Honestly, I’ve had some recent successes with Runeshapers. They have game-play, but don’t seem much play in big games.
Lack of showing in big tournaments
The Trollblood community seems to hate running Trollkin Runeshapers. According to Discount Games Inc, the Runeshapers haven’t been played in any major tournament by a top tier player (those types that place in the top 10 regularly) since March 2017. Granted, there are a lot of reasons to play other pieces besides the Runeshapers. Storm of the North (SOTN) is a fresh new theme offering free upkeeps and a good mix of ranged and melee models. Band of Heroes (BOH) gives Trollblood armies access to a remove from play (RFP) mechanic that is invaluable when facing recursive armies. Since Runeshapers are only allowed in the Power of Dhunia (POD) theme, selection of either of the other two popular Trollblood themes excludes the Runeshapers from play.
Even though POD remains a popular choice in the tournament scene, Runeshapers still aren’t making a showing. One reason for the choice comes down to the warlocks being run in the theme. Players running Borka 2, like Tim Banky did when he placed 2nd in the 2018 Adepticon Champions event, understand that Borka requires Northkin models to take advantage of his feat. The list inevitably becomes warbeast heavy and fast moving, so Runeshapers won’t make a showing in that setting. Another reason, to be discussed later, is pairing effectiveness. The Runeshapers may be underrepresented, but more due to warlock and theme choices rather than unit ineffectiveness. So why all the Runeshaper hate?
Cha cha cha changes…
The changes to Runeshapers from mk2 to mk3 hurt their value immensely in the eyes of troll players. Way back in the height of mk2, the Runeshapers could charge and unleash a knockdown, at a 10” threat. That changed in January 2016, to a 5.71” threat, as the knockdown turned into an automatic knockdown in a 3” AOE centered on the Trollkin. In mk3, the AOE widened to 4”. Force Lock also got dropped in mk3, replaced by battle wizard. They used to prevent movement, and now they get a free casting after a melee kill. But that wasn’t the only change that rocked the Runeshaper world.
The biggest loss was the erasure of mk2 themes, specifically the Runes of War theme. From 2012 through 2015, the Runes of War dominated Trollblood tournament lists. The Runes gave the troll player extra fury at the beginning of turn 1. The warlock could fuel the Krielstone, cast upkeep spells and get moving, even if going second. The theory is that if you go second, you lose table presence because instead of running, you’re busy casting upkeeps, or you can’t cast upkeeps because you are filling the stone. The changes to the Krielstone in mk3 along with POD’s free upkeeps at the beginning of the game have corrected the issue of casting upkeeps and powering the stone, but there is no incentive to include multiple Runeshaper units. In fact, because free models are only granted when including Warbeasts, the theme creates a barrier to Runeshaper inclusion. An increased Faction Allowance does fulfill Privateer Press’s promise to not make models a wasted purchase between the two editions of the game, but the choice between Runeshapers and other units or Warbeasts (and free solos) further limits their tournament showing. The lack of incentive becomes more apparent when comparing POD to the other themes which have 5 hit-box models available (Champions in BOH and SOTN and Warders in BOH). In both SOTN and BOH, the inclusion of units grants free models.
Ignoring the “free model incentive,” why include Runeshapers? The Runeshaper is still a good toolbox for many warlocks. They offer Trembler, a knockdown special action that doesn’t require an attack roll. Their magic attack, Rock Hammer, deals out a 3” AOE with POW 14 for damage and a critical knockdown. Their axe is also magic, although only a POW 10. The Runeshapers excel at killing incorporeal models. In conjunction with the Chronicler and a warbeast with a 2” melee weapon, they become melee monsters, sporting a MAT 8, POW 12 magical axe. With Janissa nearby, they can kill a model and immediately throw a Rock Hammer. Pathfinder further increases their threat, and the Dig In ability offers ranged protection. What would an army look like with 4 Runeshaper units?
The skeleton assumes Janissa and a Chronicler is included to buff the Runeshapers. The Krielstone remains a powerful choice, granting the armor buff, and optional strength buff, immunity to continuous effects or elimination of Stealth and Incorporeal. The Dhunian Knot is a more subjective option, but offers healing, fury management and Puppet Master.
- Trollbloods Army – 62 / 75 points
Janissa Stonetide 
Stone Scribe Chronicler 
Dhunian Knot 
Krielstone Bearer & Stone Scribes (max) 
– Stone Scribe Elder 
Trollkin Runeshapers 
Trollkin Runeshapers 
Trollkin Runeshapers 
Trollkin Runeshapers 
Without warlock involvement, this package offers 12 magical attacks with a 13” threat. A single unit can flank a warbeast with the Chronicler’s help. With the right warlock, the Runeshapers can fill the role of the jammer, solo hunter, or unit killer.
