Need for Speed: The Importance of Speed in 40K
I’m going to try and tackle both the importance of speed in 40k and how it came around. As always, these are meant more for competitive play, but all of this is applicable to casual games as well.
Before I continue, the point of this post is not to complain about the prevalence of fast armies, or even say the game hasn’t moved in a good direction. Fast units give players options, and a battle between two fast armies is usually much more interesting and challenging than two gunlines shooting each other across the board all game. Static armies like leafblower guard or skyhammer marines tend to be all about tabling you before they can do anything, and those kind of games tend to be over quickly with one player being crushed. I like speed, and I’m glad it’s one of the focal points of the game at the moment.
Back in the days of 4th edition, speed was usually a tradeoff with survivability. Melee was more prominent, so it was far more dangerous to get up in your opponent’s face, and armor saves in general went a lot further than they do now. 5th edition made vehicles much tougher, so we saw the age of mechanized infantry, where the game was all about shuttling your troops around and trying to crack each other’s transports. The addition of jink and the nerfing of vehicle survivability and melee in 6th and 7th edition is how we got where we are today. Bikes can now bring their own cover save with them, while vehicles have a hard time finding one while parked in a forest. Meanwhile, getting up in your opponent’s face early is much less threatening when they’re usually lacking in strong melee units.
The result of these changes has been, predictably, a meta shift. Every army with strong, fast units like Eldar, Space Marines, and Daemons have hopped to the top. Other armies have fallen behind or adapted, finding new or old units that can work in the meta of speed daemons. Tyranids and Necrons spamming flyrants and wraiths, respectively, are both partially a product of this emphasis on speed. Meanwhile, armies like Imperial Guard and Chaos Space Marines (cue whining) have fallen behind, lacking reliable fast units.
Emphasis on speed, along with changes to psychic powers, has also led to the rise of deathstars. Wolfstars aren’t just good because they’re hard to kill and killy themselves, they’re also fast. They can shoot up the board, fight you, then break off all of their characters to score objectives. This is why slower death stars like lychstar, inquisistar or ghazghkullstar never really caught on. You also see fewer deathstars in ITC (besides invisibility nerfs), because emphasis isn't just placed on speed, but on having many fast units so you can score you maelstrom every turn which makes armies like Eldar, Daemons, and Space Marines even stronger.
There isn’t really a bottom line to this post, in terms of a message. Speed is one of the key tenets of the game at the moment and it’s interesting to take a look at how we got here. Changes to the rules or tournament formats could very well make a shift back to slower armies, but only time will tell with that.
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