Monday, December 19, 2011

40k Theory: The Razor's Edge

Originally posted on 3++, but I felt like re-posting it here on the off chance that someone who reads my blog managed to miss it on Kirby's...

In and Out Burger: how to NOT be on the razor's edge

As some of you (translation: none of you) may be aware, I am a racing cyclist and something of a fitness/nutrition nut.  There is a concept I’ve been thinking about lately from the endurance sports world that crosses over to 40k list building, oddly enough. 

In endurance sports, there is a concept called “the razor’s edge.”  In short, the idea is that in running/cycling/triathlon etc. you want to weigh as little as possible and have the least body fat possible.  Mostly because the less you weigh, the faster you are, especially in areas with hills (or even mountains) because gravity is only second to wind resistance in forces to be overcome.  In the racing world, you measure your watts of power output divided by your weight in kilograms to get a good idea of your relative speed compared to other athletes. 

Enough about that.

There is a downside to weight loss.  Any weight loss is going to come at the expense of strength.  Even if you lose a pound of fat off your body, there is going to be some muscle that is lost too.  And the less fat you have to lose, the more muscle that you lose when you try to keep losing weight.  So in the mad rush to lower the weight side of the power/weight ratio, you can lose power and end up making no gains, or worse yet, losing ground.

Additionally, if your body fat percentage gets too lean, or your weight gets too low, you start having medical issues.  Your immune system gets much weaker and you can catch flu or become unable to fight infection.  For women, you stop having your menstrual cycle and you start developing… masculine traits.  All bad.  So the irony is that your peak performance is so close to a breakdown.  For an elite cyclist, his peak performance might be 130 pounds and 6% body fat.  But if he was to drop to 127 and 5%, he could start physically breaking down.  Many a Tour De France racer, or Iron Man aspirant has been knocked out of their event due to a cold they couldn’t shake because of too low bodyfat.

Hence the term, razor’s edge.  The ideal place for these athletes to be is on the razor’s edge, where on one side they are unhealthily lean, and on the other side they are too fat.  They try to be right on the razor’s edge of ideal performance.  Since it would be impossible to maintain the razor’s edge indefinitely, athletes practice periodization, so that they schedule their diet and training to ‘peak’ right at their target event.  Thus they only put themselves “at risk” for a brief period of time, hopefully short enough to win their event and avoid any side effects.

So after all that banality, you might be interested in how it applies to Wargaming.  I see a direct parallel between the goal to be at peak performance by being as lean as possible and in having an MSU list that is as tuned as can be and maximum optimal.  In both concepts, the goal is to trim the fat and be a lean, mean, fighting machine.  In both concepts it can be taken too far, to have serious negative effects. 

In 40k, an overtuned list can make bad metagame calls.   As some of you know, the terrain and rules of the NOVA gave a lot of cover saves.  Probably a lot more than many people play on the local level, and thus, long range firepower was not as scary (or important) as many people might have expected.  Additionally, close combat was a fair bit more important that many people expected it to be.  Had someone over-optimized their list based on their pre-NOVA conception of the game, they could have brought way too much long range shooting, not enough melta, and not enough defenses against enemy close combat units.  Many a Guard player didn’t have quite the tournament they expected to have going in.

I’ve been a big proponent of playtesting scientifically to tweak your list, and the biggest x-factor in scientific playtesting is your playtest gauntlet.  If you test against 5 lists (assuming them to be the most popular tournament archetypes) and you over optimize to beat them, you may run into a situation where you don’t encounter any of them at the actual tournament and you find your ‘optimizations’ were actually less than optimal.  That said, I still fully endorse scientific playtesting, and a gauntlet.  But I also think it helps to take your tuned list out ‘into the wild’ so to speak, but a test run.  It’s very smart to play your tuned list in a local tournament or two before the GT to find out how your gauntlet tested list performs in the real world.  Essentially what I’m saying is, in endurance sports you can trim the fat and lose muscle and strength unintentionally.  In 40k list building, you can trim what you think is fat, only to find out it was really muscle on the day of the tournament.

In conclusion, one piece of advice that applies to both endurance sports and 40k: don’t make knee jerk changes to your program in response to a minor setback.  In endurance sports, you don’t change your diet plan radically a week before the event because you had a bad training session.  In 40k, you don’t radically tweak a list in response to a loss (or even a string of losses), any changes you make to your list during testing should be minor and gradual so that you don’t accidentally trim the muscle along with the fat.


  1. Liked it on 3++, liked it again on your blog. Keep up the good work.

  2. Excellent article. Experienced just what you're talking about at a local tournament a week ago. Over optimized for MEQ and got beat by Dark Eldar and tabled by Nids. List needs some tuning yet, methinks. :)

  3. I always like it when you weave sport into wargaming haha!

  4. Your fitness/nutrition analogy posts are great - in fact one of your earlier articles (I think the one about tournament day nutrition) got me to switch over to eating Kashi Go Lean, which made a large impact on how I feel during the day.