Thursday, September 29, 2016

There is No General Strategy

There is No General Strategy

Warhammer 40k is not a place where you can have a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Another conversation with a friend has brought up a discussion I think could benefit both casual and competitive players. My friend kept asking me for “general strategy tips” for his list. How should he deploy “in general”, what should he shoot at “in general”. After thinking about it for awhile I think it’s safe to say there isn’t a lot of “general” strategy for any army in 40k.

First let me qualify that by saying there are general tactics. Knowing how many dice to throw at a psychic power to make sure it goes off or ringing your guys around an objective so your opponent can’t get within 3” are certainly general tactics any player can use. There is also good general advice like "ignore a gargantuan or superheavy if you can’t kill it". What I mean is that when you are constructing your list, having a set battle plan for psychic powers you roll on, where you deploy your guys, and what you need to kill isn’t just unrealistic, it’s shooting yourself in the foot.

The most obvious reason for this is that 40k is an inherently random game. Even a 2+ rerollable dice fails once in awhile, and you have no control over when that failure will happen. One of the biggest parts of being a good player is the ability to adapt to these rolls, whether they’re good rolls by your opponent or bad ones by you. If you have a set plan in your head for how a game will go before you start playing it, it is almost guaranteed that every single game something is going to go differently than it “statistically” should, and if you are stuck in your laid-out battle plan, you’re going to have a very hard time adapting.

The second, and more egregious reason that “general” strategies don’t work, is that they rarely account for your opponent’s actions. Assuming you know what your opponent will do is an insane assumption to make, because those guys can be crafty or stupid (it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes). I hate when people play out those theoretical games for me, where they tell me what I’ll try to do and why their list perfectly stops it. This is also why a lot of alpha strike and gimmick lists don’t hold up at the top level, smart opponents aren’t going to just deploy all of their important units on the line and let your Skyhammer drop in and kill them.

Lastly, the game is a very diverse place right now. As much as people complain that certain armies or play styles are weak, the competitive meta has grown wildly in the last few years, and you can see all kinds of crazy lists. Having a generic strategy for your army means you will inevitably meet an army that has a perfect answer to the way you play every game, and you’re going to find yourself beaten before the game even starts because you were unwilling to adapt.

If all of that is true, what is the point of planning at all? Why not just throw a bunch of random units together and hope the gods of random chance are on your side? Obviously there is a place for planning, but it’s in what your army does, not how to play it. Like I said in Play Your Game you can and should look at the missions you will be playing and think about how your list can win with those. Looking at the game in a vacuum is usually bad, but it's reasonable to look at a scatterbike list and say “I have a lot of very fast obsec units, scoring objectives should be pretty easy”. Also, while you can’t plan your opponent’s moves in advance, you can make sure you can deal with most kinds of threats. If you are missing a way to kill a gargantuan creature so you put a warp hunter or grav cents in a drop pod in your list, that’s good planning. If you assume your opponent will start their wraithknight where those units can kill it turn 1, or even that you will kill it turn 1 if you can hit it, that’s making assumptions you shouldn't make. Unit synergies are also something you can look at when planning your list. Some psykers to help buff your star or a guy who gives you reroll reserves when you have a flyer formation are good choices for making sure your stuff does what it needs to do. You just need to make sure you aren’t doing something like deciding which psychic table to roll on before you even know what you’re playing against or if you always want your flyers in on a certain turn.

I hope this all makes sense and if you have any questions feel free to ask. If you have a tournament list that includes Space Marines or Dark Angels, my list review submissions are still open as well. I should be back to posting these regularly on Wednesdays or Thursdays as of next week.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Final Flight

Final Flight

Excuse the dramatic title. My Ravenwing aren’t going anywhere, just being shelved for a little while after a suitably dramatic tournament.

I wasn’t happy with how the ITC format affects my Ravenwing, which is what I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting was to get the square off against Sean Nayden in the last round of the tournament. I brought a knight to help me deal with daemons and battle company, so of course there were only two battle company players and one daemon player, and I didn’t play any of them.

Instead I had to play tau round one, and barely pulled out a victory thanks to the 2+ rerollable and invisibility nerfs really hurting my survivability against them. Round two I played a marine player running a bizarre list with three thunderfire cannons and a bunch of land speeder storms and tabled him pretty quickly. Round three I played on table one against Sean Nayden. As in the guy who won LVO two years ago and placed 2nd last year.

Predictably, I got my teeth punched in, but I was surprised that I was able to follow what he was doing and the mistakes I made. When playing someone significantly better than you it can be hard to understand what went wrong and why you lost so badly. I was able to recognize my mistakes and spoke to him briefly for some feedback, and he agree with me about most of those mistakes. Being good enough to be able to learn from losing to someone that good was an achievement in itself for me.

