Monday 5 September 2016

Guest Post- Why would anyone play that List? On Competitive Warhammer 40,000

There are many different ways to play 40k. I, myself, enjoy many different aspects of the game; I love a good narrative match or campaign game, and love a game which results in a narrow win, draw or even a narrow loss, as long as it was fun and tense. 

I also love a good tournament. There is nothing better than testing yourself and your army against some top players, trying to come up with tactics and a battle plan to beat your opponent in a competitive setting. 

Recently, I attended Caledonian Revolution. From what I had been told, this was a pretty hardcore tournament and would really test my skills. The first game of the tournament was certainly a swift, sharp education! You can find the battle report for the game here

My first game was against Sid's army. It was a proper tournament list featuring two Riptide Wings (6 Riptides), some Grey Knights (including 2 Dreadknights) and a Cullexus assassin. I was thoroughly trounced in that game, getting tabled by turn 5, but essentially the game was lost after turn 2. Despite my thrashing, it was still a great learning experience, Sid was a great player and very friendly and I did not feel as bad as I have done after other tournament loses.  

The battle report received a lot of comments (in fact, all my battle reports from Caledonian Revolution are amongst the most commented on in my blog's history). Many were along the lines of "that is such a tournament list", "that is not fluffy" and "such a WAAC list". Most of the comments were against that kind of tournament list, most simply as it was not seen as fun to play against. This is completely understandable. I see St Andrews Wargaming as a hobby blog. Yes, I do go to a fair number of tournaments, but I think most of my readers are fans of the more casual side of gaming. 

One of the players from my local club (Dundee Wargames Club) saw the report and comments and it prompted him to write an article of his own. Innes is very much a tournament-style player. He had featured in a few of the battle reports on the blog, most recently in a game where his tournament Deathstar list completely crushed my tournament White Scars.

Innes wrote an article about his style of play that I found really interesting. I decided to copy his article here (with his permission of course!) so that it could be the first of my Guest Post articles. You can check out more of Innes' work on his blog, Knight Erratic

Why would anyone play that List? On Competitive Warhammer 40,000
by Innes Wilson

Why would anyone play games like this?’

‘I’d rather have friends.’

‘That army makes no sense, that would never happen

I’m no stranger to statements like the above when it comes to Warhammer 40,000. There’s a certain mentality that likes to poke its head up whenever someone starts talking about playing competitively, and it’s one that seeks to point out the flaws in people’s way of enjoying the game. One of the players in my Local Playgroup (Dundee Wargames Club) has a blog, and I’ve shown up on that blog a couple of times now, to more or less the same reaction time in and time out. People don’t like the way I play. And I get it, sort of. Not everybody wants to play cut-throat games of 40k that end on turn 1, need an 80+ Page FAQ document (ETC FAQ) to make it work, and where even the least lore-abiding citizen’s wildest dreams are a reality. Michael’s most recent post (Found Here) features him playing at Caledonian Revolution, a 2 Day, 5 Game tournament which we both attended. The army he played against was 6 Riptides, 2 Dreadknights, a Culexus and some ancillaries. I’ll allow you to read the comments there yourself, but I feel like they’re the prime examples of exactly what I want to talk about, and the reason I decided to write this post.

When you design a list, how do you go about it? Do you read some awesome lore, and go out and sit with the book, thinking how to best represent the battle scene you just read? Do you mash together all the units you have available to you until they fit the points limit? Both of these are valid ways to write a list, but I think that they have a fundamental mentality underlying them, which makes people who write lists in this manner miss the point of what a Tournament List is (or should be) trying to achieve, which is the best list to win any given match.

If you show up to a tournament of 5 or 6 rounds, odds are you’re going to play a pretty decent spread of armies. At Caledonian Revolution, I played against War Convocation, Iron Hands + Inquisition + Sisters of Battle Death Star, Tau (3 Riptides, 3 Ghostkeels, 1 Stormsurge), War Convocation, and Screamer Council + Seer Council. I’d say that I pulled a pretty decent spread of armies, 2 MSU High Shooting Armies, 1 Pure Deathstar, 1 Split Deathstar (The Councils List) and 1 Low Model Count , v High Damage Output. I was playing the same list from my previous Tournament (Found Here). What do you think it did well against? Which would you say were bad match-ups and which were good? I’ll be posting a full report of the event later this week, so give yourselves marks out of 10 when that comes out. (1 point for correct Good/Bad Match-up, 1 point for correctly guessing win or loss).
The Big Cheese?- Highest placing at Caledonian Revolution? - 33rd.