Math – Because this is a dice game, right?
At this point, somebody usually makes a statement concerning the point cost of the Runeshaper, the better 5-hitbox models or some reason why the Runeshaper can’t kill anything and dies easy. Before continuing with warlock choice or list pairing, a short discussion on the math behind Runeshaper effectiveness becomes necessary.
Runeshapers vs Champions vs Warders vs Fire Eaters
Remember, the Champions and Warders serve slightly different roles from the Runeshapers. The Champions are effective melee killers in two themes, and the Warders serve as premier shield guards, protecting key pieces from ranged attacks in Band of Heroes. The Fire Eaters serve as an infantry killer with an interesting mechanic requiring them to be on fire to function effectively. Rather than dive into the stats of a 7 vs 6 attack roll and 14 vs 16 armor, a simple look at the stat line and cursory overview of their special abilities demonstrates the differences between the units.
The stat line defines the Fire Eaters as fast-moving assault units. They are harder to hit, but easier to damage, not offering much in the way of jamming. The Champions and Warders both last longer but depend on being base to base to take advantage of abilities that boost DEF or ARM, respectively. Champions also benefit from Sanguine Bond and boast interaction with a solo to give them a potential attack during your opponent’s turn. Both the Champions and Warders jam well, and the Champions can effectively challenge either units or warbeasts. The Runeshapers have no defensive capabilities to prevent them from dying in melee, suggesting that they would do better as a medium range unit.
Point-wise, Runeshapers are slightly cheaper than the Champions and Warders. They hit about as hard as the other units, and their accuracy with their magic attack is on par (7). Their native Steady means they can spread out, and their command means that they can avoid things like electrical leap, or make it hard for sprays to catch more than one member of a unit at a time. They don’t worry about AOE blast damage when dug in, and their high defense while dug in (16) means they become difficult for most things to shoot.
So why was this digression necessary for list creation? It comes down to pairings, really.
Pairing the Runeshaper List
When you look at the Runeshaper list and compare it to a Band of Heroes or Storm of the North list, you’ll likely see many warrior models in play. Storm of the North warbeast-heavy lists haven’t taken off, due to the incentive to add units to gain free models. Band of Heroes depends heavily on the benefits of warrior models, gaining free models for unit inclusion as well as offering the remove from play ability. So, you aren’t likely to play beast heavy in that list either. Kriel Company offers the War Wagon, but is a dead list in the current meta (2017-2018), because of weaknesses surrounding ranged weapons in general and perceived Trollblood ranged weapon deficiencies that place other factions above Trollblood armies in terms of ranking who’s best at shooting.
That means if you run Runeshapers in POD, you are likely running other Trollblood units in another theme as a list pair. Your opponent can play an anti-infantry list and be confident that it will perform well into either troll list, especially if it offers Grievous Wounds, RFP, or another Tough-prevention tool. Your choice becomes running a unit heavy list with free models, good anti-ranged capability and powerful, difficult-to-kill models or a unit heavy list with maybe a single free model and slightly weaker units.
Logically, any player would play the most effective unit and the theme that runs them best. The problem with logic is that logic becomes predictable. The meta is finding ways to deal with the Madrak 1 Champion list that many Trollblood players jumped on after the Northkin release in November 2017. Privateer Press is offering new models capable of solving Kolgrima’s cloud question. The Borka 2 stationary question and Battle Bears lose effectiveness in certain matches. Changes to the meta in reaction to the current Trollblood builds means a dark horse pairing may be formidable simply due to the surprise factor.
So back to list building, what warlock would run a Runeshaper army well enough to win a game or two?
Warlocks with Runeshapers
Not these warlocks.
They offer abilities that are redundant with Runeshaper abilities or offer no benefits for the Runeshaper units.
Borka 1, Borka 2, Gunnbjorn.
Maybe these warlocks.
They might not be the strongest choice, but the Runeshapers offer them some extra utility in their lists.
Grissel 1: A warlock who is considered weak, has some well-rounded capabilities such as Calamity and Guardian Protector which interface well with the skeleton list. Rift becomes a playable option since it won’t impair Runeshaper charges.
Doomshaper 1: Although the feat doesn’t directly benefit the Runeshapers, it may help alleviate the alpha brought on by warbeast and warjack heavy lists. He offers some battlefield control, and can buff a unit with Fortune.