I think that’s a good point to take a break with the army that has brought me a lot of success the last year or so, and I plan to bring them back once people start playing NOVA format again next year. In the meantime my Orks are ready and I’ve got a funky Talon Strike Force alpha strike list I’m going to try. The list I ran on Saturday is this:

Ravenwing Strike Force:
Librarian, Bike, Shroud of Heroes, Auspex
5 Black Knights
5 Black Knights
6-Man Command Squad, Banner, Apothecary, Grenade Launcher

White Scars Librarius Conclave:
Level 2 Librarian, Bike, Hunter's Eye, Sword
Level 2 Librarian, Bike, Axe
Level 2 Librarian, Bike, Sword
Level 2 Librarian, Bike, Axe

Oathsworn Detachment:
Knight Warden, Meltagun

In the meantime I’m keeping list reviews open if you want to submit one. Any list with Space Marines or Dark Angels is welcome!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall Update and Going Forward

Fall Update and Going Forward

Hey everyone, I posted this week’s post early and then planned something else that I’ve decided to hold off on. Because of the weird timing I decided it would be a good idea to post a little update on the state of the blog and my plans going forward.

My last two posts were the most and third most viewed posts so far. That’s awesome, and I can’t thank you guys enough for the support and readership. The tier list was very popular and after I've got a few ITC tournaments under my belt I'm going to make a more exhaustive list. That also means I’m going to move more into discussion pieces like those instead of tactics. Instead of completely ignoring those on the blog, I’ll now just do any tactics people request, as well as the occasional user-submitted list review post.

Additionally, I think this weekend will be the last tournament with the Ravenwing for awhile. They did very well in NOVA but a lot of changes in ITC hurt the boys in black. Their speed is nice but with fewer death stars and Tau and more MSU and Eldar I’m not sure this army is going to remain the best choice. I could be wrong, but unless I do very well this weekend I think I’ll be swapping to one of my other armies for awhile. Those armies are:

DA Battle Company (Still a bit of a ways off but includes ravenwing units)

Talon Strike Force (I’ve got this one built up and I’m really excited to use it)

Orks (Almost done, not sure how it’s going to perform)

If things continue as planned I’ll be using the Talon Strike Force for a tournament on October 8th and the Orks in November. I’ll continue to post tournament results and army lists as I do.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to re-open user-submitted list entries. Want your list reviewed on the blog? Send it to me in a PM on reddit, post it in the comments, or email me! I’m expanding it from Ravenwing only to any army including Dark Angels or Space Marines (No Wolves, BA, or GK for now though). 1850 tournament lists only please, use the format I’ve used for previous list posts here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A New Kind of Tier List

A New Kind of Tier List

This tier list may not be quite what you expect, but I think it will ultimately be more useful than lists by codex.

I see a lot of requests for “tier lists” or similar where players are asked to or try to rank all of the 40k armies by codex. There’s a lot of fundamental flaws to this approach, especially in the age of allies. Additionally, I’ve found relatively few voices of authority on the competitive meta who want to make these lists, probably because trying to rank armies by the power of their codex isn’t a very good idea. Instead, I’d like to introduce an alternative tier list, talking about some of the top-tier units and formations, rather than trying to rank them by codex. If people like this concept I can definitely write a more extensive tier list. This is a quick description of some units I consider to be near the top of the competitive meta at the moment. In no particular order:

Skatach Wraithknight
"In no particular order" wasn't entirely truthful. This guy is a strong contender for best unit in the game and I would personally rank him at the top of the list if we were going from best to worst. Combining the already criminally undercosted wraithknight with two absolutely ridiculous weapons or a shield, I’ve rarely seen regular wraithknights in games since this monster emerged in Doom of Mymeara. The hellstorm weapon is probably the best choice, giving Eldar access to ignores cover without psychic powers, but the melta cannon is also strong and a 5++ is great with toe-in-cover for gargantuans being removed in a lot of formats. You have to make a strong case for not including a wraithknight in any Eldar army, and the Skatach is the best choice for one.

Another no-brainer. They’re absurdly fast, have ridiculous range, get obsec in a CAD and fill a troops tax (and really aren’t a tax anyways). Take them, unlock a LoW slot for your wraithknight and you’ve got the core of most competitive Eldar lists. The range is really what cranks scatterbikes up from good to amazing, because they’re still very weak in close combat, and even with their assault move if they had to stick to 12 or 18” weapons they’d be pretty vulnerable. With 36” range? Their opponent needs a lot of units or very careful positioning to lock them down.

