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Cardiology: Upper Hand

Decision: Should You Play Upper Hand?


The card's usefulness hinges entirely on it's unclear wording.  If rule that favorably, it's the best accuracy ploy in the game.  If we rule it unfavorably, it's a slightly sub-par accuracy boost that benefits from being a reaction, and may very much still be worth playing.  Probably just play it at this point, and be on the lookout for FAQ.

Factor: Accuracy

Of course, the reason that you're considering playing Upper Hand is that you want to have more successful attacks - you want more accuracy.  On the most basic level, Upper Hand improves your accuracy on a single attack by the percentage below:


One thing that becomes immediately apparent when looking at this chart is that Upper Hand gives a greater bonus against "better" defenses than it does against 1-dodge defenses.  If you're in an environment where you play against a lot of Sepulchural Guard or the like, Upper Hand may not be the best choice for you.  However, the bonus to accuracy can be absolutely devastating against 2-block and 1-"guard" defenses - most notably the Cursebreakers.

On the other side of the coin, the middle range of attack characteristics benefits the most from Upper Hand.  That's because these attacks are the most likely to result in ties - the more you stack bonuses to your attack, the less likely you'll be to benefit from Upper Hand.  Fortunately, you only play Upper Hand when you need it, while cards like Determined Effort require you to play them in advance.

Speaking of Determined Effort, how does the accuracy bonus from Upper Hand stack up to a bog-standard +1 die bonus?  Well, the accuracy increase gained from Determined Effort for each given attack/defense combination looks something like this:


We should immediately notice that the more dice you start with on your attack, the less Determined Effort helps you.  Upper Hand has no such linear progression, so it's a little bit hard to compare the two directly just by looking back and forth at the charts.  So instead, let's look at them in direct comparison.  On the chart below, results with a negative number are those situations in which Upper Hand is worse than Determined Effort.  Those results with a positive number (which are highlighted in green) are the situations where Upper Hand is better than Determined Effort.


Yikes!  Upper Hand isn't looking so good now.  Of the base attacks currently available, only Ironhail's inspired attack benefits more on average from Upper Hand.  While there are definitely other factors to consider (like the fact you'll never "waste" Upper Hand on an attack that would have hit anyway or a miss), right now things are not looking good for our hero.  But what's that in the distance?  A savior, riding a noble steed?  Yes! It's GWULOCT (Games Workshop's Unfailing Lack of Consistent Templating) to the rescue!

Factor: GWULOCT!

The problem with the templating of this card arises with the word "tied."  You see, in the entire rulebook, attack and defense rolls are never described as being tied.  That would imply that we should use a "common sense" approach to determining how that word functions in the context of the card.  However, that becomes problematic, because "tied" attack and defense rolls are treated differently depending on whether or not the attack roll had 1 or more successes.  So the question arises: Does Upper Hand work on 0-0 ties?

If it does, it becomes significantly better.  Unfortunately, there's reasonable evidence for both sides of the argument, to be found in the only place that the rulebook does refer to "ties" in the context of dice rolls: roll-offs. 

The addendum to 4th sentence, "or if no player has rolled any [critical symbols]" seems to imply that a situation with no successes is not considered to be a tie.  However, the very next clause seems to treat both a no-success tie and a some-success tie both as "tied."  There's a lot of semantic arguing that could be done at this point, but it's unlikely to get officially cleared up until there is an FAQ entry for Upper Hand.  Since we have no way to conjure such an FAQ, let's take a look at how Upper Hand works if it also affects 0-0 ties.

Factor: Love-All

If Upper Hand can be used on 0-0 ties, it offers significantly more of an accuracy boost, particularly on low-die die count rolls (where both players are most likely to roll 0 successes).  In this case, the accuracy boost chart for Upper Hand looks kind of like this:


Wow - those numbers got a lot bigger.  Let's compare them to the bonus from Determined Effort again:


Yikes.  So, if you can use Upper Hand on 0-0 ties, it's simply better than Determined Effort (and similar effects) in every situation - before you even account for the advantages conveyed by Upper Hand's timing.

Maybe we should compare Upper Hand to something that gives a larger boost to accuracy.  Haymaker and Potion of Rage both add 2 dice to your attack.  Surely, with the significant drawback of Haymaker and the Glory cost of Potion of Rage, they will outshine a free ploy that you only use up when it matters, right?  That table looks like this (note that Ironhail's Inspired 4-sword attack is not included here, because we didn't feel like doing the math by hand for this section - which is really only here to illustrate how very good Upper Hand is if ruled to break 0-0 ties):


Well, that's a little closer - it would seem that there are many situations (primarily hammer-based attacks) where adding two dice to your attack is better than Upper Hand.  Except that the 2-die bonus cards come with costs or drawbacks, and they have to be used before you attack.  Overall, Upper Hand still seems like a better choice.

While our initial impression was that GW probably intended Upper Hand to work on 0-0 ties, this data makes us doubtful.  It seems like Upper Hand is distinctly overpowered compared to other cards with similar effects if it can break 0-success ties.  Unfortunately, mathematical consistency does not seem to be one of the major pillars of card design for Shadespire, so this doesn't actually inform the argument as much as we would like.  Until the FAQ drops, it's best to ask your TO how they intend to rule on 0-0 ties (and if they say Upper Hand works on them, put it in your deck).

Factor: Minor Details

Let's be straighforward: if Upper Hand works on 0-0 ties, it's the best offensive accuracy boost ploy in the game, and everyone should use it.  However, if it turns out that it doesn't work on 0-success ties, there are still a few factors that you might want to consider before putting it into your deck (or, alternatively, your binder).

Unlike +1 die effects, Upper Hand won't help you crit more often - so effects that trigger on critical hits benefit more from the former.  On the other hand, Upper Hand doesn't add another die, so it won't accidentally trigger Miraculous Escape (and, in fact, can prevent your opponent from playing Miraculous on a tied 3+ die attack). 

Second, Upper Hand is a reaction. This means that Ylthari's Guardians and Thorns of the Briar Queen gain extra benefit from playing it.  It doesn't directly deal damage, though, so you can't score Masterstroke with it.  Finally, it's likely that there are some reactions that share a timing window with Upper Hand, meaning it can be "blocked" by the defending player.  Unfortunately, the timing with which reaction windows occur is inscrutable (see: Crown of Avarice vs. Last Chance), so your guess is as good as ours in terms of which reactions can block Upper Hand.  Just be prepared to argue it with a TO if you're going to pack it in your deck.


The value of this card varies wildly based on whether or not it can break 0-success ties.  Unfortunately, inconsistent templating has made it impossible to determine definitively whether or not it can. 

If it can't break 0-0 ties, it's a sub-par accuracy boost that may be chosen above +1 die standards because of the fact that it's a reaction, and you can't "waste" it.

If it can break 0-0 ties, it should be in every deck that makes attack actions.


  1. FYI at the recent Warhammer World GC it was announced before the games started that it could be used on 0-0s

    1. Yeah, I anticipate it will be ruled that way. It shouldn't, but I bet it will.


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