Episode 75.6: Forming Meta Conclusions Based on Tournaments Is Pretty Useless, And You Should Probably Stop Doing It

As I mentioned in my last Battle Report I'll be a bit quiet this week as work continues on my Imperium list, not so much the list itself but the actual models! My timeline for getting three colors on everything for my GT is getting tighter but I think I'll make it, I just need more Skaven heads...

As per usual I was browsing the WarhammerCompetitive Reddit this week and got a lot of backlash for posting a relatively throw-away comment that Riptides were both mandatory for Tau and in need of a nerf. Numerous people came back at with an argument that boiled down to "Tau didn't do well at the London GT so you're an idiot!" I was somewhat shocked that people could be so bad at the game to not recognize an obviously problematic model but then I thought about the comments a bit more and it all made sense.

Humans really, really like to copy things that work well. While I wasn't quite around back in the caveman era I'm sure things like fire spread pretty quickly through copying your neighbor and that practice continues today even in gaming. For many years I played competitive TCGs like Magic: The Gathering, the card game genre is rife with people who can't wait to copy the newest and best decks after a big event. Much like most other games players rarely take the time to understand why the thing they're copying is good, they just latch onto it and get decent results. Even if you don't play an inherently powerful deck to its full potential, understand small changes it may need as the meta evolves, and so on, you can still do well.

This is much the same for miniature wargames and you see the same practices at play all the time. The problem with wargames, particularly Warhammer 40K, is that there are so many different metas that fragment an already very small competitive player-base. There are far more great card players than there are wargamers which means there are less eyes and minds working on the next big thing in Warhammer. There's less money at stake in wargames and if you don't think that's a big motivator then you don't know how the world really works.

The point I'm working towards is that Warhammer 40K events very rarely show off armies that can become the next big thing. This years Las Vegas Open, maybe the premier event in all of Warhammer 40K, showed off one very powerful Ynaari build. That's it. Look at the Top 8, there's nothing else there that has done well since or is agreed upon to be that powerful. One list is even actively bad! You can also take a look at the London GT, no real revelations there. Imperium and Ynaari continue to do well with all kinds of different builds and some other stuff snuck in much like every Top 8 of every major event.

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While you can argue that looking at Top 8's confirms that certain armies are doing well you can gain that information without looking at big events. I would say that when a player constantly follows what made Top 8/16/4/etc. that they're overloading on information. Rarely do articles focus on the background players of why a list did well. What Missions were in play, what did it face on its road to wherever it finished, how was the tournament ranking matches? All of these things are hugely impactful, for example a list might be made to win very narrowly against a lot of different armies which would see it do well in events with straight Wins/Losses. Taking that same list to a different tournament that uses Margin of Victory could lead to issues.

I've been looking at lists ever since LVO '18 and that is the only event that I got any revelations from, and only because of the Ynaari lists using Shining Spears. Everything else was known, Shining Spears were the only soup ingredient I hadn't seen before. Since then I've gotten much more serious about reading Codexes, watching games (online and locally) and talking to other players which has prevented any further surprises from well performing armies. Of course not everyone has the time/ability to do that so you might again point to peeking at lists as a viable alternative. I would still rail against it though because without a background of why and how a player did well their list is of limited use to a competitive player.

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As much as I'm not for copying lists without underlying knowledge, I'm much more against saying an army isn't good, or a model isn't good, because it didn't perform well. I'd like to go over two examples that fit this mold: Riptides and Tesseract Vaults.

Neither of these units have really been tearing up the Top 8 scene although Tau has steadily been improving since their Codex. If you based your knowledge of the game on nothing but results you'd think they aren't powerful, that's where doing actual research and playing games makes for a better and more informed player.

Both units are easily taken as a two or three of in an army and not only make it easy to play a skew but have very little offensive/defensive drawbacks of their own. Riptides start the game with a 2+/5++, a good amount of Wounds, access to healing, and the ability to improve to a 3++. On top of being hard to wound they are good to the last drop, also via Stratagem, so hurting them is useless unless multiple Riptides can br brought down a profile and do not heal back up to their top profile. That's a lot to ask of your army and if you go second it gets even worse as their 3++ will be in full effect.

Riptides are also a good example of Games Workshop not doing their math before releasing a Codex. The Riptides cheaper gun is much more powerful, having decent math into T7+ while mincing Infantry. You can see this at play with armies like Dark Eldar where Disintegrators are far and away better than Dark Lances but are also cheaper. To top it off Riptides can shunt wounds to Drones, making an alpha-strike that much harder, and can Fall Back from Combat at no penalty at all with a simple Target Lock clamped on.

So what's the counter-play this model affords an opponent? Well you can go first and shoot it but you have to clear out the Drones first, if there are any. These may be hidden or have Cover so they can be hard to remove themselves without wasting valuable high AP/Damage shots. Without Drones the Riptide will typically have a 5++ or 4+ which is far from squishy. Tying them up in Combat is useless and by the time most armies can get there the 3++ will be in effect which leaves very few armies that can meaningfully damage it. All the while the model is putting out strong offense event without something like Markerlights or an ATS.

I can save a lot of words and say the same thing about Vaults. While their main guns are good at shooting any type of target they also put out Mortal Wounds where the only thing your opponent can do is watch you roll dice. They pack a boatload of wounds, FLY Keyword, and an always on 4++  along with the same good to the last drop Stratagem Tau have. Being allowed to play three Vaults makes for an even harder skew, rendering anything that's not meant to kill tanks entirely useless.

It may never come to pass that three Riptides or three Vaults win a major event. That's not the point. These models, and others that I have not mentioned, are too good at what they do and present major roadblocks for an opponent trying to counter them. The competitive portion of the game has many tiers within it, is it good for the game if a budding tournament player runs into three of these models and gets run over without any recourse? I don't think so, it echoes back to earlier Editions where some armies said you lose, deal with it.

Having models which detract from player skill in terms of being able to handle them is bad for the game and bad for the community. Counter-play is what makes Warhammer, and most games, so fun as you get that rush when you pull off a good move. What feels good about just hurling dice into something and hoping for the best?

Fortunately most of the offenders can be easily fixed, although I hope Games Workshop doesn't opt for simply tacking on points. Vaults should be more expensive but Riptides have numerous options to tone them down. Maybe they shouldn't have FLY Keyword, maybe Savior Protocols shouln't work on anything with 10 or more Wounds. Nova Reactor could be limited to not allowing the same benefits in consecutive turns, there's so many inventive ways to change them and other units to make them playable but not as egregious.

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To sum up, looking at lists for Warhammer 40K that do well in events is only a small glimpse at the bigger picture. So many things go into making even a Top 8 run at a major event that just mindlessly copying what you see will never yield the best results. Lists have their place, they can be a great starting point for an army that you learn about and grow as you play. But wargames are not card games, they're more complex and have more variance which means more is asked of the player. Just look at the Finals for LVO '18, a copied list resulted in one player not using a Stratagem correctly and losing the game. Would that have happened if he was actually an Eldar player or had more experience with the list than just ripping it off Best Coast Pairings? Probably not.

So temper your list peeking with game knowledge and table time. Have something to back up your arguments for why something is good or bad without running and pointing to the most recent tournament. Otherwise you might end up looking pretty silly.

Episode 75: Riptides are F****** Broken [Not As Many Pictures As Normal]

Missed my previous posts? Check them out below!


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Guess who's back, back again. I've stopped posting again for a bit because I'm trying to get my Imperium list together through never ending changes. While I have some more stuff in the mail and a few models being painted it's probably better to get these games up. While testing this list I've had very tight games against some legitimately punishing lists. I didn't know what I was in for before showing up to this game but it ended up being very enjoyable, although I got super salty at several points.

So far my list has been somewhat confusing to play. It feels very powerful but keeps going up against things which feel like harder counters. Most of those games I was able to pull out but they were pretty low point wins. I don't really know what that means in the end but I'm enjoying the play-style and I feel that the list is pretty unique while being successful, which matters quite a bit to me. It definitely has some counter-play available that I didn't see when working on the army but I think those can be smoothed out.

Today's game was against Joey, someone I know from our local group but have not played personally. I was extremely happy to see that he was bringing Tau as I've not been able to play against them in 8th Edition. My only experience was from playing them very early in the Edition but they're completely different now with their Codex so that's not much help. I think Tau are one of the harder matchups for this list, along with Dark Eldar, but both vary on composition. Fortunately Joey was packing three Riptides which is very brutal against me so I'd get to see my worst case scenario.



