Interview with Michael Clarke, Winner of Two Games with Kruleboyz at Masters

Interview by Peter Atkinson

Clarkey is among the most high-profile players on the Australian scene: renowned for his analytical playstyle, Michael has been pushing out consistent results for many years and is an absolute fixture on the top tables over here. 

Clarkey took the Kruleboyz to Masters a couple of weeks ago, and backed up the flex by winning not one game but two with the worst faction in Age of Sigmar, in a Masters field no less.  As he gears up to represent Australia at Worlds, Michael took the time to run us through his experience with the Koolboyz and how he did it.

Credit: Australian Masters Committee

You and Your Army

S’pose it looks OK…

Congrats on your two big wins…every victory at Masters is a hard-fought “Table 1, Round 5” matchup, so to win one with Kruleboyz is an achievement.  To win two, well that’s ridiculous.  Where does this rank among your achievements?

Thanks mate.   Yeah, Masters is an insanely strong field, nothing but top table type games.   Firstly, its just an honor to get to Masters and especially this season which was extended due to Covid disruptions, which made the cut-off for Top 16 insanely difficult, easily the most difficult Masters to get an invite to in our history and every player there was absolutely top tier.

And look, yes, our beloved Swamp Orruk Cool Boyz are not exactly a classic power-faction, their rules mean they really struggle in the meta.   And so, yes, my goal here (more below) was to squeeze out a 1W-3L run with the Swampies into this field, and I’m delighted to have exceeded that target.

Good on you.  So what drove you to bring Kruleboyz to the event?  Was it a flex, or an anti-meta pick? 

In your great wisdom, the Plastic Craic blog has advised the world multiple times to be conscious about why you are going to any event*.  We all play this game for multiple reasons – social, to win, hobby etc, and making conscious decision about your goals for an event is a sign of emerging wisdom.

Anywho…. coming into Masters I did initially cycle through all my ‘power faction’ choices, exploring options for a realistic path to the gold.   However, with the seeded draw and some knowledge of my potential path through the event, I noticed I was stressing out a bit too much about it all, trying to figure out a list that would work for my ‘run’.   

Ultimately, the single biggest reason – say 50% – for taking Kruleboyz was to destress myself on expectations.   No-one expects KB to win the event (and unlikely to even win a game!), there is zero pressure on me, I can truly relax and enjoy both the games and social experience of Masters, which I landed on as being my primary goal of the event.

Ok, now, I do also admit that I did think about my “run” and the masters meta, and what armies would suit that.   Masters uses a seeded-pairings structure, and therefore there is more clear path of your likely opponents if you do your homework.  Overall, let’s say an anti-meta/ run analysis was 25% reason to take Kruleboyz.

The final 25% reason to take Kruleboyz was pure flex and chance for glory……   It is a massive underdog and underpowered faction.  Even going 1-3 with the KB would attract a bit of glory to The Swamp.   Going 2-2 is just amazing and circling back to your first question, yes, this result in the face of the handicap/ challenge factor does rate quite highly in terms of the list of my proudest competitive achievements in competitive AOS.

So onto the games themseves….

Credit: NC Dave

The Games and The Event

14 factions from 16 players is a hell of a spread: were there any armies you expected to see more / less of in that field?

I love that this occurred.    It showed that the game is in a really healthy spot, with lots of competitively viable builds available.    I do have to caveat that I am a little concerned though by the powercreep that is evident since February – with all of BoC, Gitz, Slaneesh, KO, Khorne, SBGL, OBR and now Seraphon all looking a bit “over cooked” relative to everything else before them.    Note, Masters only included BoC and Gitz, the others were not allowed due to ‘No FAQ / No Play’ rules.

Yeah man, the power creep is real right now.  The new books are a level above for sure.

So moving on to your run and matchups, how did the games themselves go?

First Round: 

Knowing Overlord Joel well, I predicted that my first round would be either BoC or Stormcast, and the Swampies would likely do ok into either of those for different reasons, so I could hold my own in that game and think ahead to Round 2.  I also knew that Joel would predict me to run Slaves or Cities, with zero expectation of Kruleboyz, so this off-meta pick would inevitably throw him off a bit!  Finally, my Kruleboyz army is actually a second-hand-me-down army from the Overlord, so there is a bit of lolz-flex element to using his own ex-army to knock him out at Masters!  

In the end Joel went for a Spawn-Spam BoC list with a Krondspine, which was heavily skewed to Anti-Melee.   Well, my Swampie Crossbows didn’t really care about those debuffs and really delivered the punch, just systemically wiping the spawn out one at a time, ignoring the Krondspine.   Comfortable Round 1 win to the Kruleboyz!

Second Round:

Having solid Round 1 confidence with the Swampies pick, I was planning ahead for R2 and R3.    Based on the pairings system, I knew my opponent would be either Joel Graham or Kieren Coates.

