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Cardiology: Survival Instincts

Decision: Should You Play Survival Instincts?


Gitz and Thorns should definitely be considering this one.  Rats, Eyes, Guardians, Grymwatch, and Wild Hunt may also think about picking it up to keep important 2-dodge models alive.

Brendan Gleeson is the most underrated actor working today.

Factor: The Guard

Let's start out by taking a look at what you actually gain from upgrading your fighter with Survival Instincts.  First and foremost, you're gaining an increased chance to successfully defend against your opponent's attacks.  Just how much you gain is largely dependent on where you start from.  The table below summarizes what you gain from upgrading with Instincts against various attacks. 

1 Dodge2 Dodge3 Dodge1 Block2 Block
1 Sword6%6%5%3%3%
2 Sword7%9%8%3%3%
3 Sword7%10%10%4%5%
4 Sword7%10%11%4%5%
1 Hammer11%11%9%6%5%
2 Hammer11%15%14%6%7%
3 Hammer9%13%16%5%6%

Kind of like Brendan Gleeson, those numbers aren't very impressive at first glance.  But then you watch In Bruges and realize how wrong you were.  Or in this case, you compare the bonuses that you gain from upgrading with Survival Instincts to those you would gain from gaining an extra defense die.

1 Dodge2 Dodge3 Dodge1 Block2 Block
1 Sword0%2%1%-3%-1%
2 Sword-2%2%2%-7%-4%
3 Sword-3%2%3%-4%-4%
4 Sword-3%1%3%-8%-5%
1 Hammer1%5%4%-5%-1%
2 Hammer-1%5%6%-9%-4%
3 Hammer-4%3%7%-11%-2%  

On two or three dodge models, the bonus you get from Instincts is straight up better than the bonus you would get from an additional defense die (like from Spectral Armour).  Generally, you're better off with the extra defense die if you start with 1 dodge, but not by much. 

On models with block-based defense, Survival Instincts is less impressive.  However, it's worth noting that there is not currently any universal card that simply grants an extra block-defense die without some kind of restriction or drawback.  You'd definitely be better off giving your shield-y models an extra defense die, but good luck finding one.  Frankly, you're more likely to find a Brendan Gleeson movie where he doesn't steal the show (spoiler: there aren't any).

Finally, we should point out that being on guard also provides additional bonuses.  With the release of Beastgrave, models that are on guard can no longer be driven back, granting you an increased ability to hold objectives and control the battlefield.  Your on guard models also gain immunity to effects like Snare and Pit Trap.  And while it isn't 100% clear, it's likely that an on guard model is immune to the effects of being "trapped" on their defense rolls.

Factor: Edge of Tomorrow

The downside of Survival Instincts is, of course, that the upgraded fighter becomes a Quarry.  While being a Quarry carries with it no intrinsic penalties, it does open the Quarry up to certain effects on cards.  As of this time (post-Grymwatch), the following cards can create hurdles for Quarry models:
  • Eye of Kurnoth
  • Hunter's Nose
  • The Beast is Slain
  • Hunter's Reflexes
  • Predatory Instincts
  • Trophy Belt
These cards produce a variety of effects when a player interacts with a Quarry, ranging from gaining glory to rolling extra dice to being able to push the upgraded model closer to the Quarry.  Let's take a look at the specific bonuses that your opponent may gain if you turn voluntarily turn your fighter into a Quarry.

-Eye of Kurnoth grants Ensnare against a Quarry, negating some of the bonuses you would gain from Survival Instincts.  For block-based models, this will completely negate the defense bonus from Instincts, but dodge-based models will retain some net advantage despite Ensnare.  Additionally, Eye is restricted to Hunters from the Kurnothi warband, meaning you're unlikely to see it in most matches.  Winner: Survival Instincts

-Hunter's Nose will net your opponent an extra die against any Quarry models.  However, your opponent's Nose gives all of your models Quarry anyway, so you're still better off playing Instincts than not.  Nose is also only usable by a single fighter from the Grymwatch, so it will be far from universal. Winner: Survival Instincts

