Tragic to Triumph: GW’s Most Improved Minis

Today we look at the GW minis that went from terribad to works of art. This is going to be fun.

These days GW is know for well deserved top-of-industry quality. One of the common comparisons you will see of new companies in the market is how their minis stand up to GW’s quality. But we should all remember that GW, like every other company had to learn the ropes and their quality went up over the years. Today we look back on some minis that we think saw the biggest improvement over the years.


#5 Archaon

Ahh yes, NOW Archaon is the “Exalted Grand Marshal of the Apocalypse.  But back in the 90s, he was just some punk Chaos Lord with aspirations of grandeur. Oh the glory days of multi-part metal horses…

#4 Tree Men

I’m not sure exactly what was up with the original Warhammer Fantasy Treemen, but I have NEVER seen a tree that looked anything like these two.  Luckily the newest Sylvaneth Treelord gets the job done.  Everyone just put down your axes and back away slowly…

#3 Lord of Change

The original little guy was as full of magic as it was bereft of clothes. Luckily the brand new one is loaded down in the jewelry department, grabbed a loincloth and has clearly been hitting the gym.

image via Ninjabread

#2 Marneus Calgar

I’ll let you decide if that dude in the back of the original is a honor guard, or a chamberpot steward… The current Marneus is off his “throne” and into the fight.

#1 Nagash

Hands down the posterchild of GW’s 30 year scramble up the mountain of quality.  I have no words to describe the original, but the modern Nagash is truly a masterpiece of design, detail and style.

Bonus Round – Tree Kin

Again, I have no idea what was going on with the original other than suddenly imminent deadlines… Luckily the Kurnoth Hunters have grown into the role with grace.

~Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.

  • Mr.Gold

    All Chaos Space Marines – they are halfway there, they still need updating…

    • Karru

      The 3.5(?) through 4th plastics are nice and some of the metal characters do look nice. I don’t like the latest CSM infantry sculpts because of the 60+ of pure trim and then some “flat” armour here and there that doesn’t allow for great free-handing.

      • Thomas

        Honestly, I’d be fine with the current CSM plastics if they just added some extra weapon options and got rid of the damn helmet horns. Helmet horns are probably my most hated fantasy trope and the ones on the CSMs seem really poorly done.

        • Karru

          Well, it depends. I personally enjoy some of them and it does give CSM some “major” difference from SM. Just giving them more trims would make them look dumb as it doesn’t allow as much free-handing and different colour schemes as the trims will overwhelm the model.

          Making the horns a bit more different and not just mostly smooth bone it would be nice. Twisted look for them would make them more cool.

          • Thomas

            Yeah, even if the horns were just a bit better sculpted, I could put up with them then. As it is, the horns are showing their age a bit more than the rest of the mini imo.

            Might just use a bunch of Loyalist marine and Mk. IV heads!

          • Severius_Tolluck

            I hate horns and top knots, both are silly, and both have no modern purpose and are nothing but a death wish!

          • Dennis J. Pechavar

            Also they look stupid IMO.

          • Severius_Tolluck

            Mainly what I meant by silly. Yep, totes agree.

          • oddity ironcog

            all of the trimming and stuff would be fine in my opinion if it were actually sculpted properly. several of the trim parts on the greaves just kind of cease to exist at a certain point on the leg, leaving you just having to guess where to paint it in.

        • dave long island


    • kobalt60

      Jes Goodwins original cult marines are still the gold standard. The pose is static, but the design has yet to be beaten

  • el_tigre

    You missed the best Archaon, it’s the metal one in the middle.

    • Karru

      Agreed. The current one is bad because the mount is so big it takes all attention away from Archaon. Just one of the reason why I prefer infantry sized characters or horse/bike mounted characters instead of giant dudes that seem to be the trend these days.

      • Thomas

        There’s too much detail and “trim” on the new one too. You lose your sense of the whole model amongst all these extraneous spikes and messy details.

        • deris87

          I’ve seen it suggested it’s done in order to combat 3D scanning and printing, which certainly seems plausible.

          • Basti Schreyer

            I do have some knowledge about the technology working as a dental technician. I know that the sheer amount of details is not the biggest problem if you try to 3D scan something. It is more the complexity of the shape. A scanner uses a laser and any point the laser can’t reach (i.e. small nooks and crannys) is unscannable.

            The bigger issue for scanners however is the actual size of what you try to scan. While it won’t take too long with infantry, larger models or sprues will take really lung to scan since the actual size of an area you can scan is rather limited if you don’t use some serious industrial-grade equipment. That can easily cost you 10.000€ or more. Imagine how much plastic crack you could get for that.

