If you like your games of Warhammer with a more competitive or tournament-minded edge, you’re in the right place. In the first instalment of this brand-new series, head of Warhammer events and tournament organising legend, Mike Brandt, and his hand-picked guests will be bringing you up to date with all the latest trends from the tournament scene, offering advice on how to replicate – or counter – these cutting-edge strategies. So, without further ado, we’ll hand you over to the man himself…
Mike: Welcome, friends, to Metawatch. So begins a series of articles designed to delve into the world of matched play for Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Age of Sigmar. In terms of style, these in-depth articles will discuss elements of the current ‘competitive meta’ for each game (i.e. what factions, army selections, and play styles are performing best at any one time, evolving with each new set of rules that are released). Whether you’re a grizzled tournament veteran or a new player seeking their first single-day weekend tournament experience, you’re bound to find useful and thought-provoking discussion within each instalment of Metawatch.
These articles will include helpful input from members of the Warhammer Global Events team, coupled with deep insights and analysis from highly respected members of the worldwide matched play community. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this community for years, meeting some of the most fun and generous people I know over laughter-filled, intellectually challenging games of Warhammer 40,000 around the world – one of whom is our first Metawatch contributor!
Nick Nanavati is one of the world’s best-known Warhammer 40,000 tournament players. His list of accomplishments includes winning many of the biggest events in the world, such as the ITC Annual Circuit, Las Vegas Open, AdeptiCon, NOVA Open, and both the European and American Team Championships. A class act, he is known for his fun-loving nature, sportsmanship, and passion for building the global community. Part of the group of talented podcasters and live-streamers at the Art of War, Nick provided me with a range of thoughtful responses to some burning questions about the newest edition of Warhammer 40,000, and what he thinks we can expect to see once events are ready to resume more broadly around the world.
Alright, let’s dive right in!
Mike: The latest edition of Warhammer 40,000 has brought some interesting changes to the tournament circuit and scene, including the Chapter Approved: Grand Tournament 2020 Mission Pack. What are your thoughts on the scene as a whole when events resume in the post-pandemic future?
Nick: I’m excited about a more unified tournament circuit spearheaded by the actual creators of the game. The introduction of a serious GT pack is just the tip of the iceberg! Standardising the various pre-existing tournament formats into a single, officially sanctioned circuit will dramatically boost the competitive Warhammer 40,000 scene and establish a functionally limitless ceiling on how much it can grow. In over a decade spent highly active in the competitive scene, I can’t think of a time when I’ve been more excited!
Mike: Most of the current factions in Warhammer 40,000 can field at least one strong army with a shot at winning a tournament in the hands of a capable player. For players just getting started, however, are there any factions that naturally lend themselves to matched play, and why? Following that logic, what are some other factions and army styles you believe are performing well in early matched play games of the new edition?
Nick: Space Marines strike me as the most intuitive force to play competitively in the new edition. Their expansive array of units and tremendous number of play styles make them highly adaptable on the battlefield. The new edition is starkly different from its recent predecessors, which often emphasised the ‘death star’.* While some death stars still work, that’s now far from the only way to play. In the new edition, you’re often better off using a variety of relatively inexpensive, flexible units which can function autonomously. All the new Indomitus units, such as Bladeguard Veterans, Outriders, and Eradicators, fit this unit style perfectly. Many of them are showing up and performing well across social media in online battle reports, and placing near the top at the small number of tournaments held so far.
That’s not to say Space Marines are the only army worth using in matched play right now! The forces of Chaos are exceptionally strong, especially the Death Guard – with Chaos Spawn, Plague Marines, Nurglings, and Plagueburst Crawlers seeing great success. Other Imperial factions such as Astra Militarum (for example, large numbers of individual tank and transport units, leveraging abilities like Full Payload on Manticores) are nothing to sleep on. Adeptus Mechanicus and Sisters of Battle, with solid baseline profiles (4+ and 3+ saves respectively and BS 3+, etc.), also fall naturally into a style of army fielding numerous smaller, self-sufficient units.
And even many xenos factions, such as Harlequins, can certainly hold their own in the hands of a sharp player! Tyranids (especially in combination with Genestealer Cults) and Orks (such as classically thematic Speed Freeks armies full of buggies) have seen particular success by taking a larger number and greater variety of flexible, inexpensive units than in the last edition. I’m excited by how many different armies can compete for the top spots this edition, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve with the release of future codexes.
Mike: What changes do you think are the most subtly (or even sneakily) impactful on what the matched play meta will end up being, and why?
Nick: What a fun question! Not that this is particularly sneaky, but the new Eternal War Strike Force missions are so different stylistically from previous versions of competitive Warhammer 40,000. They will inherently change the fundamental avenues of approach when designing your army and playing the game. Even a few months after the Core Book’s initial release, I still see well-known and respected players taking armies that seem better suited to competing in the previous edition. I think it will take time for people to fully realise and embrace how different and thoughtful the new missions are and start to build armies tailored for them.
Another subtle change is the new terrain ruleset, coupled with the increased terrain density this edition seems designed for. It’s proving to be the most lethal edition yet, and the only way for many armies to survive all five turns is through clever and effective use of terrain. I cannot stress enough how imperative it is to have at least the recommended amount of obscuring terrain on your tables.
Mike: What army or armies are you spending most of your time playing? Can you share an example list, and explain the nuances of what makes it really ‘tick’ in new matched play missions?