Imperium

Battalion Detachment - Imperial Guard (Tallarn)

Company Commander w/ Shotgun, Karov's Aquila [Warlord w/ Grand Strategist]
Primaris Psyker [Psychic Malestrom, Terrifying Visions]
Primaris Psyker [Psychic Malestrom, Terrifying Visions]

Astropath [Psychic Maelstrom]

Infantry Squad
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar

Battalion Detachment - Blood Angels

Captain w/ Jump Pack, Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield
Captain w/ Jump Pack, Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield
Captain w/ Jump Pack, Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield [The Angel's Wings]

5 Scouts w/ Bolters
5 Scouts w/ Bolters
5 Scouts w/ Bolters

Battalion Detachment - Deathwatch

Librarian [Null Zone, Might of Heroes]
Watch Captain w/ Jump Pack, Stormbolter, Thunder Hammer
Watch Captain w/ Jump Pack, Stormbolter, Thunder Hammer

5 Intercessors, 3 Hell Blasters, 1 Inceptor
5 Intercessors, 3 Hell Blasters, 1 Inceptor
5 Intercessors, 3 Hell Blasters, 1 Inceptor



Tau

Battalion Detachment - Bor'kan

Cadre Fireblade w/ Puretide Engram Neurochip [Warlord w/ Through Unity, Devastation]
Enforcer Commander w/ ATS, 3x Cyclic Ion Blaster

Riptide w/ Ion Accelerator, Target Lock
Riptide w/ ATS, Target Lock
Riptide w/ ATS, Target Lock

5 Fire Warriors
5 Fire Warriors
5 Fire Warriors

4 Marker Drones
4 Marker Drones

Battalion Detachment - Bor'kan

Cadre Fireblade
Enforcer Commander w/ ATS, 3x Cyclic Ion Blasters

3 Crisis Bodyguards [2 w/ 3x Cyclic Ion Blasters, 1 w/ 2 Cyclic Ion Blasters and Drone Controller]
(5 Marker Drones Attached)
 
 10 Fire Warriors
10 Fire Warriors
10 Fire Warriors



Mission and Deployment
ITC Mission #6
Hammer and Anvil

 Imperium Secondary Objectives
Headhunter, Recon, Old School

Tau Secondary Objectives
Kingslayer (Relic Captain), Headhunter, Old School

 Readers of this blog will recognize my terrain setup, two biggish pieces in the center to break up Line of Sight with some more minimal terrain in the Deployment Zones and flanks. I think a bigger circle of three pieces in the center, with gaps, would be better and more interesting to play with. Overall the terrain wasn't going to give me much reprieve from the shooting so I figured I'd be better off going for cover.

While Joey's list isn't perfectly optimized it's going to be good at keeping me out and has so many guns which just rip my Primaris Marines apart. It's also going to be nearly impossible dealing with the Riptides unless I go first, a 3++ on such a tough model is very hard to handle, plus Savior Protocols. The rest of the threats are also high output, multiple damage attacks where other lists might have more anti-Infantry or lower output e.g. Fusion Blasters.

The Deployment was also quite bad for me, Tau loves to clump up and this makes it much easier. The Mission would normally be good for me but there's very little opportunity cost to Tau while covering them both. In most of Deployments they'd be forced to spread out a little, meaning a weak flank to an army that's not very fast (but can shoot far!)

My strategy of denying Secondaries seemed to work as Joey was uncomfortable taking Death By A Thousand Cuts, leaving some harder options. Kingslayer would only give up two as again Joey didn't think he could kill the Commander off and I don't think Old School will yield more than 2/4. On my side I was pretty sure I could get at least three from Recon, Old School was a bit optimistic though. Joey has the models to defend his Cadre, as well as terrain to hide him, and me ending the game in his deployment zone isn't likely unless the game is a stomp. In hindsight I should have taken The Reaper as it's an easy three points. Headhunter was also somewhat optimistic but I was running out of options.

For Deployment my plan was to be somewhat aggressive as I couldn't see any way to defend the Guardsmen or Scouts and get any use out of them. My hope was to put a hole in the Drones and Fire Warriors before all those units died and then finish up with the Deathwatch. Punchy Captains would mop up and try to handle the Characters/Suits but I didn't have the highest hopes for them. 3++ Saves are just too good on big models and Riptides lose nothing from Falling Back. One Blood Angel Captain and all the Deathwatch went into Deep Strike while the Guardsmen and Scouts pressed a bit forward, all having Cover, with one Mortar unit hanging back to protect the Commander and Librarian. I reasoned that if Joey brought some of his own Deep Strike down back there I could probably counter with a Captain.

The Tau deployed further up than I expected with their range advantage, hoping to keep my Deep Strike units out of the action. All the small Fire Warrior units grabbed the backfield while the bigger units held the front. Riptides deployed in a line, along with one Commander and the Cadres. Drones also spread evenly except the larger unit that went into Reserves with the remaining Commander and Bodyguards. Overall this set a stage for first turn to have a huge impact, if I got to go first then I could get the Scouts into Combat by using the center building to protect from Overwatch, I'd also likely get a Captain into a Riptide and possibly kill it, assuming I could remove the Drones with Mortars/Bolters. If I went second I expected to lose most of my front-line and have a very uphill battle. Turns out I went second which put me in a disadvantaged mindset right away.







Tau Turn 1

 Joey moved up fairly conservatively, getting his Riptides into Line of Sight of more targets. The bigger Fire Warrior units also moved up, one climbing the ruins but the other two not able to claim Cover. All the Riptides correctly activated the 3++ Nova Reactor, Joey had no need for extra shots at this point.

Shooting got a Markerlight onto each Scout unit and one Infantry Squad, Joey spread them instead of focusing on one unit and didn't wind up using Uplinked Markerlight. One Cadre (the Warlord) was also hiding on Joey's declared Objective and didn't contribute. Actual shots killed one Scout unit, left another on two models, and the last on three while removing the Infantry Squad.

With my front line sufficiently butchered and no Charges in sight I passed both my Morale checks. My Scouts are now pretty useless because of how much Overwatch Joey will get off my Charges, there's not much I can do except try sadly.

Score
3-0 for Tau







Imperium Turn 1

 Looking over the board I did not think I could drop the Deatchwatch in, this is one of the areas Tau makes my life hard because they don't come forward which will keep me out of Rapid Fire range. Going first I may have risked it because I could go for a Riptide and limit the counter-attack but my Marines are going to have to win the game for me so I have to put them in a position to do so.

I used Upon Wings of Fire on the Relic Captain and Advanced all of the Guardsmen, which was a mistake as it didn't gain me much Rapid Fire but stopped all my Mortars from shooting. My Scouts also moved up as the Librarian Advanced out of his hole and the other Blood Angel Captain moved up. While this did expose them both I figured a trade with the Commander/Bodyguards would be fine.

Shooting removed some Marker Drones and Fire Warriors but not many, I didn't have too many attacks to even throw out. Charges saw one of my Scout units get chewed up, and one just not make it even with a re-roll. The Captain had come down along the front-lines after a lot of consideration and made his Charge after I declared everything as a target. Ultimately I decided to put him into the Marker Drones as I needed a Turn 1 kill for Old School. He was able to remove them all using Red Fury and then Consolidated into the Commander and fought again with Honor the Chapter. Unfortunately I rolled poorly and Joey made two 6+ Saves, leaving the Commander on half health. This was pretty tilting as the math on killing that model is about 96% with my extra attacks and I would have been able to force a Fall Back on a Fire Warrior unit along with taking out a huge threat to my Primaris.

Morale saw one Fire Warrior flee, leaving a unit of three from a 10 man. With some better decisions I would have been able to get Kill More as the Commander should have died and if I didn't Advance my Mortars probably see that Fire Warrior unit finished off. As it was that went to Joey and we split on Objectives.

This is also when my camera went screwy so apologies for the lack of pictures!

Score
4-3 for Tau 


 
Tau Turn 2

Emboldened but still aware that I had a lot in Reserves Joey fell back with the Commander and moved forward a bit more with the Riptides and bigger Fire Warrior units. Everything else largely held still, waiting on me to commit. Again all the Riptides used the 3++ for their Nova Reactor. Joey also used Automated Repair System on the Commander, healing it for a wound. After some contemplation Joey put all his Reserves on my right flank.

 Shooting finished off the Scout unit and spread out into a few Infantry Squads, taking bodies out of three. My Relic Captain was mercilessly gunned down by the Commander and my other Captain took two wounds from a Riptide. I really didn't take much damage here but there wasn't much for Joey to shoot.

I managed to pass all my Morale Checks, using one instance of Fight to the Death, this was all fairly lucky as it kept me in the round for Kill More.

Score
9-3 for Tau



Imperium Turn 2

Well it's basically do or die time for me, my goal is now to kill everything but the Riptides over hopefully the next two turns. I don't think I can kill them period so I need to focus on Objectives and score, Joey has pretty much gotten all the Secondaries he can get (minus more Characters) but I have a lot more available to me.

My Captain jumped up into the ruins on Joey's side while the Librarian moved up to prepare for a trick play. My last Blood Angel Captain came down on the left, 9" from a Riptide that the Librarian was near. I split the Deathwatch up, dropping two units and a Captain on the right to handle all of Joey's recent arrivals while the other unit with Captain went left to keep Recon alive and to help with Fire Warriors.

In the Psychic Phase I was able to get Null Zone off on the Librarian and Smite/Psychic Maelstrom the Marker Drones away and put a wound on the Crisis Bodyguards. Null Zone was the most important part of the turn so far, next I needed to get the Librarian to make a Charge near the Riptide.

Shooting was pretty strong as I killed off all the Crisis Suits with Joey forgetting to use Neuroweb System Jammer, I didn't have the shots leftover to put into the Commander though. I was also able to remove two units of Fire Warriors and get another fairly low. While this wasn't the most damage ever it removes all of Joey's front line which weakens his Objective game and opens things up for me.