-The Beast is Slain allows your opponent to score a single glory if their Hunter takes out your Quarry or your Leader.  Initially, we can note that you won't see this card much out of S1 or S2 warbands, as they lack the Hunter keyword.  Even S3 warbands probably won't pack this card too often, as the return on effort is relatively small.  Those S3 warbands with enough hunters to score Beast will still have to spend valuable card slots on ways to hand out the Quarry keyword if they want to be able to score it reliably in a world with Mollog traipsing about. Winner: Survival Instincts

-Hunter's Reflexes hands out the Hunter keyword in the form of a universal upgrade, so it may see fairly widespread use.  It allows the upgraded model to creep closer to Quarry models with every time they activate, which can certainly be a powerful ability against models that activate multiple times per round.  Even so, the extra survival chance you get from Instincts is probably still worth it, even if your opponents all pack Reflexes.  Winner: Survival Instincts, but it's a close one.

-Predatory Instincts, like Hunter's Reflexes, hands out the Hunter keyword.  It's interaction with Quarry - granting a reroll - is likely even better than Reflexes.  This is one that could give you serious trouble.  Even in situations where a reroll won't completely negate the bonuses you get from Survival Instincts, it will make the value of your invested glory decrease significantly. Winner: Predatory Instincts.

-Trophy Hunter is restricted to Hunters, so once again you're really only likely to see it out of S3 warbands.  It's effect is similar to Tome of Offerings, so it's definitely worth playing if you have the hunters to support it.  However, the bonus granted from interacting with Quarry fighters probably isn't significant enough to turn you off from playing Instincts.  Winner: Survival Instincts, even though Trophy Hunter is probably better in general.

It's also important to remember that all of these drawbacks come at the expense of a card slot for your opponent, and most of them also require them to spend a glory.  The fact that the Quarry keyword has no intrinsic value means that the drawbacks from giving it to your fighter are necessarily dependent on what your opponent is playing - and at this point, most of those drawbacks simply aren't significant enough to warrant consideration.

However - it's pretty clear that GW wants the Quarry keyword to be associated with negative effects.  To that end, it's very likely that we'll see more cards in future releases that grant bonuses against models with the Quarry keyword.  Like a Bizarro-World reverse Brendan Gleeson, Survival Instincts will probably get worse with age.  So if you want to play it at it's best, now is the time.  28 days later, it might not be so great.

Factor: The Company You Keep

It seems like we find ourselves praising GW's design choices more and more lately, and Survival Instincts is no exception.  It not only provides a significant bonus to some warbands and very little to others (an excellent trait in a universal card), but the utility that it provides varies significantly depending on what warbands your opponents play as well. Additionally, it lends itself to future balancing and tweaking by being tied to a keyword that can be adjusted at will through the release of new cards, models, and mechanics.  Frankly, it's Brendan-Gleeson-level brilliant.

Obviously, Survival Instincts benefits warbands who are heavy on 2- and 3-dodge defenses most of all.  Zarbag's Gitz and Thorns of the Briar Queen should be considering it very strongly (even though inspired Snirk can't use it).  Warbands that are heavily dependent on keeping a single model alive should also consider Instincts, particularly if that model has a 2-dodge defense like Ylthari, Vortemis, or Skritch.  However, warbands that are more block-heavy may also find a slot for Instincts if they value defensive play, simply because extra defense dice for shield-based models are so rare.

The value of Survival Instincts is also heavily determined by the meta you play in.  It's a far better card when you are up against hammer-swingers than sword-stabbers.  If you're seeing a ton of Sigmarite or Kharadron models across the table for you (and who isn't?), you might consider Survival Instincts even if it's less than ideal for your warband. (Math nerd note for the curious: the increased value of on-guard status against hammer-swingers results from the fact that more of their successful attacks are based on hammers than crits, which can't be said about sword-stabbers.)


If you're running heavy on 2- or 3-dodge models, Survival Instincts provides you a stronger bonus than Spectral Armour.  Outside of Gitz and Thorns, if you are looking to stack defensive bonuses, keep a 2-dodge leader alive, or stand immovable on objectives, you could certainly do worse than this card.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Brendan Gleeson is a great actor. I'm somewhat harrowed by the brilliant but bleak Calvary though.


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