I remember the exact moment I was introduced to Warhammer 40,000. I was 12 years old and at summer camp, where a friend showed me a book called Codex: Eldar. As I flipped through pages of miniatures and numbers, he pointed to a massive illustration of a flaming incarnation wielding a burning sword. If you’re old-school like me, you know the one…
“He has 7 wounds!” my friend exclaimed. I wouldn’t start playing until several years later, but the image of the Avatar was burned into my brain, and I was instantly an Eldar player.
If you played 40K CCG in the early 2000s, you might recall the first Avatar card being broken as heck. How broken? Well…
If your deck could muster a command hand with one or even two 5+ die cards, you’d likely wipe out the opposing army in one assault. “It’s a good thing we have a BA to take it out after it charges, right?” you might ask. Let me introduce you to the second half of the combo…
Pretty fair, right?
Most card combos require some amount of setup to “go off.” Avatar + Imeniell was the laziest way to win a sector ever, and it hurts me to say because I won my fair share of games off the back of this lazy combo.
Up until Invasion: Verdicon, the extra-BA strategy was a hateful arms race between Chaos and Eldar. Chaos got the most flak for having a wide range of ways to take extra BAs out of nowhere. With Eldar you had fewer ways to get extra BAs, but with the fleet card ability you could fish for Imeniell if you had the Avatar at a sector.
Several months after the game’s launch, Sabertooth banned several of the extra-BA offenders, including the Avatar:
With that move came the need to replace the Eldar’s figurehead. A new Avatar of war was printed in Invasion: Verdicon:
While not nearly as busted as the original Avatar, the Alaitoc Avatar was still more than playable. Obviously it has a hard pill to swallow for many spoiled Eldar players, but we would still have a mass-destruction assault unit to go alongside our “honourary Avatar”, Jainan.
However, I personally removed Imeniell from my deck, as Verdicon also introduced the BA-hating Planetary Defense Cannon. In addition, 2 of the 5 Verdicon sectors quite literally banned extra BAs. Sabertooth was intent on cracking down on the extra-BA menace.
Siege of Malogrim Hive was the last set to be released for the 40K CCG, and in my opinion it was the strongest yet most flavourful set produced, despite omitting a few races from the release. Eldar were especially spoiled with a host of new staples, including a new, Biel-Tan-flavoured Avatar:
Along with some sweet Wayne Reynolds art (despite some scale issues – how massive are those Khorne Berzerkers?), came a much more potent assault ability than its Verdicon brother. Assaulting was much more reliable, and the command line far more impactful than a simple counterattack tactic.
As an aside, I find Malogrim Hive cards are quite hard to find these days, as owning them meant you were invested in the 40K CCG near the end of its life cycle. I’m fortunate to have a playset of MH Avatars in my Eldar deck, and they are as awesome as they look…even though playing them isn’t as cut-and-dry as the original Imeniell combo.
The progression of the Avatars in 40K CCG tell a tale of mechanical imbalance that Sabertooth struggled to fix for much of the game’s life. I think it also tells another tale of the unsung brilliance of Malogrim Hive. The art direction, power level and flavour that they achieved in MH I think is the best in the entire game, but it’s a shame that so few got to see its full glory before the game ended.