Riptide Wing
Score another one for the xenos. Tau have a reputation of being overrated thanks to their pub-stompy nature but the riptide wing is the real deal. Rerolling nova reactors removes one of the major weaknesses of the units, and getting to stand still and shoot twice is something they’ll usually use before enemies have had a chance to kill any of them. Each model being their own unit is huge as well, making them harder to wipe out or lock up. It doesn’t surprise me that plenty of Eldar armies ally in a riptide wing to supplement their already ridiculous range, firepower, and mobility.

Librarius Conclave
Imperial armies have a ton of options for deathstars, but the librarius conclave is a core part of all of them. More psychic dice, a few 2-wound characters who can carry relics, and the ability to all-but guarantee your important psychic powers will go off makes this formation one of the most powerful in the game. The conclave has uses outside of deathstars are well, as my own list from NOVA can attest. As far as Space Marine formations go, you won’t find one more versatile than the conclave.

Battle Company

A lot of people get this detachment wrong. Free units is powerful no doubt, but what elevates this detachment to the incredible level of power it has is the objective secured on EVERYTHING. Most opponents will be hard-pressed to push you off of more than one objective a turn, let alone all of them. Doctrines (or full BS overwatch for the Dark Angels) are just icing on the cake that let you give this detachment some teeth. You could see this as the opposite to the conclave. One is the core of deathstars, this is the core of MSU spam, and both are powerful.


A great unit buried in an otherwise weaker codex, the wyvern would be in almost every imperial player’s army if there was a more easy way to access them. Just two of them in a squad can wrack up enough hits to kill most small units, and ignores cover deprives a lot of weaker units of a better save. While the Imperial Guard version of the wyvern is locked behind some bad units, it really shines when run as part of a Renegades and Heretics army, who can not only get it with less of a tax, but actually pay ten points less for this already very cheap and effective unit.

Daemonic Incursion
Last but certainly not least, the incursion is a great example of something that is more than the sum of its parts. Claiming objectives is good in the same way that objective secured is good, rerolling instability tests is great, and adding or subtracting one from the warpstorm table can be game-changing. Daemons’ biggest weakness is the inherent randomness of their army, and incursion does a lot to mitigate those weaknesses and reveal how powerful a lot of individual daemon units are.

This is far from an exhaustive list. Plenty of great units/formations like WarCon or Fateweaver have been left out, but I wanted to avoid making this post too long. I hope this can set an example for similar tier lists in the future, and I may revisit this idea myself if there's demand for it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Play Your Game

Play Your Game

Or, how to win without knowing every possible matchup.

A few days ago I was having a conversation with a friend who told me he doesn’t like competitive 40K because there are too many special rules and he can’t keep track of them all. While this is a valid complaint, this struck me as odd because he’s a good player who’s done well at our local tournaments. He said that was only true because he plays armies he’s comfortable with and has played a lot. This got me thinking that that’s probably all you need, and I wanted to share my thoughts on list building and practice with you guys.

As the title says, the most important thing to do when trying to win is to play your game. Even when playing against an army or formation you’ve never seen before, if your army has a clear win condition and you know what it does, you can take on any army. This applies to both casual and competitive games, but especially at big GT’s where there’s no way you’ll be prepared for everything you’ll see. In my opinion, the things you need to consider when list building, in order of importance, are:

Missions you will be playing

What your army does

What your opponents might field

That first one is probably the most overlooked, especially by new players. If your army doesn’t have a clear way to score points, you won’t be able to win most games, because it’s very rare that you will just table a good opponent. As a quick thought exercise, take the NOVA format. Can your army score by turn or at the end reliably? If not, you can stop there and write a new list. Are there 1 or 2 secondary goals you can always pick, and another 2-3 you can probably score depending on the matchup? If you can do both of those, you probably have a good start to a solid army list for NOVA format games.

The second consideration is a little abstract, but ultimately you need to think about what tools your army has. If you’re running 5 flyrants you have a skew list, and you should only consider what things will threaten your flyrants. If you’re taking a WarCon you need to make sure you’ll have redundant units for each role so you can afford to lose one or two. I think most players skip to this step when list building, which leads to a lot of gimmicky lists that in theory could table their opponent but can’t score any points if they don’t. Good players don’t fall for gimmicks, and the first time the dice screw you over you’ll wish you brought a list with a clear win condition.