What I’m trying to say is that at any given event you need to be prepared to play against a huge possibility of lists, and that means that you had better god damn optimise what you’re running. Running through the list pack for Caledonian Revolution, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a couple of lists that you couldn’t say ‘Yeah that could win the event’. That’s because (most of the) lists are written in such a way that they don’t take into account what book something’s from, or whether it makes sense. The only concern is how good the unit is for how many points it costs.

This leads to situations where it’s very easy to end up with 12 different codices (particularly us Imperial fellows), and that’s why detachment limitations exist.

Why are Sisters of Battle so good for Deathstars? Why did Fenrisian Wolves + Azrael and all the Psykers in the Imperium show up 3 times in the list pack and all end up in the top 15? Because they manage to take disparate elements of codexes that maybe aren’t great in isolation, but end up being massive force multipliers when combined.

Saint Celestine is 135 points. In the Sisters of Battle Codex she’s great because she drops in with a unit of Seraphim and incinerates a unit with all the flamers in the world. In a Deathstar, she’s even better, because she provides Hit and Run at 55 points cheaper than Cypher, and without having to go for White Scars Chapter Tactics. She also allows you to take up to 3 Priests, one of whom buys the Litanies of Faith, and now for 260 Points in an Allied Detachment you have 3 independent characters, who provide your Deathstar with Hit and Run, Zealot, and automatic, guaranteed Re-Rolls to Wound and to Save in Close Combat. It also provides as an ObSec unit with 3+ Armour that can hide at the back of the board. Add that to your Iron Hands Command Squad and watch that Veteran with his 3+ Rerollable invulnerable save and 4+ Feel No Pain. Now try and kill 4 of them, and the 6 Librarians, 2 Techmarines and the Chapter Master. Oh, and there’s an Inquisitor.

How awesome would it be if you could fire 6D6 Strength 7 Tesla Shots with Re-Rolls to Hit, Wound, Ignores Cover and Rending, from inside a 50+ Wound Model that covers 3′ Square of the Board? That’s what Wolfkin does. 50 Fenrisian Wolves, one unit with Azrael (Confers 4+ Invulnerable Save to his unit, and 5+ Feel No Pain when within 3” of an objective). Add a Wolf Priest with the Helm of Durfast in a Wyrdstorm Brotherhood, and the Monster Hunter from the Wolfkin Formation, then Misfortune that poor Wraithknight to death. Now sit on 6 Objectives for the entire game multi-charging opposite ends of the board, all you have to do is keep coherency and Hit and Run!

Why do Riptides and Dreadknights show up on the same army? Because they complement each other. Riptides don’t like being Charged, and they don’t like Psychic Powers. So take stuff that stops that. Simple is as simple does.

Seer Councils provide a hell of a lot of dice for you to use with Fateweaver and a Screamer Council. Wyrdvane Psykers in a Psykana Division are amazing at shitting out Daemons so your Flying Hive Tyrants don’t have to come onto the ground to hold objectives or so that your Knights can run around hitting stuff without worrying about holding the Relic.

I think this is the core disjoint in mentalities between both sides of the argument. It’s not that we’re killing the fluff, it just doesn’t come into consideration. If I need a way to make sure my Tau Army can survive your Wolfstar, the easiest way is to stick a Culexus Assassin 6” behind it so the second you charge it, you lose all of your buffs. Not every army has a way to deal with every other army. But most armies have something that deals with something else. The trade-offs we have to make can be minimal, if you just want to plug and play a formation like Riptide Wing or a Psykana Division, or quite large, like having to take two extra Scout Squads or a Grey Knight Strike Squad.

For me, list building is the part of the hobby, other than the actual game itself, that I most enjoy. There’s something amazing in coming up with a combo that breaks the game apart, match ups that shouldn’t be winnable for your army suddenly becoming 20-0 swings because of 1 character or piece of Wargear from a forgotten book. Is that a problem with 40k? That match-ups can be so Rock/Paper/Scissors as to swing with one item? Maybe it is. We’re seeing a big switch towards Deathstars in the UK Scene, even Eldar, traditionally a bastion of the MSU Warp Spiders/Scatter Bikes is moving towards the Wraithbomb (See Jordan Clifford or Brett Armitage’ armies in the list document), even prior to the introduction of the Eldar Erratas.

Building a list to play into any match-up that a tournament could throw at you needs a different mindset to building an army for a "Casual" game, but for those of us who’re that way inclined, it can also be a massive part of the fun.

What’s your take on the issue? Is this an issue or am I just spouting a load of shit? Thanks for taking the time to read – Innes

Thanks to Innes for allowing me to copy his article for you here, I hope to convince him to do a few more in time. 

