Warmachine: Best of the Best – Nukes

Ranking the top three Nuke Spells in Warmachine and Hordes.

Chalkboard here from Chalkboard War, continuing my series of articles on Warmachine and Hordes that examines the “Best of the Best” attributes across all models and factions. We’ll examine the top Feats, Spells, Abilities, Weapons, Stat Lines, Damage Grids, and anything else that appears on model entries in the game. All to give you a sense for which models are among the best on those categories.

This Week, Nukes. We’ve covered Buffs and Debuffs, now it’s time for damage spells. Nukes are spells that do damage to enemy models. They may have other effects that give them benefits, but at their core they’re damage-inflicting. Some AOE, some have additional effects, and some just hit really hard. This category is especially tough to judge, as often times the same spell might be poor on one Warcaster but amazing on another due to abilities. I did my best to focus on best Nukes being spells that actually get slung by Warcasters and Warlocks. These are the workhorse Nukes that are actually getting used in games.

So let’s get right to it! The following are my list of the top three direct damage spells in Warmachine and Hordes. At the end is a bonus “Dishonorable Mention” for the worst Nuke out there.

Number Three: Hellfire (Asphyxious the Hellbringer)

Hellfire could be solid enough to see play just on the damage stats alone. At range 10 and POW 14, it hits harder than many other Nukes. What really puts Hellfire over the top of many other Nukes are the added benefits. Models disabled by this attack cannot make a Tough roll, and are removed from play. So while it’s not only a good damage spell, it can be powerful for getting rid of troublesome models. Key Tough solo standing in Solid Ground? Just get an Arc Node close enough and they’re gone. Facing High Reclaimer and want to shut down recursion shenanigans? Take out that unit officer by removing them from play.

A fair number of models have this spell, but it struck me that Gaspy3 really turns it up a notch. With Vociferon aiding in soul collection and his Feat turn giving poor choices to foes, he can definitely get to the point where he throws out 3-4 Hellfires in a single turn. That’s some serious spell-slinging destruction.

Number Two: Scourge (Malekus, the Burning Truth)

At COST 4, Scourge is expensive to cast. Which might move it out of consideration for some–there are certainly cheaper ways to get POW 13 AOE 3 damage out on the table. What makes Scourge extra-powerful is the omission of a single word: “directly”. There are some knockdown spells that knock down targets directly hit, but Scourge simply knocks down any target hit. Get your Arc Node close enough to minimize scatter on your target, and you’re in business with this one. It’s one of the most powerful ways to enable assassination. The fact that this spell does damage and knocks down multiple foes makes it particularly dangerous.

Deneghra1, Deneghra3, and Thagrosh2 all have Scourge as well. And I think they all use it well. I gave the nod to Malekus for being the best user for a couple of reasons. First, I think opponents expect him to be blasting with fire spells or using Open Fire rather than this one. It’s a good “back pocket” assassination-enabler on him. Second, two units really benefit from foes’ defense being low on Knockdown: Holy Zealots and Flamebringer Cleansers both do fire damage with their ranged weapons, so a prone foe on Feat turn can mean a whole heap of damage from these units that may otherwise struggle to hit.

Number One: Stranglehold (Dawnlord Vyros)

Stranglehold is a classic spell, present in many factions, and fairly frequently used by the casters that have it on their spell list. That alone is why it might be the best of the Nukes: if you have it, you tend to use it. Warmachine certainly leverages it more often, as Arc Nodes can really enable the spell. It’s a cheap enough spell at COST 2 to get multiple castings.

While the damage is middling, it’s the effect-on-damage that really matters. A model damaged must sacrifice either movement or action. That’s a huge bit of control, especially in a world of a fair few Warjacks and Warbeasts. These models tend to have low enough defense to not need to boost to hit. With a boost to damage taking the total cost only to 3 Focus or Fury, with the payoff of locking down a model along with damaging it? Powerful stuff.

Of the many who have it, I think Vyros1 really gets good leverage with the spell. He has a couple of options for Arc Nodes that can be useful. And with Sylys Wyshnalyrr, this spell can get extremely reliable in both hitting and damaging thanks to Arcane Secrets. It can definitely be a strong part of Vyros1’s gameplay, both setting up engagement and once his force is stuck in.

Dishonorable Mention: Obliteration

No question, the worst Nuke spell in the game is Obliteration. Hexeris1 has it, as do Magnus2, Thagrosh1, Butcher1, Sturm & Drang, and others. I’ve never cast it, and I’m glad no one else has either. It’s a Cost 4, Range 10, AOE 5, POW 15 offensive spell. But what makes it is the spell effect: “The force of this attack blasts apart the earth itself”. Can’t have that! Playing a game isn’t worth the end of the world and life as we know it. It’ll just keep sitting there on different spell cards, with players joking about it but never pulling the trigger on a spell effect that could snuff out . Given that the Earth is currently intact, then it must be that no one has ever used this spell, ever. Even over-costed Nuke spells that have effects only on critical hits have probably been cast at least once.

~ Does this ranking fit your thoughts? Did we miss a critical attribute? Was a great model overlooked, or a powerful interaction missed? Is Number One really that good? Do you think the “Dishonorable Mention” is not so dishonorable after all (and in this case, do you not understand the joke)? Let us know in the comments below!

To watch the worst of the worst hit the tabletop, check out Chalkboard’s Warmachine and Hordes blog at:


  • marxlives

    No Old Witch?

    • petrow84

      Harbi herself is a nuke too.

  • petrow84

    Tough one. Scourge definitely has place on the list, as well as hellfire. I’d put Stryker1’s Earthquake too – there’s no damage, but the 5″ KD template is scary.
    The dishonorable one is even harder. Shrapnel Storm, Blight Bringer, Chain Blast and Arcane Blast are all awful.

  • Ty Hayden

    Hold up BoLS, imma let you finish, but eButher’s Unnatural Disaster was the greatest nuke of all time. AOE 5, anyone killed creates an AOE 3, continuing until no one dies.

  • Mr.Custodes

    What, why not Harbi’s POW20 spell?