Before I address the last point, I want to be clear that someone who knows very little about the competitive meta, but carefully considered those first two points, built a good list, and practiced with it, could probably show up at a tournament and put up some good results, even with no idea about what kind of armies he might see. That being said, the best armies and players will need to consider that last point if your goal is winning a GT.

Any list that isn’t a top-tier list should be able to beat or break even with a couple of the top-tier lists. My NOVA list could match up ok against Eldar and most death stars, while it struggles with white scars battle company and daemonic incursion. That’s ok because there will be plenty of lists that aren’t those, and plenty of top-tier lists piloted by poor players who you can beat anyways. Considering the meta and the matchups is the least important part of list building, because the meta is fluid and an ok list you’re comfortable with is probably better than a netlist you’ve never played before. Still, it’s good to make sure you can beat some of the lists you can expect to see at every tournament if your goal is placing high at a GT.

My bottom line is that knowing what every potential enemy army can do and every matchup isn’t necessary for your army, so long as you have a clear win condition and structure for your army. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box as long as you’re confident about your ability to play the missions.

I hope that insight helps some casual and competitive players alike. Let me know if you’d like more of these opinion articles or you’d rather I go back to tactics or army list reviews.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 10th. Battlegrounds, Norton, MA

Format: Custom (See below)
Number of Players: 17
Rounds: 3
Placing: 3rd

This was a small tournament nearby. They wanted to do "oldhammer" by banning formations, superheavies and gargantuans. Army comp was 1250 points, 1 CAD, 1 Allied, no forgeworld. Predictably, this nerfed the crap out of space marines and necron, while hurting eldar a bit. There were 3 daemons players there, all of whom were in the top 5, and 6 tau players there. My list and matchups are below and then I'm going to quickly talk about balance and why "just banning formations and going back to 5th ed" is not to solution to balancing the game.

Ultramarines Combined Arms Detachment
5 Tactical Marines, Meltagun, Combi-Melta, Drop Pod
5 Tactical Marines, Meltagun, Combi-Melta, Drop Pod
5 Devastators, 4 Grav Cannons
Thunderfire Cannon

Dark Angels Allied Detachment
Librarian, Level 2, Bike, Auspex
5 Tactical Marines, Flamer, Drop Pod
6 Black Knight Command Squad, Apothecary, Grenade Launcher, Banner

Game 1:
Tzeentch Daemons:

This was already going to be an uphill battle, then he rolled a warlord trait that gives his warlord and daemons nearby +1 invuln. Then got a +1 invuln on the warpstorm table his first turn. So army-wide 2+ rerollable invulns was a blast. Not to mention about 12 psychic dice per turn.
15-3 Loss

Game 2:

A new player from my club playing in his first tournament, who got stuck playing the guy who got 2nd in round 1. I crushed him (AND SCORED LINEBREAKER WITH A BASTION) but he won his 3rd game and I was pretty happy for him.
15-6 Win

Game 3
Dark Eldar

Another guy from my club (isn't it great playing against 2/3 of the people you showed up with?) I got worldscape and phase form and blew him off the board in a few turns.
15-4 Win

I hear a lot of "oldhammer" players say the game was "better" before formations, unique detachments, and superheavies/gargantuans. Better is a super subjective term, and I think what they really mean is "less complicated". No argument, I won't disagree with that.
However, I will argue that formations and detachments go a long way to balance the game, allowing for way more combinations and army compositions that a combined arms detachment just doesn't allow. Additionally, superheavies and gargantuans really aren't the most powerful things in the world, and make it almost impossible to kill death stars or things like 2+ rerollable saves. It was no surprise to me to see so many daemons and tau players there and doing well. Daemons aren't affected much by the removal of formations while tau are buffed by most people's weakened psychic powers. Armies like Necron get the short end of the stick while marines have to pull on the huge amount of resources they have to put up a fight.
Banning forgeworld is on the same level as banning superheavies/gargantuans to me, because limiting people's options usually doesn't "balance" the game. Once again it does cut down on the number of rules in the game, but it hamstringed me and the other marines players there even further without affecting a lot of other armies.

My point is that arbitrarily banning things that didn't used to be in the game doesn't balance it, it only nerfs some things and buffs others. I don't want to rag on the organizer because I don't think balance was his intended goal as much as cutting down on the number of rules available, although if I were him I would have pushed it further and banned anything non-codex (like Curse of the Wulfen and Angels of Death) so daemons would have fewer options and marines players wouldn't be flinging terrain around or charging turn 1 (guilty).
I had fun, and different formats are a good way to challenge your tactical and list building skills, but I definitely prefer more polished formats like NOVA and ITC to this one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Top 32 at NOVA!

Top 32 at NOVA!