If you are a regular reader of the blog (or even a part-time reader) and have an idea for a guest post, please contact me at . It can be anything you want- tactics on your favourite army, a review of a unit or army that I have not covered (or even if I have covered it and you have a differing opinion) or even photos of your army that you want to show off! Perfect for people who have something to say, but don't want to go to the trouble and effort of having their own blog. 


  1. There's a limit to when a game becomes simply an extension of ego and the desperation to win, at any cost - and thus units chosen for little more than accounting purposes and to actual fluff purposes.

    The Tau 'riptide wing' is simply a desperate attempt at wining, with no consideration for the game. It's accountancy gaming. The Skyhammer force, while powerful, is at least fluffy and how you imagine Space Marines deploying.

  2. The Skyhammer is very fluffy and not game breaking, just need to castle up first turn. I played a 5 pod list recently, 4 come down (half of the three plus 2 Skyhammer) first turn and after that onslaught I won using Ad Mech. Marines don't like AP3 Castelan Robots shooting back. Canticles of the Omnissah granting Shrouded (Shroudpsalm) also helps!

    1. I find formations in general (with the odd exception) are very fluffy - they certainly ought to be after all!

  3. For me, the issue is not about the people who write the lists. I understand that for some people, the list is the part they are proudest of and its ability to take down any opponent in the shortest possible time.

    For me, the problem is actually with the organisers of the tournaments, who either fail to limit the potential of such an approach (I've faced an unholy alliance of Eldar, Tau and Iron Hands in a doubles tournament, which also saw me and my partner's space marine armies face off against Space Wolves supporting Eldar). It's a simple enough job for a TO to either limit the access to such combinations or make it clear in the tournament advertising that this is a no holds barred event.

    There are plenty of events out there with a friendlier approach, but sadly they don't get quite the publicity of some of the larger setups, which is a shame because they can satisfy people like myself who are out for a fun weekend where our armies don't get stomped turn 1 and where the game is the winner, not the person who came top.

    Let me make this clear though - I don't have a dislike of the type of person who writes a list to make the most of things - in fact some of them can be amongst the most fun opponents, i just rarely enjoy playing those games where you feel like you're completely incapable of achieving anything.

    1. That's something Alex has always done well with his tournaments. He makes it very clear that they are still competitive events, but with an emphasis on fun and enjoying the day.

      The missions for the day help as well. The ETC one is complex, but I never felt that there was nothing I could do in all my games, even when coming up against some really tough lists.

  4. Yep. The considerations for list-writing vary with the circumstances. In Narrative Games and most Casual Games, the fluff is an important consideration, and should inform your list to some extent. In a Tournament, the point is to win as many of your Games as possible, by as large a margin as possible, and the only relevant factor in list-writing is how to maximize your chances of that within the Rules of the Game, as modified by the Tournament in question. Any other considerations are you choosing to handicap yourself.

    Note that it is still perfectly legit to make decisions in a Tournament list that are based on other factors than pure effectiveness. The key is that you recognize that you're making those decisions for personal, subjective reasons, and that you made the choice to bring your list down, not that the people with harder lists are cheesy or beardy or whatever.

    I do this myself. Part of the reason I'm generally a 60-70% Player is that I'll do things like take MaulerFiends in my KDK, because I have fun with them and I like my Conversions, or run Mech Wolves instead of Drop Wolves because I've painted them up as IronWolves, and Mech is their thing. Decisions like that cost me 2 of my 6 Games at TSHFT, but I'm not complaining about the Errant Lance or Riptide Wing that beat me, because I know I had the tools available to take them on, I just chose not to put them in my list.

  5. It's a good article, and well thought out on his part.

    While his method of play is not my own, I understand it and don't take anything away from those who enjoy playing that way.

  6. It's a competitive GT. It's not a narrative, friendly, team, or highlander event. There is no reason to look down at anyone for bringing the nastiest, most ridiculous combos they can come up with to a GT. That is the entire 100% point of the GT. Bringing a fluffy list to a GT, and then being annihilated on turn 1 isn't a reason to complain, the other player just created a better combo then you did.

    Now if you go to a narrative event and this happens (or a friendly one), that is an issue to complain about, and there is usually a section in the scoring which will seriously hurt the standing of such lists. (you can lose half your battle points for bringing a ridiculous unfun list). So even if you win, you won't place in that event. (paint score/sportsmanship is higher then battle points).

    I really recommend more people attend these type of events so they can get a feel for how they actually run, and how cool the people are. You tend to get very polarized views on the net, which have nothing to do with the actual tournaments or events.