Charges mostly my way as the Librarian made it into the Fire Warriors, getting within 6" of the Riptide to strip its Invulnerable. My Blood Angel Captain made it into the Riptide unscathed and the Watch Captain on the left also made it into the Fire Warriors. Stupidly I didn't declare the Fireblade there as a target and even worse I forgot to Charge with my center Blood Angel Captain. He just blended into the Terrain and I forgot about him, this was a huge mistake as that would have likely finished off the damaged Commander, really damaging Joey's ability to fight back against my Primaris.

Combat went horribly, I finished the Fire Warriors off but left the Cadre alive, tying him up. The Riptide also survived with 3 Wounds as I rolled poorly again, despite using Red Fury and Honor the Chapter, which invalidated my whole plan. Now Joey can just heal it and use Stimulant Injector, there's no point in hurting Riptides unless you finish them off.

At this point I was super on tilt, not only had every important dice roll not gone my way but I'd made a huge mistake. I expected to lose all my forward Captains and Librarian which would probably seal the game. Both Commanders still being alive is also a huge threat to my Deathwatch, nine shots at near perfect accuracy with d3 Damage is just too much. On a positive note I was able to contest Joey's left Objective, giving me Score More and Kill More as well as Recon.

Score
9-8 for Tau



Tau Turn 3

With the path to victory pretty clear Joey fell back again with the Riptide and the Fireblade. The smaller Fire Warrior units moved up but the Warlord Cadre continued to hide. All the Riptides went with a 3++ again although one used Branched Nova Charge for shots as well and the damaged one continued to heal.

Shooting killed all my forward Characters, as expected, and took out most of the Intercessors from all three units. This probably would have been wore but Joey only had one Marker Drone left and it kept missing. Overall I had some thing to fight back with but not much and all the Riptides are still kicking. Fortunately my remaining Psykers were spared so maybe I could do something with them.

 Once again I lost nothing from Morale but Joey regained control of his Objective and had essentially maxed out Secondaries except for Last Strike, it was very unlikely he'd ever be able to get to my Warlord.

Score
14-8 for Tau




Imperium Turn 3

Winning by attrition is no longer an option so I have to play for Scenario. To that end I hunkered down on the left and moved up with my remaining Deathwatch Captain. My few remaining Guardsmen moved back to hide and hold my right Objective, as well and try and not give up kills. My Psykers ran up to kill the Commander on the right, if possible.

In the Psychic Phase my bad rolls continued and I left the Commander with 2 Wounds. Shooting was able to finish him off as well as the last Marker Drone and one of the small Fire Warrior units. Finally I shot the Fireblade off the Objective, netting me Kill More and Hold More once again. Being able to get an extra 6" with remaining Intercessors was extremely helpful for reaching out and touching some of those units.

With no Charges and no Morale losses I managed to squeak out a narrow lead on Secondaries. I may be able to get one more instance of Score More via the Watch Captain contesting something but Kill More will be an uphill battle.

Score
15-14 for Imperium





Tau Turn 4

Joey moved a Riptide onto his Objective and all of them Nova'd for shots, continuing to heal and have one of them pick shots as well via Stratagem. The remaining Commander flew left to help get my Deathwatch down and remove Recon.

Shooting was less than amazing for Joey as I was left with three Hellblasters and the Tau Commander took 2 Wounds from Overcharge, leaving him with one. One of my other units went down to just one Hellblaster as well. My Psykers were also basically ignored which leaves the possibility for sniping out the remaining Commander. One forward unit of Guardsmen was finished off though, giving Joey a kill for the turn.

Once again I passed all my Morale setting up for a decent Turn 4 but the game was getting very tight and I couldn't count on the Riptides to just keep missing forever.

Score
16-15 for Tau


 
Imperium Turn 4

My remaining Deathwatch Captain jumped up into the center ruins, hoping for a Charge into the last Commander for more points. All my Psykers Advanced but none were able to get a bead on the Cadre Fireblade, meaning I probably wouldn't be able to kill him this game. After some consideration I went to hide with the Deathwatch I had on the left, hoping to limit Joey's kills.

In the Psychic Phase I put 4 Wounds on a Riptide but failed to cast Psychic Maelstrom on the Commander. I also wasn't able to finish him with shooting, doing one wound with the Captain as the Hellblasters and Mortars finished off a Firewarrior unit for a kill. If I'd Advanced them I could have likely contested the left Objective but a kill was the better plan.

 My Charge failed even with a re-roll although the Commander came out unscathed. Regaining a slight lead I didn't feel like I had enough steam to finish the game, my Commander was likely dead along with the Hellblasters which would remove Recon from being maxed out and surrender Kill More for the last two rounds.

Score
18-15 for the Imperium



Tau Turn 5

 Once again the damaged Riptide healed and everyone Nova'd for extra shots with the Plasma Riptide also getting a 3++. One Riptide went to the right Objective (my perspective) just to reinforce and help kill the Psykers. The Commander stayed back as if he jumped the wall I'd likely be able to finish him with my remaining Deathwatch.

Shooting killed the Astropath and one Primaris Psyker but the Captain lived with one wound, rolling well for his Iron Halo. I also lost all the Hellblasters on the left but being able to still max out Recon is a big deal.

Score
18-17 for the Imperium



Imperium Turn 5

With a slight lead and the game really winding down I went for a series of plays that would seal the win, having no other real option. The last Primaris Psyker moved up to Charge the Cadre through the wall, avoiding Overwatch. My Captain also hopped down and made use of a wall to only take Overwatch from one Riptide.

In the Pyschic Phase I was finally able to finish the Commander off, netting a Headhunter point. Shooting did nothing of value, as expected. Finally I made both my Charges, with the Captain living after making a few saves and using a re-roll.

I elected to start with the Captain as he had the better odds of doing something, I also used Dominatus Doctrine to have him wound on 2's, re-rolling 1's thanks to Mission Tactics. Unfortunately I wasn't able to finish it off but I did leave it with three wounds.

Joey interrupted with the Cadre but I made my saves on the Primaris Psyker, leaving it alive with one wound. I only did a single wound back to the Cadre but then was able to finish off the Riptide with Honor Your Brothers, equaling the kill score. I was also able to score Recon again as both Characters had lived, which I needed them too, maxing that out.

Score
22-17 for the Imperium



Round 6

Joey and I decided to talk out the last turn, we both agreed I'd lose the two Characters up front which would give him Last Strike and Kill More. We would also split Objectives but to get into my Deployment Zone he'd have to Nova Reactor and Advance which would leave my Death Watch Captain alive, making Kill More not certain and not splitting on Objectives. No matter what I would win by at least 1 Point assuming I scored nothing on my turn but I had one Objective locked in.

This gave me a very narrow victory, likely by a 23-21 margin if we were reporting the game.

 

Post-Game Thoughts

 While I unfortunately don't have the pictures to illustrate this, I shouldn't have won the game for numerous reasons. Besides the mistakes I mentioned Joey was a bit too reserved with his movement as there were a few times he could have had redundancy on his left Objective. The Commanders probably should have also just ran away during the later portions of the game, one could have been saved for sure. Finally the Riptides should have been moving forward to guarantee Linebreaker while retaining their 3++, me being able to kill one late in the game was an anomaly. Unity Through Devastation also never got used which isn't the most gigantic ability but it would have helped with the Primaris Marines in cover, although putting the Warlord in danger could have been bad.

Even with all that I played very poorly in some respects and was only able to pull the game out at the end because of some things finally going my way and capitalizing on Joey's mistakes. I went on tilt very hard this game after all the important rolls went against me, both the Commander living on Turn 1 and the Riptide living on Turn 2 had an enormous impact on the game and were very much in my favor to not go down that way. Forgetting a Charge and losing a Character for nothing just compounded that.

Looking back on the game now I should have played extremely defensively with most of my units to limit Joey's ability to kill stuff and then just edged him out by as often as I could, slowly making units smaller so I could finish them off when needed. I should have also been more aggressive with some of the Characters, going for a Deep Strike snipe on the Warlord early on and maybe pre-game moving.

I did learn a lot about Tau, I was unfamiliar with their Stratagems and in some ways Joey's composition was better against me than a normal list would be. He had a lot more multiple Damage guns than I see from Tau, usually they opt for Fusion Commanders and Stealth Suits. He had less Characters than normal and more Fire Warriors which just chewed up my Guardsmen early. I think against the more cookie-cutter Tau builds I'd have done a bit better. This was also the worst Deployment option for me, a middle of the road Mission, and I went second.

Besides tightening up my play I learned a few things about my list this game. One is that the Infantry Squads are useless, I'm cutting two of them and replacing with Mortar Teams. This will let me double wrap the Company Commander and give his Orders more use. It also takes easy kills off the table for my opponents and gives me more screen clearing. I'll probably go with Cadian instead of Tallarn as a result.

The Deathwatch provide plenty of bodies to keep my Characters safe until they commit, and while pricey I like the second Captain for allowing me to spread out. I may see about getting them Storm Shields instead of Stormbolters, the extra shots aren't that big of a deal and I'd rather have more fighters. I also really want a Jump Pack on the Librarian, Veil of Time and Might of Heroes get a lot more done with him being able to zip around and Null Zone becomes better against shooty armies. Finally I'm not feeling the Astropath anymore, Psychic Maelstrom is really hard to cast and it's so variable. With my change to the Guard Battalion I'll also never use his cover stripping ability.