NOVA was a fantastic event. I encourage everyone who considers it to go at least once. There were dozens of vendors and events there and I met some great people. Almost all of my opponents were great people to play with who I'd gladly play with again anytime. But you guys are probably more interested in how the Ravenwing did on the tabletop.

I went 3-1 in the preliminary rounds, with 2 max wins, a 23 point win, and a 4 point loss. That was enough for me to sneak into bracket 2, the top 32 players. I lost my first game there but I was happy to put up such a good result at my first GT. Overall I went 3-3 after playing one additional bracket game after the loss, which was an incredibly close game that I lost. My last post before this one includes my list if you're interested.

As for the matchups:

Preliminary 1: Tripartite Knight Lance+Conclave (Loss)
The internet thought this was gonna be the tournament sweeping ridiculousness at NOVA this year. It definitely wasn’t (This guy barely made it into the top 50 and another guy running it made it to top 32 then lost like me). What it is is horribly uninteractive, definitely the game where I’ve had the least say in what happened in a long time. He got phase form and worldscape, and I didn’t roll a single invisibility on my 5 librarians. Rather than whine, I’d like to briefly talk about how I could have won that so people don’t believe the list is unbeatable. I went first, so had I had a single invisibility I would have made one unit invisible, tied up the knights with it by screening the rest of my guys, then hit and run out and kill Tiggy and friends, then spend the rest of the game jinking and running from the knights. This is more or less what my buddy running daemons did against this same player and he absolutely crushed him.

Preliminary 2: Tau CAD+Optimized Stealth Cadre (Win)
Stormsurge+single Riptide+unit of 3 Ghostkeels. I’m not really sure what this list was supposed to do but I just null-deployed by putting my attack bikes in the back corners then outflanked all of the black knights. It was hammer and anvil so I caught his guys in between my units and tabled him around turn 4.

Preliminary 3: Ork CAD+Bullyboyz (Win)
I was really impressed with both this list and this player. He ran 3 squads of tankbustas in trukks, along with 2 boyz squads, trukks for the meganobz, and a warbiker unit with 2 warbosses attached. I got 2 invisibilities and still lost a unit of black knights in melee to the meganobz. Fearless orks is definitely not to be underestimated. The tankbustas also forced me to jink every turn because of the risk of an errant rokkit killing a 40 point biker. This guy went on to go 2-2 in the preliminaries and swing into bracket 4 or 5 (out of 9), which is a pretty good result for an army people claim can’t win casual games.

Preliminary 4: Tau Dawnblade Detachment (Win)
This is where seeing a tau player almost every tournament finally paid off. He deployed the wing and missilesides in a back corner (vanguard deployment) and I put everything on telepathy. I scouted and moved up, terrified 2 riptides, ran one off the board with that and shrieked another one to death, then shot the missilesides. The game was pretty much over at that point but we played it out a bit longer until he was almost tabled and he conceded. I think playing riptide wings is practically muscle memory for me at this point and I can’t emphasize enough how important all that practice has been for me.

Bracket 1: Fist of Medusa Detachment+Sisters of Battle Allied+Inquisitorial Detachment (Loss)
This is another death star people thought would sweep the tournament. I played against it on The Relic, Hammer and Anvil. That is the absolute worst place to fight a death star. Once again this game kinda came down to the psychic powers. He managed to get both invisibility and veil and I only got null zone. In hindsight I should have tried for invisibility first so I could just tie up his star rather than try to kill it, but this was an uphill battle either way thanks to the mission/deployment and the fact he has hit and run. I was forced to ignore his star and kill his backfield tactical marines and sisters, but that wasn’t enough while he had the relic and I lost.

Bracket 2: Eldar CADx2 (Loss)
They do allow you to keep playing after getting knocked out of the brackets, and this was a final game more or less for fun or to swing your standing up a few places. My opponent was a great guy and we were both very tired. The game was exhausting, as pretty much all bike vs. bike games are all about maneuvering around each other within a half inch or so of their threat range. Luckily for me the mission was crusade so while his wraithknight held the center of the table I got to play a giant game of cat and mouse with his scatterbikes. The game came down to whether or not I could run his farseer and some jetbikes off an objective in melee with black knights and a librarian, which I couldn’t and lost by a couple points. Still an incredibly close game against a good opponent and I was happy to withdraw after this and go root for my friends and teammates on day 4.

I have copies of the Ork, Iron Hands, and Eldar lists I played against if you guys would like to see those. Also I could talk about my trios tournament experience day 1 with my Iron Hands if you’re interested. Otherwise let me know what you guys would like to see next week.