    1. I don't see a huge number of narrative events advertised here in the UK, most of them are of the more competitive tournament type. Would be nice to see more casual ones added to the circuit.

    2. Points well made Greg and i couldn't agree more.

  7. If that is sort of tournie you are going to then bring all the cheese you want. It isn't about the fluff then, it is about winning. Not for me but all good for those that want it.

  8. This is something I don't understand. As a few people have said, tournament's are about winning games, so you bring a list to win. I wouldn't be very happy if someone played a riptide wing in a casual game down the club, at least not without telling first, as im there to have fun but in a tournament I wouldn't bat an eyelid.

    1. Is that what Tournaments are about? Given that most people will not win, and most people while they might dream of winning, do not have a real expectation of winning, I am not sure if I agree. While some people might go to test their skill, currently the skill being tested is pocket book and point cost balance issue exploitation in many cases.

    2. most GT's follow a bracket system. At nova, there were 10 brackets. After the first day, you are settled into brackets for the next day.

      If you win a bunch of games, you are in a higher bracket (more competitive). If you lose a few, you are seeded into a lower bracket. The lower brackets tend to be less competitive, and lot more laid back. (of course I'd still recommend just doing a friendly, team, or narrative event instead).

      There are winners in each bracket. Winners of the overall tournament. Winners for best painted, winners for best painted + battle points.

    3. most tournaments I've been to use the Swiss system (think that's what its called) were you paired off against the player above or below you in the standings, so only your first games is random and possibly you second game maybe slightly lopsided. Ultimately this means that the best/most competitive play the best/most competitive and everyone else plays someone who's of a similar level.

    4. I like the Swiss pair system. It normally leads to some very even and close games after the initial random one (where you generally get stomped or do the stomping).

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  10. GW and the community share the blame. GW went essentially bring what ever you want we do not care about balance mode to sell more models and books. GW was already horrible at balancing codexes and opening up the allies system as they did just made it impossible. Formations are the same, buy lots of the these models and they get bonuses. Sure you have no use normally for this many of them but these carrot is to sweet to ignore.

    The community makes it worse by following along whole heartedly. I have probably 6K of marines in my basement. Out of that I could not make a list that would do anything except maybe not get tabled every game at these type of events. Why should I go and then pay money to get destroyed, and watch the people destroy me walk away with prizes my money paid for.

  11. Maybe signup for the restricted events instead of the unrestricted GT? There are tons! Highlander, classic, narrative, friendly, team, recon squad, etc etc. So many choices outside of a competitive GT!

    Marines are actually EXTREMELY competitive in a GT. They are one of the top tier armies. Heck Sancha's marines took top in overall in the Nova GT, and he was just running the battle company, no shenanigans at all. Just pure marines. (He's also an amazingly friendly guy, and a joy to just hang out and chat with!).

    1. Spelled his name wrong. Sascha Edelkraut. Went 4-1 in the Nova GT, ending up in 5th place by battle points in the top bracket. Won virtuoso (battle + painting). Walked away with a one of a kind GW golden chainsword trophy. Awesome guy.

      Total score in all GT's currently, 21-7. Just playing marines. No allies, no psykers, just marines.

  12. Great article, thanks Innes! I was actually hoping for one like this. As you can tell by the comments, this is a hotly debated topic, but when looking at it objectively, I don't really understand why. Most of the grief seems to come from people that don't even (want) go to highly competitive events, and nobody's forcing them either. So why not just be content to let whoever wants to go to those tournaments do so and bring whatever list they wish? We're all just people enjoying a common hobby.

    Secondly I'll have to stick up for GW regarding one point that came up in the comments. Yes, they make as many dumb decisions as they make good ones. But wanting to fault them for trying to sell their products is just silly imo. That's what companies do. So of course they're looking for new ways to do so. And they could've done a lot worse than coming up with the idea of formations I think.

    1. Innes started the ball rolling Chris, got any ideas for a guest post yourself?

    2. Wow, yeah, definitely, I'd absolutely love to!!! I just need to think of something I can write about that's actually valuable I guess. It's getting somewhat late over here so I'm not that creative anymore, the only topic I can think of from the top of my head would be something about Infinity, how I got into it and what a nice change of pace it is. But I'll try to come up with more tomorrow maybe. And thanks for asking!

  13. A really good article. Which partly betrays that I'm a big tourney player who likes to win. But I don't think that's a problem. Yes some of those things shouldn't work, but games workshop has made it so they can. I particularly like the thing about fluff not really even coming into the equation. Don't get me wrong, it's not fun to play against but the idea of finding something to break the meta is fun :)