            Concerning the whole 3D printing hype I don’t see that happening any time soon. Opposed to what the scanners can do, printing fine details is really expensive. A printer able to handle the details of a regular mini can easily cost 25.000€ upwards. It also takes rather long to actually print something. So even if you have the printer running 24/7, you don’t get that much out of it.

            The other option would ne to do what GW (I strongly assume) does. That is having a machine mill a negative of a sprue ant then inject it with plastic. Most probably in a vacuum. That is way beyond any garage recaste could do without investing five figures first.

            What I assume they do is to actually get the original kit, making a mould of it and then fill the mould with some self-curing acrylic resin. That is (concerning the chemical side of it) the same material Forge World minis are made of. The big difference is that FW uses more refined methods (again probably making use of vacuum), resulting in less miscasts. Also mixing the base components of resins by hand results in small air bubbles in the material.
            Overall extremely fine details cause air being trapped more easily while casting. Besides, the high quality resins aren’t cheap either.

            That I assume is why you get almost no recasts of GW’s plastic minis. The profit margin is probably too low. Only because FW’s prices are as high as they are is it worth the effort.

            In the end it is cheaper to buy at a store or online where you can get a discount than going to great lenghts lenghtsmaking your own, illegal counterfits.

        • You need glasses then, my good sir.

          • Thomas Gardiner

            Please learn the concept of subjectivity.

      • Flan man

        I personally love the new Archaon model. I think it has a ton of character!

        • Karru

          My issue is that every picture I see of him, the last thing I see is Archaon, you know the guy that is supposed to pop out the most? The problem is that since he is like 1/4th the size of the entire model and blends extremely well with the mount, he is almost invisible.

          That was the beauty of the old model. Since both Archaon and his mount was around the same size since Archaon had the cloack, both were clearly visible, pretty much no matter what the angle was.

          • Red_Five_Standing_By

            The real problem is that Archaeon is the same color as the mount. One of them needs to change its base color.

          • Karru

            I’ve seen paint jobs that give his mount a much lighter colour scheme, but he is till overwhelmed by the mount. The wings hide him when looking from behind and the heads take the focus away from Archaon when looking from the front.

          • Flan man

            You just never seem satisfied with anything. The entire model is Archaon, mount and all. If the problem is that he blends in too well, then paint the mountains more drab, and the rider in brighter tones.

          • Karru

            I’m never satisfied with anything? Not that many comments ago I said that I loved the old Archaon model. I just don’t like the latest giant models that GW releases, because they are either way too busy or, like in the case of Archaon, take focus away from the “big dude” that is supposed to ride it.

            The High Elf Dragon kit is a somewhat good example of a large kit done right. It doesn’t have overwhelming amount of small detail, instead goes for a subtle amount of detail here and there. The pose of the mount is also good because it doesn’t make the rider disappear behind the mount when viewed from behind or sides.

            Archaon is just so small compared to his mount that causes most of the issue. He is around 1/4th the size of his mount making him feel extremely insignificant, which is not good when you are supposed to be someone of his calibre.

  • Loki Nahat

    *scratches head* but, trees do look like the originals

    certainly not like the on-fire-deamon-but-not-unsure-if-spawn-from-hell-painted-as-a-tree

    • BenTheMan

      Just what I thought! XD

      The new Treeman is ranking among the most fugly minis of all times! Even more so than the old Nagash, because he oozes of Nostalgia.

      • Peter Utecht

        Personally, i love the old “stumps” more.
        The new ones are locally called Salad Avatar!

    • Talos2

      They were rubbish, I can’t believe anyone would defend those tree men over the new ones.

      • Loki Nahat

        Found the butthurt designer

        • Talos2

          Yeah that’s it

    • Noah Jerge

      I think a better balance should have be struck between the two.

  • Crevab

    Archaon was moreso embiggened than improved. And the Treemen just went from wood troll to tree demon.

    How many years off are from updates to recent goofy models like the Stormraven, Dreadknight, and Centurions?

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      The Stormraven isn’t even goofy.

      • Thomas Gardiner

        It’s a brick with jet engines. It’s not quite as goofy as the Soace Wolf flyer (which is literally just a puppy dog’s head), but it’s still dumb.

        I freely admit that I only field one because it’s got really good rules.

    • Garrett Alain Colas

      Centurions are okay, it just seems like the scale is completely off from the rest of the space marines.

      Example: Check out the sculpted symbols, they’re all smaller than the versions on Terminators.

      • Crevab

        How is the scale off? Its’ a normal marine in an exoskeleton with a bigger helmet

  • Agent OfBolas

    As for their times, they were really nice sculpts! I had Nagash and I loved the miniature.

