell, and if so, which you want to trade in. Your magic phase is going to be a lot more effective if all the spells you attempt to cast reach their required casting value, which means you don't want spells that are too difficult to cast. A second-level shaman using the maximum allowed three dice will reach the casting value of an 8+ spell about five times out of six, which is the kind of odds I like. For a 9+ spell the chance of success is about three out of four, which is acceptable but not really reliable. Cast two spells which each have a 75% chance of success per turn and nearly half the time you will only get one off.

Thus you would really prefer at least one 8+ or easier spell per shaman, which will be the one you use most of the time. Three of the Little Waaagh! and four of the Big Waaagh! spells fall into this category and out of those, I reckon the Brain Bursta, Gork'll Fix It, Gaze of Mork and Fists of Gork are allround good spells which you can both get off reasonably easy and which are useful to have. With the Big Waaagh!, the situation isn't really problematic - if you don't roll up either of the Gaze of Mork or the Fists of Gork, you can always swap one of the ones you did get for the Gaze. With the Little Waaagh!, the situation is more problematic as the default spell is rarely much good and 40% of the time (six times out of fifteen) you will not end up with either of the Brain Bursta or Gork'll Fix It. On the good side, half the time when you don't get either of those two, you get the Foot of Gork, which is slightly more difficult to cast, but which is my allround favourite spell in the lore. The fact that it is somewhat less likely to get through can be compensated for by taking a Night Goblin Shaman with Magic Mushrooms, to turn a near success into an actual one. Some of the time, though, you will get the Gaze of Gork and Mork Wants Ya! against an army with decent Initiative and little armour, in which case there is not much to do about it except take it on the chin and try to look for a semi-useful target at least. If neither spell is very useful, cast the easiest one.

 

Number of dice per spell

When deciding on the best number of Power dice to use when casting a spell, two conflicting priorities are present: First, you want to use enough dice to reliably cast a spell, and secondly you want to use few enough dice to minimize the chances of miscasting. Personally I would prefer my chances of reaching the casting value of the spell to be about five out of six (that is to say, the equivalent of 2+ on a D6). For a spell that is cast on a 5+ or less, this means two dice, for a spell that is cast on 6+, 7+ or 8+ it means three dice, for a spell cast on 9+, 10+ or 11+ it means four dice and for everything more different it means five dice. For a level 2 shaman, the maximum number of dice that can be used is three, and so there is not a whole lot of choice involved - for the Gaze spells my not-so-great shamans will use two dice and for everything else they will use three dice. Had the greenskin miscast table not been as nasty as it is, my Great Shamans would use more dice for casting value 9+ spells and higher, though as the chance of miscasting rises to about one in eight when using four dice, they tend to stick with three dice as well. Thus my Great Shamans tend to cast two spells with three dice each every turn, instead of going for a single, more difficult spell. To compensate for this, they tend to take the Staff of Baduum, which tends to increase the chance of casting the more difficult Waaagh! spells by about 12% in absolute terms (e.g. the chance of casting Mork Wants Ya! goes up from 62.5% to 74.1% when using three dice).

With six dice available to me from two level 2s or a single level 4, this then becomes two spells cast with three dice each. If I get an extra dice from having Orc units in combat, this dice may or may not be used, depending on how difficult my spells are and which would be useful at the moment - if I have to 5+ or 6+ spells that would be useful at the time, I may try to cast both of these with two dice and one more difficult spell with three dice, but I will not usually try casting any 8+ spells with two dice, as the odds of this being successful is only slightly better than 40%.

With eight available dice, this will usually mean that I have a Great Shaman with the Staff of Baduum, in which case I can cast a spell with two dice with greater chance of getting it off, as well as two spells with three dice. Should I get an extra dice, it will be three spells with three dice each.

 

Shaman setups

Finally, some different setups for shamans will be discussed.

 

Allround shamans

The allround shaman carries a mix of items that aids your own magic phase and counters the opponent's magic phase. If you want a decent magic phase (and a fun one) you are probably going to need at least one of these. As the only defensive item a low-level shaman can take and still have enough of his magic items quota left to take anything else is a Dispel Scroll, allround greenskin shamans tend to end up with one of these. with 25 points left over, this typically either sets him up with a Power Stone, Nibbla's 'Itty Ring or (if he is a Night Goblin), a couple of Magic Mushrooms. Either of these three work okay and while none are amazing on their own, but some form of offensive items are needed if you want an effective magic phase.
The allround Great Shaman has a much wider choice in items to take. A Goblin Great Shaman could for example take the Staff of Sneaky Stealin' and the Horn of Urgok.
Allround shamans should take the level upgrade, as this makes them more flexible.

 

Offensive shamans

An offensive shaman is exclusively geared up to cast, and for that reason should always be given the level upgrade. For some time I used to run a level 2 Night Goblin Shaman with five pieces of Magic Mushrooms, though I rarely got to use them all, either because there weren't enough good reason to use all five, or because eating 'shrooms caused his head to explode before I got through the entire store. Good for a few laughs, but perhaps not a whole lot more. Swapping in three Mushrooms for a Power Stone probably leaves you enough 'shrooms and opens up for a nice little surprise tactic, where you can first take your magic phase as normal and, once you and your opponent have both exhausted your stores of magic dice, whip out your Power Stone and use it to cast another spell. Should you roll slightly too low (not unlikely, as the Little Waaagh! spells can be quite difficult to get off) you can then gobble down a Mushroom and hopefully get it through.
With a Great Shaman, you can more happily run with the Staff of Baduum, which is quite nice combined with a Power Stone. He can also go with the 'Itty Ring, as his high Toughness and especially his three Wounds means he should not have to worry about backfires.
Offensive shamans often do quite well with a mount, as this lets them get to the places where they can best cast their spells.

