When people crack a new codex, or try to build a list from an old codex, the first thing they should look for is where the efficient anti-tank and anti-infantry units are located, and start from that core. Disagree if you wish, but that is the best and most basic starting point for every good 5th Edition list. On some level, this is common sense and something you probably do subconsciously.
But a new groupthink has emerged in the 40k blogosphere/forumsphere. I will refer to it as the 'Cult of Uniqueness." A new player writes an email to an influential blogger asking him how to build a 'proper ______ army.' The groupthink response is, "identify what you can do with that codex that no one else can do, or what you can do more cheaply than anyone else, and build around that." In essence, "find what makes your codex unique and focus on doing that."
|Psyflemen are the dream: cheap, efficient, and unique|
My contention is that this is highly misleading, and just as often wrong as it is right. First some hypothetical examples, and then some real examples.
Imagine a hypothetical MEQ codex (let's say Iron Warriors Legion) where you can take a decidedly suboptimal unit, like a Assault Cannon/DCCW equipped Dreadnought for something insanely cheap like 85 points. We can all agree that 85 points for a Dreadnought is too cheap, regardless of weapons. Someone following the CoU would say, "nobody else can bring Dreadnoughts that cheaply, so you should bring 3 of those for your Elites." This is almost certainly incorrect. We don't know what other elite choices are available at what cost, but as this unit provides neither efficient anti-tank nor efficient anti-infantry, there is no utility provided. Just because you can do something cheaply or uniquely is irrelevant if that something provides no utility to your army.
|Not especially useful even at 85 points|
A good real world example would be Codex Dark Angels. People who subscribe to the Cult of Uniqueness will tell you that the only good builds are Deathwing and (to a lesser extent) Ravenwing. Why? Because they do things that no other codex can do. If you press them further, they will explain that Dark Angels other options are not efficient compared to more recent codices. While the second point is true to an extent, the first point isn't a reason to do anything.
Yes, Dark Angels are the only ones who can bring TH/SS Cyclone Missile Launcher Terminators as troops. This is very unique. But is it useful? Not necessarily. Deathwing armies lack cheap melta units, and have don't even have very great long range anti-tank either. Space Wolves find your 10-12 missile shots and 6-9 melta shots per turn in a 2k list to be quaint. Essentially, the Dark Angels have a very unique thing their codex can do, but that unique thing isn't actually that competitive. I would go so far as to argue that a top notch player would have an easier time winning a GT with a Dark Angels tactical squad based list than Double Wing, all things being equal. Deathwing is a fun and unique list, but it isn't great at anti-tank or anti-infantry and thus isn't great.
It isn't good enough to be unique or cheap: you have to be useful (defined by me as being good at anti-armor or anti-infantry) in order to be competitive.
There are times when uniqueness/cheapness merges with utility, and these are the truly outstanding 40k units. Long Fangs. Tervigons. Black Templar tank hunting shooty terminators. Psyflemen Dreadnoughts. SM Dakka Predators. Ork Lootaz. Sanguinary Priests. This list goes on, I'm sure you can think of many, many more. The point is, these units are not only unique and (relatively) cheap, they are also very good at what they do. You don't have to be unique to be competitive, you just have to be useful. Useful is a must, cheap is a plus, unique is a bonus.
One last word. Cheap isn't even especially great. Many people complain that Unit 1 from Codex A costs more than the same exact unit from Codex B. People in the Cult of Uniqueness will say that players of Codex A should shun that unit, since someone else "does it better." You are playing 40k, not keeping up with the Joneses. If Unit 1 is the only thing, or the best thing, in Codex A at killing tanks you need to bring Unit 1, even if Codex B can take the same unit 10 points more cheaply. When building a list for Codex A, you shouldn't spend any time worrying about the contents of Codex B.
P.S. Happy new year everybody, I look forward to a fun year of hobbying and blogging about it.