So far I really like this version of the list. It is vulnerable to armies with lots of multiple damage attacks but I have the tools to shut a lot of that down and I almost always get the first meaningful hits of the game. Adding Inceptors and better Mortars should help keep my anti-Infantry game going but also surrender less kills and not make me vulnerable to being tied up. While Watch Captains are not as good in Combat as a Blood Angels Captain they're still great, particularly with Mission Tactics and Stratagems. With those tweaks I think I'd have done better this game, although I need to tighten up my play.

Next weekend I have an RTT and then two GTs in June, which is insane. I'm trying to find time to practice but I also have to get a lot of painting done so it's going to be tight. I'll try to get a full Battle Report up this week now that I have my camera fixed but thank you for reading in any case. :]
 

Episode 74.6: What (This) Competitive Player Wants from Missions

Once again I've fallen into the Battle Report black hole, it seems to be cyclical. I have been playing but I'm still down a fair few models for the list I want to run and showing off empty bases (at best) or other models which are visually confusing (at worst) isn't very appealing. I'm also trying to get back into painting as I'll be traveling to Las Vegas for a GT next month which does have a minimum painting requirement. Fortunately pretty much all my "Guardsmen" are done and that's the bulk of the army.

Moving on, I've been doing a lot of tournament preparation lately as the season is really kicking up locally. While testing I've been noticing just how much I'm starting to dislike the ITC Missions as that's what nearly everyone in my state plays with. Originally I was quite a big fan of the ITC Packet but I feel like the more you play with it the more the cracks show. With that in mind I thought I'd run down some thoughts on them as well as the other Missions offerings as well as what I think would be better.


What The ITC Does and Does Not Do Well

I think before diving in that it's worth noting the ITC is an organization that rose out of necessity. 40K has never been known for good Missions, during the time I played you only scored at the end of the game which gave rise to extreme gunline armies and games being decided on Turn 2-3. This was also during a time when Codex creep was a huge issue and the game was almost unplayable from a balance perspective. The ITC tried to curb some of this, as well as GW's then infamous lack of community interaction, by publishing rulings, FAQs, restrictions, and so on. I can't speak to their level of success as I got out of 40K when the ITC was ascending in the scene but I get the impression they were community favorites among the competitive player-base.

When 8th Edition dropped the Missions in the Core Rulebook were sadly as bad as ever, featuring horrible imbalances and boring objectives. The initial draft of the ITC Packet corrected some of these issues so people could play in a more level setting while waiting on a better alternative. Then came the Champion's Missions which have become probably the most played Missions in 40K with the ITC's popularity in the US (a huge market) and a growing influence in other countries. When compared to even the Chapter Approved Missions, the Champion's Packet is pretty clearly the best of what was available.

Champion's Missions are based around "Progressive Scoring" which means both players accumulate points as the game is played. Each Mission has a Primary Objective, which is always to hold points on the battlefield that players setup within certain boundaries as well as kill units, a Bonus Objective, which is usually to hold even more specific points, and Secondary Objectives which are tailored based on your opponent's army composition. At first glance this works pretty well, everything is pretty easy to track and both players know what the goals of the game are. It also offers somewhat of a rebuttal to gunlines as in most missions they cannot go and take ground which puts them at a deficit on the score.

The objective of the Missions seem to be rewarding armies that are interactive and play in all phases. Gunline armies, even if they win, won't score as many points as an army that goes out and takes ground. This means even shooting armies that win tend to have lower scores and thus won't place as highly, especially in events with 5-6 rounds. I see this as a very good idea because shooting armies are already heavily rewarded by the base rules of the game and can be subjectively boring to play against/with. Having configurable Secondary Objectives also puts some emphasis on player skill and knowing what you can/can't achieve.

What has become problematic, in my eyes, within the ITC Missions is that there's still way too much emphasis on killing enemy units. Nearly every Secondary is "Kill/Damage a unit of a specific type" with only two Secondaries being focused on positional play. Worst still one of the positional Secondaries is practically impossible to score four times while playing seriously (Behind Enemy Lines) as it comes at a huge opportunity cost while also forcing very specific compositions. So the game often boils down to a murder-fest where you get a lesser reward for actually taking and holding ground.

Another, perhaps unintended, consequence of the ITC Missions are that they massively inform the meta. Alpha/Beta Strike lists are MORE powerful with these Missions because you get rewarded for killing but also remove your opponent's ability to damage you back, then limiting their opportunity to score things like "Kill More" and their own Secondaries. In many of the Core Rulebook Missions you don't get that as positioning at the end of the game is what matters which emphasis resilience and rewards ObSec abilities.

Overall the Champion's Missions reward too much of what the game already wants you to do. This focuses the game into having the most efficient options to remove enemy units, pushing other units by the wayside. For example Orks have continued to do well in Rulebook Events while they're awful within the ITC, this is because right now they can't shoot/fight as well as other armies but they can hold Objectives better than almost anyone.


What's Missing?

While I've written about this before, quite some time ago, 40K has always missed what I think the point of a Mission should be. Playing with Objectives is a way to exert pressure on your opponent, it forces people to jockey for space and make tough decisions. I always go back to Warmachine when I think of great Missions, it's the elegance of design that I admire. For those who don't know Missions in Warmachine are one of three ways to win the game with the others being killing a specific model and timing your opponent out.

Most armies would build to do one of these things as focal point (except time outs, that didn't really work). In most Missions if you got to 5 Points the game automatically ended and that player won. This created a sort of rock, paper, scissors within every game. For example let's say my army is very attrition based, I want to kill as much stuff as I can and then win the game from there. My opponent is a heavily Objective focused army, they can move my models, they're fast, etc. Well I'm not going to have enough time to shoot everything off of the Objectives before I lose so I have to contest various spaces on the board. This likely means taking a hit before I can deliver one because if I try to just toe in or be cheeky I could get removed in turn.

That's the kind of pressure I want to see in 40K. You want to sit back and shoot? Fine. I hope you can kill my army before I rack up a huge score because you get nothing for removing my models. The point of every wargame is already to destroy the other person's army but when that's all there is to do the game gets boring. Right now you get almost no benefit from building an army that pushes hard on Objectives. Compare this to even Age of Sigmar where you can win games by taking ground and holding it. I'd say that's probably the norm in most games as Infinity also uses a similar system as does Legion and a good portion of the smaller market share games.


Would This Even Work in 40K?

When I discuss this topic with people they always express some hesitancy towards it. Part of this is likely that many players have ONLY involved themselves with 40K so if it hasn't been done in that game it's probably bad. Some also say that 40K isn't built for that kind of movement but I would argue that's looking at things through the prism of the existing game and meta.

40K has a lot of great units that can move efficiently and pay points to do so, you might not know about them because no one uses them right now. Stuff like Bikes, durable Deep Strikers, and Transports would likely see a lot more play if getting to the center of the table was a bigger point of emphasis.

While any massive change like this would have to be tested I think various progressive scoring templates have a place within Warhammer. I'm partial to "First player to x wins" but you can also do something along the lines of Objectives become worth more the longer they're held by one player (not as the game goes on, the rewards passive play) or Objectives being more valuable the more you hold. This is kind of similar to a lot of video games where holding more points pumps your score up faster as a reward for it being hard to control so much territory.

Running these kinds of Missions seems more viable in 40K than most other games because every army has so much access to every playstyle. I can't think of a Faction that can't get around when it wants to, or can't stay back and shoot, or can't take a punch. In Warmachine players had to run multiple lists for events because one list couldn't accomplish all of that which led to huge skews and a very swingy game. With a more even spread of what you can do I think there'd be more room for tactical play. "Do I try and shut down his Scenario game first, or do I worry about his offense? What space on the board can I let him have without losing while I execute my game plan?" These are things you ask yourself then the game isn't just about blowing stuff up.


What Is Likely to Happen?

While there's a lot of could be's and maybe's out there I prefer to focus on what's likely to happen. I have seen no indication that the ITC Missions will change, they've only made small tweaks to wording since their inception and with such a big slice of the pie I doubt improvements are on their radar.

The most likely fix is for Games Workshop to keep showing that they care about the competitive community and change Dawn of War Missions to be something along the lines of what I've discussed. Maelstrom of War can remain for those looking for a casual experience, the card deck does a good job of keeping things interesting for casual play but injecting more RNG into the game detracts from player skill. Simply have Dawn of War be progressive scoring on even footing (No First Blood crap) and keep them extremely simple. This would act as a unifying move for the competitive meta and would give players an easy gateway into competitive play, they don't have to go search out this random organization that they'd have no way of knowing about except word of mouth.

This is actually the only thing I'm looking forward to in the next Chapter Approved. Right now the game needs very few points adjustments, it needs meta adjustments. Games Workshop has shown they can write great Missions in Age of Sigmar, it's not a huge ask to move that to their flagship game. I had my hopes up for the first Chapter Approved but I think they might have still been testing the 8th Edition waters, we now see the FAQs making BIG changes, so why not Missions next?