  • You realize trees don’t look like hell spawns, do you ? for all intent and purpose, the original treemen looked way closer to a tree than the newest. Also, the best reeman released by GW wasn’t even for Warhammer, but for the LOTR wargame.

    • Thomas

      Right? Can’t remember the last time I saw a tree that glowed from the inside, had perfectly smooth bark and wore high heels.

    • Orblivion

      Neither look anything like a tree IMO, the new one just looks cooler.

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      The old ones look like turds.

      The new ones look like tree-golems, which is what they are supposed to be!

  • The_Illusionist

    The original Nagash is a cult classic – EVERYONE loved to see “Jojo the Evil Clown” on the table, because the either genuinely liked it or because it was so bad they’d laugh out loud. Win/win right there!

    I swear; if GW did a run of Classic Nagash, it’d sell out and be on eBay for ridiculously scalped prices as fast as any other model you’d care to mention.

    • Aezeal

      If GW makes a run.. price drops.. now they just make a few each year and sell for top dollar 😀

    • Thomas

      It was spectacularly fugly, but in that charming, “80s heavy metal art” way.

    • BenTheMan

      I own the classic Nagash, it was one of my first Minis and I still love it!
      Compared to todays standards it IS fugly but one can’t just compare a 30y old Mini with todays Standards.

  • Tshiva keln

    That Calgar was a prophetic warning which we all failed to heed. It symbolises Matt Ward dumping out a load of Ultrasmurf s*%@. If only the Inquisition had read the portents correctly at the time…

  • the_wheel_turns

    Archaon: The old miniature is very nice but I agree that he needed to be more than just on a horse. So an improvement but not because the old one was ugly.

    Tree Men: The old ones were a bit goofy but actually looked like trees. The new one is a terrible terrible miniature and one of the worst things GW has released.

    Lord of Change: Is an improvement, which isn’t hard, but still not a great miniature.

    Nagash: Same as Lord of Change, an improvement, which isn’t hard, but still not a great miniature.

  • Hawt Dawg

    Marneus sees enemies everywhere.

    It has to be the reason he has a guard while taking a dump.

    • Jack Biddo

      I though that other guy was there on wipe duty. Gotta be hard to clean your self with two power fists

  • No-one Special
    • amaximus167

      I will upvote this! That new one is fing gorgeous…

    • ZeeLobby

      Agreed. The new model looks MUCH better.

      • No-one Special

        I don’t know what’s worse about the original. Is it that he got confused and mistook a broken piece of a sergeants banner pole as a crozius, or that the blood drops from said pole either have to hit him in the head or defy gravity, or the purtiy seals that are stuck on at right angles, or is it the icon that’s bigger than the gun it’s attached to, or the skull helmet that looks like it’s made of plastic, or the jump pack that’s falling off his shoulder, it just goes on and on. This was one of the worst models I’d ever seen from GW when it was FIRST released, and age has done nothing to help it.

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      Can I like both?

  • Godlir

    This really depends on your aesthetic appreciation I guess. I love a lot of the early 80s sculpts. They were minis for their time. Yeah, the new stuff is great and detailed but it all looks the same. Very comic book inspired. It’s a lot like magic cards. Originals were actual art, current cards have to follow a strict guideline and (as intended) they all look identical.

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      Every era has an aesthetic. The 80’s stuff is all cut from the same semi-realistic mold, the new stuff is all much more high fantasy.

    • Thomas Gardiner

      This. I love the setail and choice you get with new minis, but that comic book aesthetic feels so bland. It’s like a Marvel movie. It just feels somewhat… sterile? I dunno, it’s hard to describe. They’re very technically impressive but I don’t often feel that sense of connection.

  • Divergent_Reality

    Bonus Round: They Made it Worse!

    Flayed Ones

    • Jooster

      It’s funny because half this list can go on there too. Archaon, the Treeman and debatably the Lord of Change all look awful compared to their previous minis.

  • DJ860

    Pretty sure the “dude in the back” on the Calgar model is a stand that holds the helmet and cloak.

    • ZeeLobby

      Er… Think he meant back right, not back left, haha.

  • Kevin Maloney

    Most of the Dark Eldar line. And by most, I mean almost all. (Although I still like the old Incubi)

    • ZeeLobby

      Dark Eldar might have been the last full like that I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed with aesthetically. The new GSC isn’t bad either.

      • Thomas Gardiner

        Same here. That was the last time I felt that “connection.” Everything after felt a little lifeless to me. But those Dark Eldar are just so *gorgeous* and they’re easily GW’s finest work imo.