Here is where it got tricksy and I made a bad meta guess.   Everyone (including JG) knows Kieren is a Skaven-only player, so it was predictable Kieren would run the rats.   Now, IMO while Skaven arguably remain underpowered overall, they are the single best ‘rock-paper-scissors’ type hard counter to the current S-tier meta-king that is Gloomspite Gitz.   So because Kieren’s army was predictable, I made a guess that JG would not take that ‘hard counter’ risk that would switch off his Gitz, probably switching back to his own Idoneth Deepkin instead.    

Now, because of that, I was thinking – “what armies in the game are actually good into all of BoC / Stormcast and IDK”?   Almost nothing, that is a really tough meta knot to unpick.    I think the current stats show that LRL-Teclis may be the only army with positive win rates against all 3 of those armies!     And I simply just couldn’t psychologically bring myself to play LRL-Teclis at a competitive event – I didn’t want to ruin my weekend by copping the endless stream of shade that running LRL would attract towards me….

That said, I ended up wrong with this prediction, as JG did stay on Gitz….. but then I ended up right with the prediction that Skaven are the ‘hard counter’ to Gitz, with Kieren pulling off a huge Round 1 upset!

So that lead me to a Skaven vs Kruleboyz as Round 2.  Unfortunately, everything started to come unstuck here.  In Skaven’s turn 1, Thanquol rode his skateboard up and fried my front line screen, with the rest of the Skaven army moving right up close.  It was a huge yolo gamble by Kieren, who really needed to hit the double turn or he would have been in a load of trouble from my counterpunch.   Unfortunately for the Swampies, Skaven did hit the double turn, and backed it up with a 12” Masterclan charge roll, so he had the charge range to swing past my layer-2 screens.   On top of this, Thanquol cast the dreaded Rat Trap right into the heart of my army, which really started to melt away the core.    The double turn delivered just too much damage to recover from, and the rest of the game was just a scramble for points.

Third Round:

I didn’t really plan too far ahead into R3, though was conscious of a KO list floating around that Grinning Blades anti-shooting tech would likely wreck if it went that way! 

Ultimately, my Round 3 opponent was local Geelong club mate Nathan Thompson with Fyreslayers.    Now this was a 160-odd wound list, which is a lot of meat to take out, making me a bit nervous.

Nathan started out horribly – he yolo charged across the table, blew a bunch of key buffs but mega whiffed, only just managing to clear a front line screen, leaving his core army vulnerable to my counter punch.

And BOOM, did the Swampies deliver the counter punch!   MW for days, slaughtering a load of the stunties.  The counterpunch did enough damage that it pushed Fyreslayers into a backfoot position, lacking enough output and board control. The Swampies had control of the game from then to just play the Battle Tactics tight and dance around avoiding bad melee fights, buying enough time to run the game out on points.

Fourth Round:

For the final round, I drew the previous Master, Mat Tyrrell, who was running Nighthaunt.  I had no prediction or idea how this match would go, as while I had some decent tech I also worried about the Nighthaunt 5+ wards slowing down my MW based output.

This was my closest matchup all weekend, a very good game that finished with a 23-22 loss to the Swampies, with loads of big moments on both sides.   Was a great game to finish a great event.  

Dayyum, so close to that 3-1!  Now can you talk us through the strengths of your army and how it works?   The Allied Grots were an unusual choice: were they important to the list?  Were they impactful at the event?

So Grinnin’ Blades is arguably some of the strongest anti-shooting tech in the game, reducing opponents’ visibility to 12”.   The first core of the idea is this is a ‘castle army’ with lots of wounds, that is immunized from the worst of the power shooting out in the meta, while also being able to project its own MW-based shooting from the castle, thus forcing the opponent to have to come at me.

So the first major tech is anti-shooting.   How will I then manage melee?   Firstly, the Kruleboyz are both fragile and slow, and they cannot ‘take a hit’ from melee…. they therefore need to hide behind multiple layers of screens and counterpunch out.  

Because of this the Grots form 2 critical roles in this army composition:

  • Firstly, the Stabbas form part of the screen layers.
  • Secondly, the Loonsmashas become both a ‘screen’ layer AND anti-melee tech with their ‘strike first’ mechanic.    

Overall, the opponent cannot shoot anything important (because it is either outside 12” visibility, or hiding within the Grots) and when they do come into me with their melee, they have to wade through multiple layers of garbage screens. All this while taking a ‘strike first’ power punch and being exposed to quite a heavy counter-punch from the crossbows (Boltboyz), crocodile (Snatchaboss) and ‘Rippaz…. all of whom have the potential to do insane levels of MW damage.

BAM! I love it.  I’ve been trying to achieve something similar with an onion ring of Hobgrots in my own Grinnin’ Blades lists, without any notable success, so it was definitely an eye-catching pick. 