Nick: I know I said Space Marines are pretty good right now, but I’m going to surprise you! I play nearly every single army in the Warhammer 40,000 universe at this point, but lately, I’m really enjoying my Harlequins. They’re the definition of an army designed to play the new GT missions to the letter. Here’s an example list I’m using right now:
This list plays the primary and secondary mission objectives exceptionally well. It has enough teeth and threat range to keep your opponent honest, and perhaps even make them play a bit conservatively, but its real power comes from its ability to manipulate the scoreboard.
Domination and Engage on All Fronts are fantastic secondary objectives for this army, and you can usually score ~12 points from them regardless of your opponent. Deploy Scramblers is also essentially a free 10 victory points for this list. The army is capable of adapting to the various mission secondaries well, pulling off big assassination turns against your opponent, getting Bring It Down easily enough against vehicle-heavy armies, and is even efficient at achieving some psychic-based secondaries in a pinch.
From a primary mission objective perspective, this army is fantastic at tossing Objective Secured troops all around the table to keep your opponent’s primary score super low. One trick I love to use with this list is to have a Troupe disembark from a Starweaver, and Advance forward to charge an enemy unit with the Rising Crescendo ability. You then Advance the Starweaver 22″ past the unit you intend to charge, in the general direction of an objective your opponent is holding. After they charge in and do whatever damage they do, they can then use the Soaring Spite Stratagem Skystride to consolidate 6″ out of combat towards the Starweaver (since they can consolidate towards the nearest Soaring Spite Transport instead of just the nearest enemy model) and onto the objective your opponent was previously holding. I use this trick multiple times per game to really mess up my opponent’s score on the primary mission objective. These units can be even further buffed by various abilities, such as giving them a 3+ invulnerable save or -1 to be hit.
Mike: Finally, much has been made about first turn advantage. What do you think about the pros and cons of going first or second in the new edition?
Nick: It’s funny you ask that! It’s my understanding that the vast majority of the competitive Warhammer 40,000 community believe that having the first turn leads to a nearly insurmountable advantage over your opponent in most games. However, in my vast amounts of playtesting, I’ve actually found this to be a huge misconception. Intuitively, it makes sense – with the first turn you have the ability to deal damage to your opponent first, and establish yourself on the majority of the objectives, essentially putting your opponent on their back foot from turn one. I find this only to be the case in three circumstances:
- The player hasn’t designed their army with consideration for going second. This may sound obvious, but many players design purely for maximising firepower, not considering the many things you need to do in order to deny objectives as the player going second. Examples here include fast sacrificial units, effective deep strike/reserve units, better redundancy, or even Fortifications to help provide you with better line of sight blockage if you fear you won’t have enough to hide behind
- The player going second deploys very aggressively, hoping to get first turn but loses the dice roll. This is far more common, I find. Again though, this was an issue with the player’s ability to mitigate risk, not the mission itself.
- The players play with an inadequate amount of obscuring terrain. Terrain is the foundation on which the new edition is balanced in my opinion, and you need to have a sufficient amount of terrain to have a positive play experience.
If you play with an adequate amount of terrain, you’ve designed a list which can withstand an opponent’s firepower on turn one, whilst also being able to reclaim board control going second, and you deploy with respect to the concept of risk mitigation, you’re golden. At that point, your opponent should find no real discernable advantage to going first. Personally, I’d say I’ve chosen the second turn when given the option about 2 out of 3 times.
Mike: Thanks, Nick! That’s a lot of great advice and food for thought.
As we philosophise, playtest, and plan our way to the future of organised play events in Warhammer 40,000, a common refrain is making sure you have at least a couple solid pieces of obscuring terrain located within each possible deployment zone for the Eternal War and GT missions. To ensure a balanced matched play experience, a cautious player should be able to choose to hide a large portion of their army behind such terrain during deployment (or off the board using the new Strategic Reserves rule), protecting them from a devastating ‘alpha strike’** if they don’t win the roll to go first. Ideally, the player who chooses to grab objectives first takes the risk of exposing themselves to the first round of counterfire and countercharges from their opponent, rather than being able to move up, grab objectives, and have free shots on whatever enemy units they wish to destroy first!
A nice advantage of the new Obscuring terrain trait is that it allows you to treat windows and other gaps in your terrain collection as blocking line of sight to units on the other side. This makes it easier than ever before for players and tournament organisers to fill their tables with sufficient quantities of terrain for matched play games.
For many players, the concept of objectives being scored at the start of a turn is very new. Coming from a previous edition where they were typically scored at the end of the Battle Round requires a complete reimagining of what constitutes an effective army. It will take time and thinking outside the box for the meta to adapt and for players to start fielding armies that achieve similar win rates whether they go first or second. But don’t worry – Metawatch will be here to keep the community posted as things continue to evolve! Oh, and all the image used in this article were taken from pre-COVID events.
Thanks, gents! Mike will be keeping his omniscient eye on the trailblazers of the Warhammer 40,000 tournament circuit and will be bringing you more in-depth insights next month. Fans of the Mortal Realms will have even less time to wait – Mike’s busy working on the inaugural instalment of Metawatch for Warhammer Age of Sigmar right now, and we’ll be bringing it to you soon. Until then, let us know what you think about going first or second in games on our Warhammer 40,000 Facebook page.
* The phrase ‘death stars’ refers to large, all-powerful units that are buffed by a wide array of psychic powers, aura abilities, and Stratagems to create hyper-killy, nigh-invincible combos that were very challenging to deal with – especially for newer or more casual players.
** The term given to an attack that hits hard and fast in the opening turn to cripple or destroy key enemy units and secure an overwhelming advantage from the outset of the battle.
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