Doomshaper 2: Although a warbeast warlock, who only focuses on his battlegroup, his warbeasts could use the Runeshapers as chaff. The choice may be between a heavy warbeast and two units of Runeshapers, so there probably won’t be a full 4 units in this army.
Doomshaper 3: He may want fewer units of Runeshapers so that he can load up on warbeasts. The failing of Doomshaper 3 was that everyone expects a full beast loadout with healing, and they plan for it. With Runeshapers, he suddenly finds the Scroll of the Strength of the Molgur useful and has a diversified army.
Grim 2: Although Mortality works with any army, Grim’s feat doesn’t help Runeshapers. Mirage can give them a speed boost, but it only works for a single unit.
Skuld 1: Skuld’s general abilities function with almost any army. With Runeshapers, he’d probably cast most of his spells on his battlegroup. His feat (clouds) almost always hampers the enemy.
Kolgrima: She offers the same cloud mechanic as Skuld, but delivers on every turn. She can’t wantonly spray cold in this army, because Runeshapers have no resistance. She is better in Northkin, Kriel Company and Band of Heroes.
Madrak 2: Blood Fury turns the Runeshapers into melee warriors, making them function almost as well as Champions. Although the Runeshapers could do some work with the feat, Madrak 2 is better suited to a Fennblade build.
Madrak 3: Offers super-tough and Blessed weapons. He has a strange set of abilities that may or may not work with the Runeshaper army.
These warlocks work well.
They are generally strong warlocks who offer spells or feats that synergize with Runeshaper abilities.
Calandra: Calandra’s feat always helps everyone. Star-Crossed helps everyone. She probably wants more than 2 warbeasts in her battlegroup.
Grim: Another well-rounded control warlock who makes things easy to hit for everyone in his army.
Grissel 2: On her own, she has a great gun, and offers an Armor-boosting feat along with a set of spells that affect the whole army. Dash and Deflection can be cast each turn, granting many abilities to the Runeshapers.
Horgle 2: The feat helps Runeshapers (assuming something’s on fire). Runeshapers like boosted attack rolls because it increases their critical roll chance. He will miss Fire Eaters and other fire-starting models, but can run Pyre Trolls and Bombers in his battlegroup. Solid Ground is only needed for his battlegroup and the Krielstone, and Inviolable Resolve works well with anyone. Mulg would work as a conduit for Consuming Flames.
Madrak 1: As an alternative to the Champions build, the Runeshapers like the extra defense and healing that Madrak 1 provides. Even Ground works for the battlegroup and Krielstone. Guided Hand mitigates the loss of a Fell Caller.
Ragnor 1: His feat is enjoyed by any multi-box model, and the Runeshapers are no exception. He possesses many of the same tools the Runeshapers offer, and unfortunately doesn’t benefit from Janissa’s granted ability even though he’s a Runeshaper himself. While Runeshapers knock things down, he can focus on running his small battlegroup of Axers, Maulers, or pretty much anything.
Changes I would Make
In the Power of Dhunia Theme, I would make two simple changes.
- Grant Runeshapers Advanced Deployment instead of offering free upkeeps on turn 1.
- Change the requirements for free models to read “For every full 30 points of Trollblood warbeasts and Trollblood units in this army, you can add one medium-based Trollblood solo or five Troll Whelp solos to the army free of cost.
The upkeep vs powering the Krielstone issue is mostly solved by the stone powering itself. Advanced Deployment enables the Dig In ability to actually come into play (much like the Cygnar Trenchers). The warbeast/unit combination increases the likelihood of units fielded in the army, which already has a severe restriction on models being included, while the increase from 25 to 30 points means the list will still hover at 4 free solos in a 75 point army. Although the army won’t hit the bajillion points of free models offered by some of the mercenary lists, I believe the trend will be to reduce those factions’ free points much like Cygnar saw in the last year with their themes.
I’m convinced that as the meta finds ways to squash the Madrak 1, Kolgrima 1, Grim 1 and Borka 2 armies, a snowflake Runeshaper build will find its success. Paired with a double War Wagon or Gargantuan list, the Runeshapers offer cheap 5-box warrior models and a unique set of skills to handle problems like Gremlin Swarms. They work around some of the anti-ranged tactics like “take no ranged damage” or “can’t be targeted by ranged attacks” while offering essentially a ranged alternative. With a minor change to the POD theme, I feel they’d see more table time.