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Cardiology: Substance Siphon

Decision: Should You Play Substance Siphon?


Fecula, Ammis, and Rastus can all make impressive use of Siphon.  Other warbands that focus on keeping a single model alive may wish to invest in it as well, while Lost Pages and Tomes decks - with their dearth of available upgrade slots - may consider it as a 1-shot, late game defensive bomb.

(Author's Note: Special thanks to Underworlds Deckers for having the best way to view warband cards online; and to the maker of Thing Counter, an app that has drastically reduced my workload for articles like this one.)

Factor: The Basics

Let's start off simple, with an exploration of just how useful this card is on its own for your average fighter.  For that, we'll need a chart:


The above chart shows the chance of successfully defending against each of the currently available base starting attacks (now with Fecula "goodness" in the form of 2-Lightning).  The three defense stats that Substance Siphon can give you are highlighted in Light Cornflower (1st round), Medium Lavender (2nd Round), and Staid Cranberry (3rd Round).  Obviously by round 3, your odds of successfully dodging with Siphon on are pretty good, but the rest of the information can be a bit daunting.

To simplify, we're going to use a technique we've used in the past - that of the "Random Average" fighter.  In essence, this is a calculation based on the relative frequency of a statistic as represented on all of the available fighters in the game.  In the past, we've gone so far as to break this down by the actual representation at recent Grand Clashes, but every time we did that, the numbers were almost identical to the natural range of values arrived at by simply counting each of the available models once.  To put it differently, GW actually seems to be pretty good at allocating stats in such a way that the meta reflects a representative sample of the available stat values, even if it doesn't reflect all the available models/warbands.   So let's look at how each defense stat stacks up against a random average attack:

Random Avg44.58%55.29%63.86%48.71%61.57%

Once gain, we've highlighted your the defense chance you'll end up with by playing Siphon in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounds in Savoy Teal, Pale Eggplant, and Imperial Carmine respectively.  In most cases, you can see that 1-dodge is going to be a downgrade from any block defense (though only slightly from 1-block), 2-dodge will land squarely between 1-block and 2-block defense, and 3-dodge defense will beat any of the other base starting defenses.  Equip onto your fighter appropriately.

Factor: Combos and Nonbos

Because of the restrictions on Substance Siphon, many of the typical defense boosters won't work alongside it.  To start with, you can't modify the defense stat any further once you've played Siphon; so defensive cards like Spectral Armour and Cloak of Shadows won't do anything for you.  On the upside, you also can't be Sphere of Chamon'ed or Ephemeral Form'ed once you've been Substance Siphon'ed.

The other big hit you're going to take from playing Substance Siphon is that you can no longer reroll dice on defense.  These kinds of effects are much more common than +1 Defense effects, so you're losing out on a few more options.  Most notably, Champion's Fortitude and Iara's Instant Shield are both locked out by Siphon.  You also lose out on some lesser known options like Hunter's Caution and Beast Armour.

So what can you do to make the most out of Siphon?  Well, for starters, some extra wounds wouldn't hurt.  Cards like Great Fortitude and Sudden Growth will help you make it through the nasty 1-dodge phase of Siphon into the much more palatable 2nd and 3rd rounds.  Cards that reduce damage can similarly be stacked on your Siphon fighter for additional resilience.

As far as defense rolls, you can still beef up your chances in two key ways: going On Guard, and Support.  While these two states are both achievable naturally through the use of activations, we'd much rather get them through our power hands.  Cards like Survival Instincts and the excellent new ploy Buried Instinct can put you on guard (though you'll lose out on the potential reroll of Buried Instinct in this case), while Spiritbond and a some warband- or model-specific cards can net you permanent support for your fighter.  An On-Guard, Supported Siphon carrier is going to be almost impossible to hit in the 3rd round, forcing your opponent to either fish for crits or let your tank live to the 3rd end phase.

Factor: Friends and Foes

The warband that you've chosen to play is a very important consideration when thinking about playing Substance Siphon.  Obviously, warbands that want to keep a particular model alive gain more benefit from Siphon than those who push forward a number of interchangeable spuds every game.  Mollog and Hrothgorn spring immediately to mind, as do warbands playing a Tomes/Lost Pages strategy.  The Sepulchral Warden's inspired defense is only 1-dodge, so I guess if you're looking to play a sub-par warband, you should probably include this card to help ensure your one-trick bony pony doesn't get turned to glue.

