Wednesday, February 15, 2012

40K Theory: Climate Change

What follows is a theory that's been kicking around in my brain for a while, maybe it's valid, maybe not.  But it's the start to the conversation...

It isn't the BT that have changed (except the FAQ) it's everyone else

There is nothing in WH40K that is any where close a Magic the Gathering style metagame which shifts week to week or even day to day.  Change in 40k is glacially slow, partly as a result of the incredibly slow release schedule of new codices, but also because of the time needed to model and paint new units.  If changing your tournament list (which usually must be painted and based to a non-embarrassing standard) was as easy as sliding two new cards into a sleeve, 40K might see the glacial changes accelerate somewhat.

So there is no metagame, most people accept that now and we can move on.  There might not be a metagame, but there is an environment.  Just because you can’t tailor your list to attack a perceived hole in the meta doesn’t mean you don’t consider what other people will (or can) bring as important.  There IS a tournament environment. 

And it revolves, for the most part, around Space Wolves.  Essentially, the units you bring- or don’t bring- to tournaments these days are in a very large part dictated by what Space Wolves can and do bring.  Not to say that we tailor our lists to beat Space Wolves, but the simple fact is that certain strategies are not viable for a tournament list because they are weak to Space Wolves.  Some of these things would also have been invalidated by Blood Angels, IG, or Grey Knights eventually had Space Wolves not been printed, but Space Wolves came first and the story ended there. 

Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a trip back in time to Summer 2009, on the eve of the release of Codex: Space Wolves.  What are the top lists winning tournaments back then?

Nob Bikers.  Dual Lash Chaos.  Eldar Jetlock Councils.  Nidzilla. 

All of these strategies are, for the most part, completely stopped in their tracks by a balanced Space Wolves list.  Nidzilla was stopped by both Space Wolves AND their new codex, but I digress.

Let’s talk 3+ saves.  The best army, at the time, was Chaos Marines.  Vanilla marines had Vulkan and Pedro and TH/SS stuff, but it was considered decidedly 2nd tier at the time.  A lot of the most efficient units (dakka preds, typhoons, rifleman dreads) were either not ‘discovered’ or not yet popular.  The best close combat 3+ army you could bring were Black Templars.  At the time, a 10 man Crusader Squad with AAC was the best close combat troop choice in the game.  The only basic troop choice they couldn’t beat in CC were Plague Marines and Genestealers, everything else they filleted in close combat.

Space Wolves ended the BT close combat reign by introducing a Troop choice that was cheaper, better equipped, and better in close combat.  Blood Angels just further cemented it.  Once BT could no longer win close combats against a significant portion of the tournament lists, close combat was no longer a viable strategy.

While my example is BT specific (since that is most of my experience) this scenario was repeated with every 4th Edition codex in some way.  Chaos Marines got owned by Rune Priests, and Lash Princes got owned by Long Fangs.  Nob Bikers owned by Thunderwolves and Long Fangs; basic Boyz are stopped by basic Grey Hunters.  Jetlock Councils shut down by Rune Priests.  On and on. 

Almost all of the late 4th and early 5th Edition tournament lists were abruptly discarded when SW hit the scene.  The codices that were released after the SW codex not only reinforced this by producing similar threats as the Wolves (BA Assault Squads, GK Psyflemen) but also by having their own strengths occupy different design space from the Wolves.  The IG and GK are both powerful armies, but they would fail if they try to out-SW the SW.  They occupy their own niche, mostly because the Space Wolves have their niche carved out so definitively.  If you took away the SW and BA codices, GK would be the best close combat army in the game.  Add those codices into the mix and a GK close combat army isn’t even considered nearly viable.

Even if you agree with my analysis you’re probably asking yourself, ‘what practical lesson am I supposed to draw from this?’ 