Episode 74.2: List Iteration, Creation and How to Obtain More Valuable Data

I'm taking a break from games until later this week as I wait for models to come in and some conversion work to finish up. Shout out to the FLG Store and their absurd 5 Day handling time on orders, because who wants things in a reasonable amount of time?

While working on my models I've also been working on my list. Frequent readers of my Battle Reports will note that my lists tend to change over time, my previous Chaos army went through many iterations before I settled into something that I liked. As I've transitioned into an Imperium army I thought it might be a good idea to speak about my thoughts on list iteration, creation, and a the misconceptions of that process. I'm a fairly active poster on the Warhammer Competitive sub-Reddit which is where I really started to notice that many players don't do themselves any favors when it comes to trying to improve their army. With that in mind I'd like to break down how I approach list creation, iteration, and the steps beyond in the hopes that it might help someone out there and/or improve my own process.

This is going to be a long article with no TL;DR. I don't think this is a topic that can be abridged and when I've read posts where people try to do so the article ends up a muddled, useless mess. So excuse my long-winded explanation, hopefully it's of some use.



Genesis

 Lists for any wargame begin in many different ways. Some people will copy an army they see online that looks like fun to them or that did well at a prestigious event, others start with an idea and expand from there, while yet others will mix the two styles and put their own spin on something that is known to have teeth. For the competitive community it's been my experience that the most common path chosen is to copy a powerful idea, or what I call a shell, and then sculpt it into something that's more personal to that player. We saw this in action at the highest level at the 2018 Las Vegas Open where the top two players had very similar armies but each had made some decisions they felt added that little bit of extra spice.

I'll say off the bat that there's no wrong way to make an army but I'm going to be approaching this topic, as I do most topics, from a competitive point of view. With that said I think the most effective beginning to an army is to start with something that is a known effective shell while also matching that to your playstyle.

So what is a shell? A shell is the bullet point idea of the army, it's usually very simple and very obvious. I'm going to use my Imperium army as the real-world example for this article but most any player can probably conjure up their own version. My shell was simply "Blood Angel Melee Units and Command Points". That's it. You can boil down many powerful lists this way e.g. Dark Reapers and Buffs, Venoms and Blasters, Epidemius and Nurgle Vehicles, the list goes on and on. The purpose of the shell is to give you a clear objective when actually composing an army, it allows you to focus on something and bend the list towards meeting that goal.

To start the list you usually want to fill the shell first. For me I had two very plain goals to meet, I needed Blood Angel Melee Units and I needed Command Points. This doesn't paint me into a corner right away, instead it gives me some creative freedom while focusing my attention. There are many ways to obtain Command Points within an Imperium army, there are also many fine choices for Blood Angels that love to get into combat. I'm stressing this point because I think right off the bat players tend to focus on the specific units in an army rather than what they want the army to do. Looking at my shell I just want a hard hitting melee army that I can enable via Stratagems, that's all. Getting past that point cuts off paths for you and that serves no useful purpose.

Alright so we have our shell and we have an idea of what we want our army to do. This is where you start looking at units to fill the shell. In my case I looked over the Blood Angels Codex first, after all I'm trying to enable Blood Angels units so they're the primary focus. After I had a good grasp on what each unit could do I looked at lists online, what are some of the popular units within armies that use Blood Angels? What was the goal of the lists they were in, how did a unit further those goals? Note that I'm not looking at extremely specific entries at this point, I'm only dabbling in units.

Poking around online showed that Death Company were the most popular unit with Captains, Librarians, Chaplains, and Sanguine Guard as other common sightings. Within these entries was a huge variety of armament and unit size/numbers taken. I'll keep hammering it home, this is why you don't get into the nitty-gritty of what people are using, it doesn't matter yet and it's going to confuse things. I've seen people say "I have to take x amount of this unit or this model has to have y wargear" but when I ask why they have no answer.

At this point it was easy for me to see why the units I mentioned were popular because I'd read through the Codex and understood the possibilities. I'll spare you from reading all the mental rundown of that but let's focus on Death Company. This is a very flexible melee unit in that it can change its delivery system and armament as needed, allowing it to fill roles in many different types of armies. It's also not an unnecessarily multi-role unit, there's no real shooting options and all the special rules are either focused on melee or survival, which mesh nicely. Most people would say "Well no duh they're good" but that requires you to mentally shortcut the information I just presented which means it can be lost sight of. It's important to know why something is good, not just that it is.

Ultimately I decided that I wanted Captains with Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields as well as Death Company with Jump Packs to fill my shell. Note some vagueness here, I don't yet know what kind of Captains I want, I only know their armament and I don't know anything about the Death Company besides their method of delivery. Jump Pack Death Company and Captains work with my shell, I want to use Stratagems. Jump Packs and Characters both get a lot of options from Blood Angel Stratagems so that's what I favored. At this point I didn't consider further entries as they would be buffs for other units and I don't know if I need those yet.

Using much the same method I decided that the best way to get Command Points, the other part of my shell, was to go with Imperial Guard. I know that I can fill a Battalion/Brigade with Guard very easily and with a lot of different options. Comparing that to Blood Angels, or other Imperium armies, I'd have to dedicate much more of my list to the same endeavor and couldn't find other Troops that made a good fit for 6+ entries. Once again I'm doing some short-cutting here but I hope the point and methodology comes through.

So where did I end up? I know I want to start with a few specific units of Blood Angels and I know I want to make Battalions/Brigades out of Imperial Guard. Now what?



Coming Out of Your Shell

So we have our shell, our central idea, and we've chosen some units to make that dream a reality. Now comes some actual decision making or as I like to think of it, following one of the many paths that you've created for yourself. What quantity do you want of the units you've chosen, how does that quantity meet your objectives for the army? What wargear yet furthers those goals? It's a lot to go over.

What I generally remind myself of is that you can always go back. I see a lot of armies where I ask myself, why wasn't this unit trimmed or this weapon downgraded/upgraded? The more fleshed out a list becomes the more that someone generally seems to get attached to the nitty gritty of it.

Going back to my army as an example I started with a very generic template of 10 Infantry Squads with Mortars and a Supreme Command Detachment of Captains with a 10 man Death Company unit. Since I knew what I wanted the Captain to wield that was a very easy decision and I chose to try out three Jump Packs, two Bikes. I plug this into BattleScribe and see what I'm working with in terms of points. At this point I have my shell, which is not fully-realized because I don't know what I want on the Death Company or the Guardsmen, if anything.

At this point I return to my mission statement: Blood Angels with a lot of Command Points. I have some Blood Angels so I need to focus on crafting what I have into Command Points. By running a Supreme Command Detachment I'm gimping myself in that respect in order to get a lot of fighty Characters, I have to make up for that. To that end I started working on a Battalion and Brigade.

From here it's easy to see how I filled in the list, I followed the Detachments I'd chosen and worked within that. Since I already have the Troops for both Detachments I left those alone for the moment but I also need other things. Again I went to the well of "what's popular" and gravitated towards Sentinels, Mortar Heavy Weapon Teams, and Company Commanders/Primaris Psykers for the HQs. I'm now filling in the list and rapidly moving towards something I can start testing with. I now have a much closer to 2000 Point list and I'm only missing Elites from having something I could put on the table.

This is when I had to make a further choice and decide on a Regiment for my Guardsmen. Looking over my list which so far was comprised of very mobile, very hard-hitting Characters and blobs of anti-Infantry units I wanted to reinforce my melee prowess and get some additional help against Vehicles/Monsters. To that end I chose Catachans for the S4 and opted for the Priest + Straken combo. Picking Catachans also gave me access to Harker, a no-brainer as I needed Elites anyways, and I rounded it off with an Astropath as what appeared to be a synergistic choice.

I've now arrived at a list I can test and I've made several decisions along the way. I chose a Regiment and then picked a more melee heavy army based on that Regiment. I could have just as easily included some tanks or kept the Guardsmen as more of a counter-attack portion of the army but those weren't the paths I chose. In testing it's important to keep in mind where your list began so if something isn't working you know how to go back. That's why I literally imagine making an army like a maze, I take this fork in the road but if it doesn't lead to where I want to end up I have to be able to remember my way back.

I also never sacrificed my core idea, the list I ended up with indeed used Blood Angels with a lot of Command Points. By not being overly specific I left myself room to grow the list and even re-tool it as needed. While the core idea of the list is powerful there are so many ways to arrive at that destination that it's not my job to find the most efficient means of doing that.



If At First You Don't Succeed, Label It v0.1

So we have a list, we know how we arrived at that list, and we know what the list is supposed to do. Now comes the most time consuming part, putting it on the table. While I have written in some depth about how I arrive at an army that process is actually very short, I built my initial list in only a few hours. Some of this comes with a lot of game experience, you build up a knowledge base of what works, what doesn't, why, and so on. But the other part is I start with an idea and expand from there, it's much easier to create an army when you have more than a vague direction of what you'd like to do.

Were now at what most people call the iteration phase. This is where you seek to continually improve the list by playing with it, getting feedback, and in general opening yourself up to new ideas. Everyone has their own methodology for doing this, even if you don't know it, so I'll highlight and discuss those instead of just providing my way. Please note that there's very few wrong answers when it comes to iteration so do what you have access to and what you find useful.