So how much impact did the latest Battlescroll update have on Kruleboyz in your opinion?

Frankly, nowhere near enough.   KB are still a weak faction that will still mostly be playing bottoms tables at most events**.   They have a lot of fun elements, but those elements are very ‘RNG’ random, which makes them unreliable and unforgiving to play.     

Couldn’t agree more.  Do you have any deployment tips for people running the army?

The main tip -> have your frontline screen being a ‘left-hand side’ and ‘right hand side’, meeting roughly in the middle – allowing you to peel off the screen and open a door for the 20 Rippaz or Croc to burst out and counterpunch.   Don’t just wrap the castle with a single line of 20 Grots, as they will get in your way! 

Also – as you use either Supa Sneaky or normal move to push your screens up with board control, ensure that the front-line screen remains only 16.4” in front of your Boltboyz.  Don’t run too far ahead of your core.   You want your opponent to be hitting that first screen and then be in range for the rapid-fire double shots from the Boltboyz next turn.  

Did the army play as you expected?

Overall the army played as expected, having both anti-shooting and anti-melee tech.  Unfortunately I didn’t play against any long-range shooting, so Grinnin’ Blades actually gave me no real value over the weekend!

The Loonsmashas were probably the unit of the event for me, did more work than anything else I had.  They are a real problem for many opponents to crack!

Probably the worst moment of the tournament for me was Skaven hitting a 12” Masterclan charge roll…… two turns in a row!   As discussed above, my army relies heavily on screening to avoid damage, but hitting huge Masterclan charges allowed the Skaven to slingshot around the far edges of my screens and into the core.  Oh well, it’s a dice game and sometimes that’s just how it goes!

Overall, I felt I had a chance in every game, and could see a path to victory in most games.  KB really can do serious damage if they can get a clean hit on the opponent!

Yeah boi!  Now as a viewer, the coverage from Failed Charge was superb.  Did you have a sense of that while you were playing?  Did playing on stream impact the games themselves? 

The stream set up was great, and it was amazing to hear about the level of engagement they helped generate across the wider AOS community!  To be honest though, I basically forgot that I was on stream for my game, it didn’t really impact me as a player, they were very light touch in not disturbing the play.        

Good on em, they did a great job.  Looking forward to some good coverage of you and at Worlds too: can’t wait to Roar you home.

Give the people what they want

And how about the chess clocks: are you a fan?  Did you feel like they had an impact on the games?

I am a fan, for the reason that they remove a point of potential conflict/ dispute when a game times out.   The chess clock does drive accountability on the players, and it removes any disputes with timed out games about what would have happened or accusations of slow-play for advantage, etc.    At Masters I think I only saw 1 game time-out (and that time-out had the consequences that the player who timed out lost a game they would have otherwise won).

I don’t think it has major impact on most players in most games, though I have heard it can feel intimidating for some.   However, think about it more as an insurance policy against an ugly moment in a timed-out game where one or both players are feeling an unfair result has occurred or been ruled due to the time-out.  

Yeah that’s a really good way of looking at it.  So which was your toughest game of the weekend?

On paper, I rate all those matchups as roughly equally tough.  That said, I think the KB had genuine chance to win against all of them with just a little bit of luck.  KB has massive output potential that is a genuine threat to anyone, but is a very unforgiving army to play.  If just a few things going wrong then the army can really start to fall apart.

Which one maneuver from your opponent made you think damn, that was a good play?

I am not sure I saw anything really like this.  A lot of stuff was overall ‘chess-predictable’, in that the opponents mostly did moves, activation orders etc that aligned to what I would have done in the same situation, and therefore a predictable sequence.  

I was only ‘surprised’ twice in the event -> first game by the BoC Shaman blowing up terrain and doing 30-odd MW into my army, and the third game when Nathan activated a charge in my own melee phase with his Hearthgaurd which totally neutered my retreat strategy to get away from them.    For both of these interactions, I hadn’t realized my opponent had those toolkits – ultimately that is poor research and insufficient preparation on my part!***   

Well, now I know those that tech for my next games into Fyreslayers or BoC at least at Worlds!

Yep, exactly!  That’s the spirit.  And what was the social side of the event like?  Any stories?

It was such a good vibe.  We had an event dinner down at the pub on Saturday night with most of the players and TO / stream crew making it, with a really good vibe to it.   There was a perfect mix of ‘old guard’ players who have known each other for a few years now as well as ‘new guard’ players who have emerged to place their stamp on the game.  Was overall a great mix of catching up old friends and making new friends, with everyone having real common cause in our love for the game.

I think a couple of the 0-2 players from Day 1 maybe went a bit too hard on the Saturday night, kicking on until they were kicked out of the pub at closing hours in the middle of the morning. But well, that is also part of the fun and a consolation prize to being able to really relax into the social side once all competitive pressure is off!****

Credit: NC Dave

Looking Ahead

Anything you’d change about the list?