On the flip side, there are some warbands that probably won't benefit as much from the inclusion of Substance Siphon.  Siphon is particularly bad in the early stages of the game, so models that require upgrades to inspire, like the Godsworn Hunt or Rippa Narkbad, should probably pass on playing this.  Additionally, warbands who are mostly 2-dodge or better have little reason to play Siphon (as Spectral Armour nets them the same bonus across all phases), so Gitz, Thorns, and most of the Sigmar warbands probably all have better options.

Finally, there are a few tricky lads and lasses who can really play to hidden strengths by upgrading with Siphon...

Factor: The Stormlads

While Stormdad himself won't benefit much from Siphon except in the 3rd round, Ammis and Rastus can break through their fundamental limits when both upgraded and inspired.  On their Smoky Harbor Gray sides, Ammis and Rastus will both take a hit to defense from equipping Siphon in the first round, but afterward they benefit like any other 1-shield model.  However, once they have been flipped to their Metallic Corn Flax sides, these two thunderbuddies can benefit from their ability to count both shields and dodges as successes while still reaping the spoils of rolling multiple extra dice in the later rounds.  Just how much do the wonder twins benefit from this situation?  Let's look:

1 Block1 Guard2 Guard3 Guard

On the chart above, we see what Ammis or Rastus would gain from Substance Siphon when inspired.  It's important to note that the Stonewashed Denim column represents the same values that Ammis or Rastus would gain merely from inspiring.  In the first round, the danglebros don't gain anything from Siphon, but as long as they are inspired they also don't lose anything.  After that, as shown in the Windblown Northern Thistle column and Subdued Grippy Merlot column, the Stormlads become defensive juggernauts.  While it's probably not worth constructing your whole strategy around, Substance Siphon may play strongly into the decks seeking to make heavy use of Rastus and/or Ammis (such as the "Double Stormsire" strategy or Tome/Lost Page variants out of Cursebreakers).

Factor: Fecula

What if you wanted to run a Lost Pages deck out of Wurmspat, though?  It seems like a natural fit, as the Cholera Crew are uniquely durable and have the capacity for magic.  However, for it to work, Fecula has to stay alive to equip the Pages - and she's got the worst defense of any of the Plague Pals.  Enter Substance Siphon, which will give her a significant boost to her defense rolls outside of the 1st Round.

Beyond that bonus, however, we should look at the Wurmspat damage reduction ability and how it's affected by equipping Siphon.  In some cases, even in the first round, Fecula may benefit from Siphon!  Let's look at a particularly common example: a 2-hammer/2-damage attack, like that found on most of the Amberbone Weapons as well as on a ton of fighters.  Unmodified, Fecula's defense against this attack looks something like this:

Fecula Vs 2H


In the above chart, we've highlighted full-damage hits in Mad Turkish Cinnabar, the reduced damage hits in Faded Wisconsin Plum, and the total misses in Sun-Dappled Phthalocyanine.  If we were to upgrade with Substance Siphon in the 1st round, the numbers wouldn't actually change any, but the effects of the various combinations would.



Here, we can see that the number of hits that will have their damage reduced (highlighted in Electric Majorelle Lilac) has jumped up quite a bit, while the number of full damage hits (East Acres Redwood) has risen slightly.  Conversely, the number of true misses (Liberty Periwinkle) has gone down a bit.  As beautiful and perfect as these charts are, they can be a bit much to digest.  Let's simplify a bit:


If we apply these numbers to the attack mentioned above (2H/2Damage), we see that Fecula will actually take slightly less damage by "downgrading" to 1-dodge.  It's not much - about 3 hundred-thousandths of a point of damage per hit on average - but it's interesting nonetheless.  Unfortunately, Fecula will take slightly more damage from 1-, 3-, and 4-damage attacks in the 1st round after upgrading with Siphon. (Side note: 2-damage attacks are the most common base attacks in the game, currently.)

After that, however, things really get better.  Not only will Fecula get hit less with 2- or 3-dodges than she would with 1-shield, she also can now potentially reduce the damage from those strikes that do hit by 2 or even 3 points.  Add in an extra wound or two and she's darn near unkillable.

Oh, and one of the Lost Pages puts you On Guard, so that's a thing.


Substance Siphon presents an interesting take on the defensive buff, unabashedly stealing some design philosophy from Larval Lance.  While Siphon will likely see less play than Lance due to its restrictions and the aggressive nature of the game, it's still a worthy choice for some warbands.  In particular, those warbands that seek to keep a single model alive at all costs should consider it.  Additionally, both Cursebreakers and Wurmspat have abilities that synergize in unexpected ways with Siphon, and may want to pick it up.  As Lost Pages decks begin to mature, it's likely that many of them may conserve precious upgrade slots by packing Siphon over more combo-centric defensive buffs.


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