Getting Feedback

This is a very popular way to improve a list these days, I think of it like crowd-sourcing. If you read my blog you're likely familiar with DakkaDakka, Reddit, Bolter and Chainsword, and many more sites where you can post a list and have people critique it. I find this to be extremely valuable all throughout the iterative process although there are diminishing returns.

When posting a list online you never want to post the list in a vacuum. 40K, somewhat regrettably, has numerous metas in the form of what Missions you play. It's very hard to give targeted advice to an army when the critic isn't sure where you're coming from in that respect. It's also very hard to give accurate criticism without understanding the posters mental process, how did you arrive at this list? Why did you pick this unit, what is that unit's role? Very few armies just stand on their own in terms of "this is what it is" and with Games Workshop making changes that continually lower the power level of the game that's only going to become more of an issue.

Another way to get feedback is to discuss your army with local players, I find this to be easier in that you can show and explain the army in more depth but you don't get as many eyes looking to help you out. Getting local feedback also has the advantage of knowing where someone is coming from, if you post online you can get advice that might be really bad. Of course good players can still give bad advice, it happens to everyone, but you get to hedge your bets a bit more.

My only real advice for opening a list to criticism is to know how you got there and take everything with a grain of salt. I assume most criticism of a list is bad and therefore shouldn't be listened to but that's my personal philosophy as a very experienced player. There's a fine line between standing up for what you've built and being arrogant. Even poor critique can be used to solidify your thought process by making you think "Why DON'T I want that unit someone recommended? Can I explain that to them or do I not actually have a reason?"


Table Time

While critique is optional, table time is not. You cannot improve a list you've made without playing it and I would say that even critique is useless until you understand how an army works in an actual game. I also strongly believe that playing an army leads to the most rapid improvement as I'll explain below.

Testing a list and playing a list are very different experiences that I don't think everyone fully considers. When you play a list your primary goal is to win, you combine your knowledge of the army, game, your opponent, etc. all together to make the best decisions in order to come out on top. When testing a list winning and losing are irrelevant, it's about how you arrived at the outcome. Did you smash your opponent's horde army but lose to his tank army? Did you smash his tank army but lose on Objectives? Was it hard to get up the table, was it hard to hold your Deployment Zone, was it hard to get into melee or shooing range?

Asking yourself questions is a great way to constantly poke at a list when playing it, even if they seem overly pedantic. Yes I killed that Rhino but did I overkill it? Maybe there's points to be recouped there depending on what I used. How much did that re-roll 1's to Hit Aura help me, would I have killed that Tactical Squad even without it? How many more offensive resources would that have taken?

Never count your opponent out of the equation either. I will always ask for feedback after a game on what they thought was threatening, what they could ignore, why, where the game swung, the list goes on. As is probably obvious testing yields the best results when you approach it like a science project. Knowing what happens when two chemicals mix is not as important as knowing why that outcome is achieved. Otherwise you're left thinking "I keep winning my test games, this list is unbeatable!" until someone beats you down and you don't know what happened.


My Continued Journey

A lot of my testing has been documented on this very blog, although not all of it. The behind the scenes stuff I haven't spoken much about though. My initial game I just wanted to play the first person I could find, I have some experience with melee armies in 8th Edition but not in the same way as the list I'd built. My first game was against a Dreadnought heavy list which I smashed to bits, the army didn't have nearly enough attacks to deal with my Guardsmen and each Captain was good for beating one to death at worst. Unfortunately this game taught me very little because it was such an extreme skew, my Blood Angels worked out as I expected and I got to feel the speed the list can have but I wanted more.

From there I got a bit more picky about what I played against, aiming for take on all comers lists piloted by people I was familiar with that also wanted a competitive game. This led to some better testing as it became apparent over more table time that the Catachan Doctrine was doing me little to no good. I wanted to be up the board but not necessarily in melee punching people, it was more important to move around at will.

Some of this came to a head when I had to work very hard for a draw against a Chaos gunline, which is not a powerful build. While a lot of dice rolls did not go my way in the game it was obvious I couldn't move up fast enough to help out my Blood Angels while also actually doing anything. This lead to Tanks/Dreadnoughts having free aim against me until I could get something over to them that was punchy but when all that died I had few options left. I'd been hesitant to Advance because I needed the Guardsmen to kill Cultists and open up the better units for Charges but in the end they didn't have the necessary firepower and I had to use the Death Company.

This is what I consider a breakthrough game. Prior to this I'd gotten somewhat comfortable wins and made small changes here and there as I learned the list but this game made me rethink a lot of my choices. I retraced my paths from earlier and realized the Brigade wasn't working. I was being forced to take too much support and to use it I had to Advance all the Guardsmen early on in a game which meant I did nothing over Turns 1-2. My Death Company were also dying every game after they Charged and I had too many eggs in one basket to allow that.

Through subsequent games I instead tried Tallarns, which has proved to be very successful as my Guardsmen could suddenly keep up with my Blood Angels while still contributing. My Brigade degraded into two Battalions but the Supreme Command Detachment was elevated to a Battalion so as to continue my central goal for the list. This resulted in less Characters but more, small units of Death Company that made better use of Stratagems, another core idea of the list. I can see where the list began and I can see where every change happened, and why it happened. All throughout the process I'd post the list online and take less and less advice, which pissed some people off, but I knew they didn't understand where I was coming from or what the army was supposed to do like I did. Even still it challenged my view of the list and got me to work on a few alternate builds that can also be tested.


Summation of Iteration

If I was to give specific advice to someone iterating on a list it would be to challenge everything. Accept no absolutes and question as many interactions as you can. It's not enough to know if you can kill a specific kind of target, you have to know how much you overkill it by, what are the odds you don't kill it, how hard is it to deliver your solution, what can an opponent do to prevent that delivery, is that worth further mitigation or not? These are the things that make wargaming so wonderful and so strategic, it's also incredibly rewarding when you keep asking those questions and finally settle on some answers. Army lists are a puzzle, if you don't try a different piece you'll never get a good fit.

I would also say that while it's important to listen you should always assume you're correct. That doesn't mean you don't think about or even try out someone else's solution but having the confidence in the work you did prior to even finishing a list helps to keep an army focused. If you think you're wrong, prove it, and do the same when you think you're right.

Finally, don't be afraid to document things. I keep every revision of a list that I play, for as long as I can, and also try to note why I made changes between versions. This creates sort of a patch history for the gamers/IT folks out there, if you have a good memory this might not be necessary. I write everything down because my memory lies to me at times.



It's Done When It's Done

We've laid out a roadmap, we followed through, and we did everything in our power to fix the holes in the army as we found them. So are we done? Well in truth an army is never truly done. Eventually there comes a point where no more changes are needed and the list is as ready as you can make it for competitive play. But as we all know, change is inevitable.

While it's not possible to future-proof an army it is pretty easy to be vigilant. Keep an eye on tournaments big and small to see what people are running out there, do you think you can deal with it? Go back into the lab for a bit and do a thought experiment, have a friend proxy an army that you aren't sure what to do against. If you have to make a change well you now have the tools to do it quickly and efficiently. At this point buying/painting new models is usually the biggest obstacle to getting something on the board.

Usually when a list is more or less done you'll transition to thinking about how it plays versus other things, how to handle specific situations that you have the tools to handle, and generally just improving your play. But that big shakeup is always around the corner, whether it be a month of a year, and if you truly understand your army then it's easy to adapt.

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That's all I have this time, sorry for the super lengthy post. Understanding the nuts and bolts of an army list is very near and dear to my love for miniature wargames so I have a lot to say on the subject. Even with this I had to edit myself quite a bit which is obviously not my strength. Hopefully the ideas I presented made some sense and were of help to someone out there. I know they've served me well thus far.

Episode 74: You Know What's Fun to Play Against? Anything but Space Marines

Missed my previous posts? Check them out below!


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Once again I have neglected my Battle Report duties as I've been testing my new list. I did play two games prior to this one, one was a complete stomp in my favor and one was a tie. I really wanted to write up the tie but I didn't take enough pictures as we played on a weekday and my FLGS closes pretty early outside of summer hours. The game should have been an easy win for me but I made a lot of mistakes with positioning, target selection, and so on which led to a draw, very close to a loss for me. On a positive note it is fun to see myself getting better with this new style of list and I think it's opening my eyes more to the game as a whole.

Sometime soon I'm going to push out an article on list iteration as I think that's something that doesn't get talked about enough. List building is a big part of 40K, same as any wargame, but generally someone will make a list and then I don't see them know where to go from there. That's where various forums come into play so people can get feedback but I see a lot of misunderstanding on how to both give and receive feedback about armies. Hopefully that's something that will be useful, I'll be using my own Imperium list as an example.

For the game today I was against someone I haven't played before, Matt, and his Eldar/Ynaari hybrid. I was very excited to play against the new Ynaari because they're a bit of a mystery after the FAQ, taking some of the heavier nerfs that Games Workshop dished out. Matt will also be attending the upcoming GT that's happening in my area, which I would love to go to but unfortunately will likely be unable to get the models for. It seems like every time there's a local major event I'm either already stuck into some other event or there was a major shakeup in the game and I'm trying to get my army back together. Ugh. Anyways onto the lists!