Properly identify your niche.  Regardless of your codex, if you try to occupy the same battlefield space as Space Wolves (centered around aggressive close combat capable troops) you will probably lose since they will trump your plan.  So you have to identify the space where your codex thrives, and engineer your list around that gameplan.  Note that this isn’t “figure out what you do that is unique” since I already attempted to debunk that.  This differs because we aren’t talking about quirky units or special rules.  We are talking about general battlefield roles.  It is rather easy to identify the battlefield role for a good IG army, and once you have that space identified, picking the individual units becomes easier.  To stick to my BT, I’ve indentified that the battlefield role of aggressive close combat troops is already occupied by several superior codices, so my choices are either find a different space to play them, or bring the same CC based list from 2009 and lose regularly. 

I’ll choose to adapt to the changed climate.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?


  1. I agree with what you are saying, I also think what you have identified is very difficult to see because of the variety of ways a codex can build an army. This keeps things on the ground level very confused. I believe that a well designed game should have a "standard" or one will be defined by the gamers. The tournament scene had, intentionally or not, choose SW as the standard. I think this was based upon how...accessible the codex was, both in modeling and playing terms.

    If GW was smart they would recognize this victory, study it, analyze it, and seek to emulate it in various ways in the next round of codi.

    Do you think this is where 'Nids fell down?

  2. I would absolutely disagree that GK are not a viable close combat army. Death Cult Assassins: Enough said.

    1. I'm happy to be corrected, but what GT winning caliber list has DCA in them?

    2. -Battle-of-Salvation-Overall-Winner.pdf

      This one. His final opponent was MVB.

    3. Link doesn't work for me, but I'll take your word for it. How big a presence were his DCA in the list? One unit? 6 units?

    4. 2 units of DCA. 7 strong, but also back up by a Libby and Coteaz which is important.

      I also hate that list, but I got pretty lucky with match-ups against some of my tougher opponents... Fennel, Jawa, and my GK opponent for example, my lists was a direct hard counter to because of the DCA and Raiders... this was except for having to fight through 2 Guard players being Somerville (who beat me, but damn that was a fun game!) and MVB, which make Land Raiders worthless. :/

      I actually took that list because of a long story about that second land raider and had ended up getting stuck with a $60+ purchase and felt like I needed to use it before it got moth balled. I will never and would never run that same list again because I really don't like Land Raiders. It's also worth noting that I did not fail a single dangerous check all weekend which was amazingly lucky!

      I like the article, btw, because you are showing how Space Wolves changed the entire face of 40K, and why they were the stock army for so long. Your points are very valid.

      In my opinion, though, Grey Knights have supplanted Space Wolf dominance in almost the same way. I think that Grey Knights are now the hard counter to most Wolf lists, and depending on the GK list of course. Space Wolves struggle mightily to put up the standard list versus a Dread Spam/Acolyte (or Purifier) Spam list.

      I'd actually be really interested to carry on that conversation, but I'm not totally sure the comments box here is the best forum for that.

      Either way, you are spot on about how Wolves wrecked the layout of 40K when they released. It's easy to see as well in why Wolves were so popular for so long.

  3. HQ:
    Smiley, Vanquisher of Armies - 170 (saa)

    The Unshakeable Will - 100

    3 x Ven Dreads w/ 2 x TLACs + bolts - 195 ea.

    4 x 3 x Acolyte w/ Bolters - 65 ea.

    7 x Death Cult Assassins - 105

    7 x Death Cult Assassins - 120
    1 x Banisher

    Dread + 2 x TLACs + bolts - 135

    2 x Land Raider Redeemers + Multi Melta + Bolts - 260

  4. the list is discussed at length on our blog at

  5. >Essentially, the units you bring- or don’t bring- to tournaments these days are in a very large part dictated by what Space Wolves can and do bring.


    The lists you mentioned "going away" went away because they were bad, not because they were somehow trumped by SW. SM, BA, GK, IG, Tyranids, SoB, Tau, DE, Necrons, and BT all smash those lists easily as well.

    SW may be prototypical for a Marine army in some ways (though not in others), but they are hardly the defining factor for armies these days.