Nah, I think the list did what I wanted it to overall.  I won 2 games at Masters with Kruleboyz, and had a realistic chance in both the other games!   I can’t ask more of KB than that!

Really, it’s now just fingers crossed the Swampies get some more Battlescroll love at the next update that unlocks some new combos and lists please!

Amen to that.  OK I’m making you King of AOS for the day: give me…

  • One points increase (for any unit)

    • This is impossible right now given the rush of new books.    Though KO Thunderers do appear especially egregiously stupid…..
    • Frankly, it’s a split meta where the last 7-8 books seem to be using a totally different points model than the older books!   So there are many options to pick from, including some really egregious stuff.
  • One points drop (for any unit)
    • Nagash -> he is clearly the most ludicrously overpointed unit in the game.  Start with 150 points drop, see what emerges but then probably keep going for another 100 after that!
  • One rule change (can be any unit or core rule)

I’m going to cheat and ask for 2 rule changes here!

1:   First turn priority control should be a dice roll with advantage to the lowest drops.  Lowest drop should not get automatic control, there should be some risk.  My preferred mechanic is lowest drop gets 2 dice and picks highest.  This provides approx. 80% probability of control (vs the ~60% probability of winning ties), which to me feels about right.

2: Unmodified Double-1 on a charge roll always fails, regards of any buffs.   It’s a dice game and dice should have risk!  Managing the dice risk is part of the skill of the game, and those big 1-1 or 6-6 type dice roles for success or failure triggers the best parts of the emotional rollercoaster of the game (when they have consequence).   Removing charge buffs on a 1-1 roll just adds another element of dice and a high emotion trigger when it occurs!

Yup those are both good shouts.  I was just thinking back to 1st edition, and you failed charges all the time back then, with no Rerolls.

As a fellow gamer who suffers from the affliction of liking Kruleboyz, what kind of shape do you think they’re in currently?  What would be on your wishlist for the army?

I could ask for about a dozen different things from GW to uplift the faction via a full rework of their rules.    

The heart of the Kruleboyz overall biggest weakness is 10-man squads of Gutrippaz.   Rippaz are low speed (5” move with essentially no movement buffs places them amongst the slowest tier of units in the game) mixed with fragility (5+ base save).   Slow moving, fragile unit…. Gross.

Given 10x Rippaz are an expensive battleline tax to pay, this ultimately places a hard cap on the army’s competitiveness.

I think a small and feasible tweak would be to make the Rippaz units of 5x @75points (instead of 10x @ 150points) to more cheaply fill out battleline ‘tax’.   It probably won’t be enough by itself to bring the faction to proper competitive tier, but that is what I’d most like to see tried in the next Battlescroll to pump them up a little bit more, and this tweak would unlock a bunch of new lists, combos and toolkits to experiment with.   

After that, well, there are 20 other things GW need to do to fix the faction – and to be fair, there is a risk of going overboard and making them BoC 2022 style Overpowered if they swing too hard.  So let’s just start with 5 man battleline squads as a realistic ask and modest change please, and then keep tweaking from there!

At this point, I’m up for trying anything. It’s that second unit of Gutrippaz that’s the killer: 150 points for a shitty 10 man screen just feels awful .  They’ve been way too bad for way too long, and at this point it’s frankly a stain on the whole balancing process. 

So how’s your local scene in Geelong these days?  Fair to say you’re the biggest club in Vic currently?

I think so, it’s either Lost Legion Geelong or Miscast Misfits as the two largest active clubs in Victoria, and possibly Australia.   LL is currently active every Tuesday night at Guf with 12-18 players plus usually once a fortnight on the weekend, with upwards now of 10 active tournament going players.  It’s fantastic!

Yeah, you’re out in force at every event!  Some great fellas there too.***** 

And while you’re up on a little soapbox, have you got a movie or music recommendation for the people out there?


Frank Herbert books only, but go through all the original 6.   People often stop at #4, but IMO (controversial), #5 and #6 are the best and deepest of the series.

Ya know, I’ve not read that myself.  On the list it goes.

Well thanks for taking the time to do this, and congrats again on the result!

For the Glory of the Swamp……WAAAAGGGHHH!

Editor’s Notes

*Read about it here

**Well he’s not wrong so far, is he?  Left to rot at the bottom of the pile for 8 consecutive Battlescrolls…wouldn’t happen to an Order army

***I’m gonna say that my own biggest area for improvement is a really deep knowledge of your opponent’s army.  I can honestly say I barely ever lose a game when my opponent is playing something I know top to bottom, but that’s so bloody hard to achieve with the rapid fire release schedule we’ve had

****Remember my 40th at your place Clarkey?  Good, cos I don’t


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