Imperium

Battalion - Blood Angels

 Captain w/ Jump Pack, Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield (The Angel's Wings)
Captain on Bike w/ Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield
Captain on Bike w/ Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield

7 Vanguard Veterans Jump Packs, 2 Plasma Pistols (Each) [Proxied]
5 Death Company w/ Jump Packs, 4 Power Fists, 5 Chainswords, 1 Boltgun
5 Death Company w/ Jump Packs, 4 Power Fists, 5 Chainswords, 1 Boltgun

5 Primaris Intercessors w/ Auxillary Grenade Launcher, Sergeant w/ Chainsword [Proxied]
5 Scouts w/ Bolt Pistol and Combat Knife, Sergeant w/ Boltgun and Chainsword [Proxied]
5 Scouts w/ Bolt Pistol and Combat Knife, Sergeant w/ Boltgun and Chainsword [Proxied]


Battalion - Catachans

Colonel "Iron Claw" Straken
Primaris Psyker w/ Psychic Maelstrom, Terrifying Visions

Astropath w/ Laspistol, Psychic Maelstrom

Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword


Battalion - Catachans

Company Commander w/ Boltgun, Power Sword
Company Commander w/ Boltgun, Power Sword, Karov's Aquila [Warlord w/ Grand Strategist]

Sergeant Harker
Ministorum Priest w/ Boltgun, Chainsword

Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword
Infantry Squad w/ Mortar, Sergeant w/ Chainsword


Aeldari

Battalion - Ynaari

Yvraine w/ Word of the Phoenix, Gaze of Ynnead [Warlord w/ Tenacious Survivor]
Autarch Skyrunner w/ Banshee Mask, Laser Lance [Alaitoc]
Warlock w/ Jinx [Alaitoc]

20 Guardians w/ 2 Scatter Lasers [Alaitoc]
5 Rangers [Alaitoc]
5 Rangers [Alaitoc]

9 Shining Spears (Exarch w/ Star Lance) [Saim-Hann]


Battalion - Alaitoc

Farseer w/ Guide and Doom
Warlock w/ Quicken
Warlock w/ Protect

10 Guardian Defenders
10 Guardian Defenders
10 Guardian Defenders

Wave Serpent w/ Vectored Engines, Spirit Stones
Wave Serpent w/ Vectored Engines
Wave Serpent w/ Vectored Engines
Wave Serpent w/ Vectored Engines

Auxillary Support Detachment - Cabal of the Black Heart

Ravager w/ 3 Disintegrator Cannon

NOTE
The Auxillary Support Detachment is in because Matt thought it unlocked Stratagems and he hadn't been told otherwise when posting the list around. We found that this is not the case and he will be revising the list.



Mission and Deployment
ITC Mission #1
Vanguard Strike

Imperium Secondary Objectives
Recon, Big Game Hunter, The Reaper

Aeldari Secondary Objectives
Recon, Headhunter, Old School


As is very typical with my tables I placed two sizeable pieces that break up LoS in the center with a further medium piece in each quarter and two small pieces along the center-line. I'll say it over and over that it's important to break up LoS as much as you can for more interesting games and it's good to have some Cover available as models move up. This incentivizes movement which makes for a much more entertaining and balanced game experience.

Seeing Matt's list he had very easy Secondaries to pick and honestly was giving me a lot of choice. My army isn't very good at Old School in a lot of matchups so I decided to leave that one alone, I also wanted to forego Headhunter and focus on getting better at Recon. Normally Headhunter would be the better pick in this game because there's not a lot to stand between me and the Characters but I'm still learning and getting down muscle memory.

Matt played into what I changed the list to do which is make Death By a Thousand Cuts less of an automatic selection while not leaving much else. Headhunter will be popular against me but I think in most games I can keep the Guard Characters safe while something like Recon plays into what my army wants to do, fight and use Rapid Fire.

Deployment went pretty much as I expected with me deploying all the Guardsmen on the line (as much as I could at least) with the Bike Captains also forward. My Warlord hid in some ruins on my home Objective along with the Psykers and Primaris Marines. I didn't want any exposure to Rangers until I can thin them out as Guard Characters are very squishy, this does prevent me from getting into Deny the Witch rang but since there are no Dark Reapers it's not that big of a deal. All the rest of the Blood Angels went into Reserves although I should have kept the Jump Pack Captain on the table for Turn 1 shenanigans.

Matt deployed a bit back from the line with all the Characters and small Guardian units in Wave Serpents, leaving one empty. The big Guardian unit went into Deep Strike via Stratagem while the Ravager hid in the back. Once I'd see all of Matt's Deployments I put my Scouts in the top-left Objective (my perspective) and the center-right. Finally the Rangers went on the extreme right flank (my perspective) and the top-center.

I ended up winning the roll to go first and took it since Matt's list is not far off what I expect from Ynaari in Tournaments and I want to see what damage I can do. Matt was unable to Seize and away we went!








Pre-Game Thoughts

 With the emphasis in Matt's list being speed I think this is a very positive matchup for me, high movement models are horribly countered by Deep Strike. He's also going with the non-Reserve Shining Spear package, which I don't think is worth running, but it will Charge me on Turn 1 if it wants to and there's not much I can do about that. Fortunately Shining Spears are extremely squishy even with Protect so removing them should be no problem.

The Rangers are a higher priority for me this game than they usually are because of all my Guard Characters, unfortunately Matt wasn't too brazen with them so I can't go for an early Advance and shoot with the Guardsmen or something along those lines. Top priority are the Wave Serpents because of their Mortal Wound output (very bad for the Captains) and getting them down opens up the Guardians to my Guardsmen. Overall I don't much care about the Psykers, they don't have many powerful units to synergize with once the game gets going.

Going first is certainly a big boon as my army is almost unstoppable compared to Matt's on Objectives within this Mission. That means I can get Turn 2 earlier for my Deep Strike and also move up the board before I start taking some shots.

As for mistakes I did make a few which I chalk up to still learning the army. I should have used Death Visions of Sanguinius on all three Captains as this is a very Vehicle heavy list and the extra attack on the Charge is huge for being able to drop Wave Serpents. I also should have deployed the Jump Pack Captain as I stated, worst case he just moves up but I can gauge if I need to suicide him in to take out a Wave Serpent. I think if there were Reapers in the list I would do that but in this game there isn't a juicy enough target.



Turn 1 - Imperium

 True to my plan I Advanced with nearly everything, moving all the Guardsmen and support Characters up except the Psykers and Warlord. My Bike Captains moved up a bit so as not to expose themselves to shooting and early Serpent Shield assassinations. The Primaris Marines and left Scouts moved onto the Objectives a bit more but otherwise stayed back.

In the Shooting Phase I used Move, Move, Move on four units in the front to push forward more, giving me Recon and control over the center of the board. My left Bike Captain sniped out a Ranger but otherwise everyone had Advanced or had no range/line of sight to anything. With that I passed the turn, scoring for holding an Objective but not for killing anything. I also picked up a Recon point.

Score
2-0 for Imperium






Aeldari - Turn 1

 Matt was quick to Advance all his Wave Serpents, getting in my face just as much as I was getting in his. The right unit of Rangers also Advanced, moving away from my Guardsmen and more towards the top-right. All of the Psykers had disembarked and moved forward a bit, Yvraine also Advanced up but held the rear of the army. The Shining Spears also Advanced, using Warriors of the Raging Winds to be able to Charge later. As I remarked to Matt, that was an LVO winning move. Finally the big Guardian unit came down, getting as much line of sight on my forward Scouts as possible.

The Psychic Phase saw Protect and Quicken used on the Shining Spears, running them on top of the leftmost large building. Word of the Phoenix went onto the large Guardian unit (via a Command Re-roll), allowing them to kill a few Scouts and Guardsmen. Matt then put Guide on the same unit, calling out his order of operations error as he did so.

Shooting saw the Scouts get leveled by the Guardians shooting normally while the Shining Spears sniped a few shots down from the building, although most of them couldn't see anything. I also lost two Guard units to the Wave Serpents/Ravager and some miscellaneous Guardian shots, overall I took about the damage I expected to take.

A Charge goes out from the Shining Spears, having multiple targets to declare that they can't fail thanks to the FAQ clarification. I shot one down with Overwatch but the Spears get into melee with Harker, my Company Commander, the Priest, and three Guardsmen units. In Combat I lose all the Characters as Matt focuses them down and I don't really make any Invulnerable Saves to try for a Command/Grand Strategist re-roll. Straken punches one of the Shining Spears off his bike while the Guardsmen all bounce off the 2+ Saves.

Matt scores for Kill, Kill More, and Hold but I get Hold More. He also netted three Characters which makes maxing out Headhunter all but certain, Recon also goes up on the board thanks to the Shining Spears and Rangers.

End of Round Thoughts

 Well I got sloppy with my positioning of the Characters which allowed Matt to go in and nab a bunch of them. In a way this benefited me as they're now far from him and all but certain to die next turn, Matt only went for that Charge because of how many Characters he could grab. If I was going for a bait I think I'd offer up the Commander and the Priest but I just made an error and left them open. Certainly something to keep an eye out for in the future!