 

Defensive shamans

A defensive shaman only carries items that protect your army from hostile magic. If you run him as one of several shamans in a list that wants to make an attempt at casting some spells then a level 2-upgrade is worth it. If you just want a single defensive shaman to protect your army from hostile spells, then save the 35 points and keep him as a level 1. A defensive shaman can be combined with some sort of Orc BSB with Mork's Spirit-totem if you are especially worried about the opponent's magic phase, but most of the time, one of the two should be enough. Due to the limited amount of available items to counter enemy magic, a defensive shaman is essentially limited to either the Staff of Sneaky Stealin' or 1-2 Dispel Scrolls.
Defensive Great Shamans seem a bit pointless to me, not only am I having trouble imagining how it could be effective in its own right, I can't see how the loss of Leadership you get without a Warboss is really interesting.
Defensive shamans may or may not be mounted.

 

Fighter shamans

Let's get things straight right from the beginning: The Skull Wand of Kaloth is considerably overpriced for what it does (at half the current price it would have been okay), considering that it can only be used by a shaman. Essentially everything that is expensive enough for you to buy a 40-point weapon to go kill tends to have a too high Weapon Skill and Leadership for the shaman to stand any realistic chance of hurting. I have seen a suggestion that combines the Skull Wand with the Kickin' Boots and I really must say that the Best Basha and Kickin' Boots will probably do just as much damage (if not more) for 25 points less. No, if you really want a fighter shaman, go for one of the cheaper magic weapons instead of the Skull Wand. The basic problem with shamans is that their low Weapon Skill and Attacks basically means that however you tool him up; he will remain a mediocre fighter. If you want a character to fight, take a Big Boss or a Warboss and you'll get much more out of your magic weapon. A second problem with fighter shamans is that they will probably need a Ward to protect them, as they cannot get any other armour than a steed (which is recommended). This can get expensive quite quickly.
A Lord-level Orc fighter shaman has a sligth advantage in that he has a Strength of 4 and thus isn't all that bad if you give him the Best Basha. Additionally, all the Great Shamans have a large enough magic items quota to not only take an okay (i.e. cheap) magic weapon and a ward, but still have some points left over to take some items that actually do something in the magic phase. But then a Great Shaman is a lot of more points that a not-so-great one, and you are risking a lot more by getting him into combat. A better solution would probably be to take an allround shaman and give him a cheap magic weapon, should he happen to get into combat, but not do overly much to make this happen. An Orc Great Shaman with the Best Boss 'At, Staff of Baduum and the 'Itty Ring could for example be given a Sword of Might with the ten remaining points of his items quota. Mount him on a boar for a 5+ armour save and an additional attack (which is Strength 5 when charging) and he isn't that bad without it costing an arm and a leg, and without making him useless in the magic phase.
Fighter shamans may or may not be given the level upgrade (depending on whether you intend to do any spellcasting with him) and may or may not be given a mount.

 

Mounted Shamans

First a not on Savage Orc Shamans: Due to their Frenzy, it can be very risky to give them any kind of mount, as they can easily be forced to charge something you do not want them to. Therefore a mount is not really recommended for Savages, unless you are thinking of placing a shaman in a unit of Savage Orc Boar Boyz (a not too clever idea, if you ask me).
Secondly, a note on line of sight: Any kind of mount restricts you shaman to a 90 degree arc of vision, instead of the 360 degree one he has if he walks around on foot. Three of the Little Waaagh! spells and two of the Big Waaagh! spells require line of sight to the target, so this might be a problem, though most of the time shamans on foot will be in friendly units, in which case they are limited to a 90 degree arc of sight anyway, so it's not all that much of a problem.

Steed (i.e. a wolf or boar): A Big Boss or Warboss can get a lot out of a simple wolf or a boar, a shaman somewhat less so. The main benefit is the increased move you get out of it, while the increased armour save, extra attack of the steed and the extra point of Unit Strength are not really all that attractive. That being said, being able to quickly get out of trouble can save the neck of a shaman in the right circumstances, so there are certainly reasons to take a steed, especially for a low-level shaman, when the cost is not too high. Not compulsory by any means, but worth considering.

Chariot: The common Goblin Shaman is the only Hero-level Shaman able to ride in a chariot, and if you really want additional Wolf Chariots without expending your limited Special choices on it, this is one way of getting them. Some people seem to be all for a defensive common Goblin Shaman in a chariot, using his Dispel Scroll(s) in the first couple of turns to stop the nastiest enemy spells and then using him to ram the first and best enemy target after that. Personally I don't like risking my Shamans in that way and prefer a more allround approach.
All Great Shamans apart from Night Goblin ones may ride chariots, which seem a bit risky for my liking. The low-level gobbo shaman on a chariot is basically a fire-and-forget missile and you really do not want to do that with a very expensive Lord-level shaman.

Wyvern: Putting a shaman on a big, flying monster actually has a couple of things going for it and is probably not as useless as it might seem on first glance. Firstly it solves one of the major problems with running a Wyvern below 3,000 points, that of having your General flying around on the other side of the battlefield. With a Great Shaman on a Wyvern, you can have an Orc Big Boss as the general and stay behind with the troops. Secondly, the quality of a Wyvern rider is not really all that dependant on the fighting abilities of the rider. Its primary advantage is that you have a flying model with enough Unit Strength to remove enemy rank bonuses if you flank them. Teamed up with some hard-hitting unit capable charging the enemy unit at the same time as the Wyvern-rider and it could work quite well. Any Great Shaman on a Wyvern should invest in a Best Boss 'At, as he will probably be a major target for enemy war machine fire.

 

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