    • deris87

      Well my understanding is a lot of them were done by Gary Morley, the guy who did clown-face Nagash, so yeah… I do actually like the original Raiders though. I started playing DE in 5th ed but before the new codex dropped, so I updated all of my infantry models but hung onto and still use the Raiders.

  • ZeeLobby

    Seems like my comments have already been echoed and liked by a lot of other people here. Personally I think a lot of the new stuff is over-detailed, too large, and inorganically posed. They’ve definitely shown how impressive their plastic sprue rendering process is, but IMO many of their new models lack the character or subtlety that I believe the most amazing and community loved models have in the miniature painting world. The copy-paste CAD efforts, and the necessity to stamp everything with a symbol just makes many of the new models look over-designed. It also leaves very little flat surface to free-hand or achieve striking gradients.

    • deris87

      >but IMO many of their new models lack the character or subtlety

      Cypher and Voldus both struck me as being particularly subtle models compared to a lot of modern GW stuff, and I like that about them. They’re highly detailed but not doing insane action poses.

      • ZeeLobby

        Oh I agree. You still run across it occasionally. But most of the bigger stuff is just flaily armed actions (well and in some cases entire factions, like the fyreslayers).

  • BBB

    All those models, new and old – with the notable exception of Marneus Calgar (itself an old, metal model) – are fugly as all hell. I understand taste is subjective, but come on, GW has totally lost it’s way with these huge, garish, monstrosities.

    The Treemen/Treekin look nothing like trees. The plastic Lord of Change is more like a hip-hop Turkey of Change, Nagash is just swirly bony skull overload and Archaon is an utter mess. The last metal sculpt of Archaon on Dorghar (and on foot) was infinitely superior.

    Go and sit in the corner Games Workshop and think about what you’ve done.

    • ZeeLobby

      Archaon in his second form was amazing. I agree, Calgar is the best model above. I’ll always have a soft spot for the old Nagash as well.

  • ellobouk

    oh, there are words to describe old Nagash… such as “Undead clown wizard” or “At least 50% hat”

  • Flan man

    Someone favors death a bit…

  • Talos2

    It’s almost as if there’s some kind of correlation between quality of mini and the success of a game. Fantasy died after years of neglect and awful out of date models, aos seems to be doing a lot better as the models are so much more attractive. If gw want to know why fantasy was failing they should just look at the rank and file rubbish we were expected to buy.

  • frankelee

    I like how some of my oldest GW metal models wear their personalities on their faces, some don’t even look like they particularly want to be, or belong, on the battlefield. I think something is lost when every guy in both armies looks like a soulless kill drone, with no life to go back home to, and no family or community to even go fight for in the first place.

  • memitchell
    • DeadlyYellow

      Oh man, do I want that old version. It is delightfully hideous.

    • The medallion! Lovin it.

  • kobalt60

    Necron destroyers were one of the greatest transitions between original and update. And I usually love older minis

  • Simon Pallett

    Dreadnoughts. That is all

    • DeadlyYellow

      Yeah, I was surprised they weren’t on the list.

    • Maybe, but the current default plastic ones haven’t really improved in decades either. Contemptors are cool, but we tried to avoid Forge World as that’s a whole different beast.

  • enold

    As much as I love the design of the new sculpts I still prefer the scale of the old models. It just feels rediculous that a duardin fyreslayer would even be fielded on the same battlefield as the new lord of Change.

  • dave long island

    Pffftttt…. Give me clown face twist-n-shout Nagash any day of the week over the modern flying bookmobIle Nagash.

  • Some of you are being pretty harsh on the new stuff. I am just coming back to the hobby after a 16 year hiatus and pulled all my old miniatures out and I have to say I am pretty impressed with where they have come with recent processes and design choices. I don’t love everything but I just bought my first “New Plastic” GW figures with the Tzangor Enlightened on Discs and they are seriously impressive constructs.

    I actually really dig the Sylvaneth including the Treemen, they don’t need to look like trees, just akin to them which they do. Golems of Nature type things. I think that Dryacha or whatever her name is looks awesome.

    I am building off my old armies and trying to limit purchases but I am tempted to go in on new Death (Neferata is killer looking) and Sylvaneth.

    BTW, there is a middle design on a few of these… the larger metal Changer o Ways is pretty cool, I just re-pinned his wings because they drop off all the time but he is a good model. I have not seen the new one in person but it always photographs weird where it is hard to see the detail/head/etc.

  • Noah Jerge

    Honestly, the original Archaon did not look that bad. The horse is pretty cool and looks fun to paint.

  • Matthew Pomeroy

    nagash still looks ridiculous

    • E65

      At least the original didn’t have a pin head.

  • E65

    Definitely a case of; And that is *your* opinion.