Overall the turn went as I expected. The Wave Serpents did minimal damage, as they should, although Matt could have positioned the Autarch to give out re-rolls. I was also puzzled by the Ranger movement, the Guardsmen that were threatening them got removed as I expected and they could have contributed onto Straken or something. I did think it was a smart play to move the Wave Serpents up, obviously Matt pays for Vectored Engines but if they stayed back I can Charge them pretty easily with Death Company still and then pile into all kinds of stuff. This way he preserves the backfield at worst.

Score
8-3 for Aeldari









Imperium - Turn 2

 Once again all the Guardsmen moved up but didn't Advance this time, hoping to act as Overwatch buffers. My left Bike Captain zoomed up on the Rangers while his counter-part cushioned himself between two Wave Serpents. The Primaris Marines and Psykers left the comfort of their ruins as I expect the Rangers to be less of an issue after this turn and I need some Mortal Wounds on the Shining Spears. After some consideration I Fall Back with everything that the Shining Spears are tying up. Finally I bring all the Reserves in with the Vanguard Veterans and Captain dropping near the Shining Spears, one Death Company unit on the building in the right-center and another Death Company unit along the bottom-right.

In the Psychic Phase I cast Psychic Maelstrom on the Shining Spears, only doing one wound even after a Command re-roll to cast it and a Grand Strategist re-roll for damage. (This is illegal but I didn't know until I looked it up later). Smite finished off the damage Spear, leaving me a bit nervous about my damage output.

For Shooting I forgot to do Orders but didn't take it back despite Matt allowing me to do so, I try to never take back mistakes as it builds bad habits. All the Vanguard Veterans unloaded, Overcharged, into the Shining Spears which killed all of them except the Exarch (through a Command re-roll on Saves) while I suffered no losses thanks to the Captain. Shots from the Primaris Marines, Captain, and Straken brought the Exarch down to one wound. Lasguns and Mortars killed 8 Guardians through some poor rolls, no Harker, and no Orders.

For Charges I put a Guardsmen unit into two Wave Serpents, losing a guy from Overwatch. I failed Charges with the Vanguard Vets, the Captain, and the Primaris Marines into the Exarch but lost nothing from Overwatch. Each Death Company unit got onto a Wave Serpent while avoiding Overwatch due to being on top of the building and getting into something that was already tied up. Finally both Bike Captains Charge into Rangers and a Wave Serpent respectively.

In Combat I managed to kill only 2 Rangers with the Captain while the Guardsmen bounced off. My other Captain used Red Rampage to remove his Wave Serpent while the one near the bottom of the board took 6 Wounds. Finally between first attacks (which were not in Captain range) and Honor the Chapter I was able to blow up the other Wave Serpent. Three Guardians across two units died from falling out and I was able to tie up both units with the Captain and the Death Company. My Guardsmen also managed to tag the large Guardian unit via Pile In but I only lost two from their attacks.

In Morale the Exarch fled ever after a Command re-roll as did four Guardians from the larger unit. For scoring I picked up two Big Game Hunters, Recon, and Kill/Hold.

Score
8-8 Tied













Aledari - Turn 2

 Working with a lot fewer models now Matt started the Fall Back train, getting out with all the Guardians who are tied up except with the Guardsmen while the Rangers moved out as well. Both Wave Serpents moved away didn't/couldn't Advance after the last Guardian unit hopped out. The Ravager came forward a bit along with the Character contingent, the Autarch staying on the right side.

Smite range out from all the Characters, bringing my left Bike Captain to two wounds and killing a few Death Company. Guide also went on the undamaged Guardians but Doom failed through a Ghosthelm re-roll. Shooting went by pretty fast as the Bike Captain died to the Wave Serpent and Guardians while all the Death Company went down to the Ravager and some miscellaneous shots as well as Serpent Shields.

The Autarch Charged my Guardsmen while everyone else stayed put. In Combat I lost all but the Sergeant from the Guardsmen unit but did nothing back. I then used Insane Bravery on the Sergeant to keep him around as this gave me Kill More.

For scoring I got Kill More and Hold More while Matt picked up Kill, Hold, and maxed out Headhunter.

End of Round Thoughts

 So far my plan is working perfectly and next turn I should be able to start nailing down some of the last threats such as the Ravager and Wave Serpents. With all the Guardians out and my Guardsmen so close I can negate a lot of the Alaitoc Trait and should be able to get rid of those units as well.

Matt made a mistake not using Insane Bravery on the Spear Exarch during my turn, which he noted, as that would have allowed it to run and hide. I also should have done a better job with Pile In/Consolidation for my Death Company, I often forget they get to do both again with Honor the Chapter. While I don't think I could have surrounded any Guardians to preserve the unit it's still a good habit to get into and makes it difficult to prevent a unit being tied up in certain situations.

Score
11-10 for Aeldari






Imperium - Turn 3

 Once again all my Guardsmen moved up while the Psykers Advanced. The Primaris Marines also moved up, leaving one guy on my Objective, while the Scouts held still. The remaining Bike Captain zoomed into the thick of things and the Jump Pack Captain used Upon Wings of Fire, ultimately redeploying in the backfield to threaten Yvraine and the Farseer. My Vanguard Veterans also moved left to finish off the damaged Wave Serpent.

Psychic Maelstrom went very hot, doing 5 wounds to the Wave Serpent while a Smite left it with one left. For Shooting I did First Rank Fire, Second Rank Fire on my front units via Straken, removing almost all the Guardians when the Guardsmen had finished. The Wave Serpent then got finished off with normal Plasma shots.

For Charges my Bike Captain made it into the Ravager undamaged while the other Captain got into Yvraine. At this point Matt conceded the game.





Post-Game Thoughts

 I think I made a few errors at the end of the game as Matt had been talking about calling it. I should have put both Captains into Vehicles in order to limit the amount of running away that the Eldar can do, although with Upon Wings of Fire my Vanguard Veterans could have likely brought the Wave Serpent down on Turn 4, or at least damaged it. Yvraine was of no use to me as her powers are now useless and she's basically a Smite bot, I've just always wanted to kill her!

Looking the game over I don't know much of what Matt could have done differently on a macro level. Getting stuck in with the Shining Spears was probably the only big mistake, he did get points out of it but those could have been better used to hunt the Vanguard Veterans or something. If that's what it came down to I can easily block for them though, Matt just didn't have the firepower to chew through my Guardsmen.

I played pretty well, definitely made some positioning mistakes that cost me here and there with the Shining Spear Charge being the big one. Overall my army movement and target selection was on point and I knew what I had to do to win. This was the first game I moved the Guardsmen up as aggressively as I could and I think that's going to be the usual playstyle, it's very hard to most armies to deal with that many bodies running at them and tying things up. Absorbing Overwatch and denying shooting also really helps my Blood Angels live longer.

As far as lists go, I'm not sure what to do with Ynaari. Dark Reapers are VERY expensive now, you're looking over 500 Points for a max unit and two mins which doesn't even factor in Yvraine, a Farseer, 1-3 Warlocks, and two Wave Serpents, most of which is mandatory. That's well into 1100-1200 Points just for that! I really don't like the Guardians, they just die too easily and don't do enough work, I'd probably stick with Rangers as they live through a good amount of attacks and can be placed on Objectives. Running one big unit of Reapers and one big unit of Shining Spears seems very viable, I'd probably go with ~6 though. Ynaari is feeling a bit dead though, they just meltdown if almost any Psychic Power doesn't go through when you look at the cost of their big units. They'll certainly be around but I'd be surprised to see them at the top tables regularly, at least for the moment.

My list performed very well now that I started playing it correctly, imagine that. I really like the smaller Death Company units compared to one big one, it lets me hit in more areas which is what the army needs. Giving them all Chainswords also makes the units multi-purpose so I'll never be left out in the cold. The Vanguard Veterans were a surprise hit, I took them because when you do the math versus points they're better against standard Vehicle/Monster profiles than anything Guard can buy, including Lascannon Heavy Weapon Teams (which are awful). They work so incredibly well with Blood Angels because you can re-deploy them to negate their 12" range, it's easy to get Captains around them (in my list) and they get Chapter Tactics which makes them viable in melee.

For revisions I'm still considering if the Priest is worth it and also looking at the Blood Angel Battalion. Having +1/+2 Attacks matters in some matchups for the Guardsmen but I don't know if those are common enough to warrant the cost and the extra Character/Deployment. I was testing a unit of Bullgryn, who are amazing but don't work well in my list, which made him a lot better but now he might get side-lined. For Troops the Primaris Marines are supposed to be durable backline Objective holders that can also melee it up when they need to, Scouts on the other hand are for getting on the hard to grab Objectives while also being able to get into melee when needed. I don't think I'd ever put them as close as I could to my opponent, it's too risky, but the option is nice. So far I think the split I have works well.

I have another game on Friday this week so I'm hoping to get a few less proxies and get another test game in. I'm getting near a finished product at this point and I honestly think this type of build is Tier 1 as far as competition goes, the only known thing that I feel bad against is triple Necron Vault. However anyone who thinks that list isn't getting nerfed in November and wants to spend the money on it can be my guest. Anyways thanks for reading and I will be back soon with another game.