Big FAQ Thoughts – Autumn 2018

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It’s heeeeerrrrreeeee. And it’s greeeeaaaattttt!

Seriously though – I wrote on here about what I wanted from the FAQ, and while they obviously haven’t done exactly what I wanted, what they have done is put out an FAQ that’s broadly in line with the principles I was making suggestions based on. Specifically, GW do seem to agree that:

  1. The game wasn’t that broken – a small number of specific abilities and units were causing major problems.
  2. The much maligned “soup” is part of 8th edition, and anything aimed at stopping it completely would be a mistake.

There’s a huge amount of salt on the internet right now because, over the last few weeks one specific fix (which we’ll discuss shortly) has become so talked about as the “obvious” way to sort out the games problems that a large number of people appeared to have convinced themselves that it was definitely happening. It hasn’t (I think for the better) and there’s a lot of grumpiness right now, but I fully expect that over the next few weeks once people start playing games they’ll see that the changes that have been made are more significant than they think, and will come to love it more. My memory is that initial reaction to the last one wasn’t super hot, but over time it became clear that it had been well judged, and people appreciated it more.

Having said that, there are certainly a few things that I’m less keen on, which we’ll dig into, but first lets go through the big subject areas we touched on before and see what changes have been made.

Worth calling out that I read Nanavati’s analysis at https://nightsatthegametable.com/blog/2018/09/28/the-big-faq-and-you/ before writing this, and several things I’m agreeing with I wouldn’t have spotted by myself (notably points regarding fly/ruins and changes to effectiveness of Tau) so here’s a credit – he makes good points. Other than that I tried watching the Tabletop Tactics video while writing this but gave up and resolved to finish this first because of how wrong they were in the first ten minutes. Seriously, how can you say this is a disappointment/damp squib this is 10/10 game design right here.

Soup

There are no direct changes to soup. There’s a bit of deckchair arranging here and there clarifying a few things (Vect now only works while you have a Black Heart unit down, exactly how Ynnari warlords work is tied down) but there are no new restrictions on how you mix and match armies. Importantly, there’s also nothing like “only use strategems from your warlord’s faction”,  which is the extremely popular “obvious” fix I talked about earlier, and one I already wrote plenty of words about how I didn’t like in my previous article. GW appear to agree with my analysis that that change isn’t “nerfing soup” it’s “staking soup through the heart and burying its body at the crossroads at midnight” and the fact that they haven’t caved to the huge amount of pressure to do this reassures me a lot that they’ve got a firm handle on what makes their own game tick.

But One_Wing – wasn’t there a way-to-powerful soup list that was crushing everyone’s hopes and dreams? Yes there was, but luckily it’s being taken down several pegs by other changes, starting with…

CP Farming

GW have sensibly decided that soup is enough part of 8th’s design paradigm that they couldn’t mess with it too much.

Uncle Kurov’s down-home organic CP farm, on the other hand, has been burnt to the ground and the earth where once it stood salted so nothing shall ever grow there hence.

The new rule basically works out to “you can regain a maximum of 1 CP per battle round” with a number of specific exceptions to deal with abilities whose entire point was giving multiple at once, and Harlequins ending up with the best CP regen trait in the game (go clownz I guess).

This is a gigantic change that potentially goes further than most of the suggestions we had bouncing around – I’ve seen this exact rule “per player turn” suggested, and consensus from several people on this community was that regen abilities should only trigger on strategems that matched the faction of the trait (i.e. “Grand Strategist” should only trigger on guard strategems), and you should only be able to roll once per CP. Both would have been a significant nerf to CP regen, the former aimed “wide” the latter impacting it more heavily in Imperium or Aeldari Soup.

What they’ve gone with is vastly more brutal than either of these. The most a CP regen trait will even give you back is 7CP, and it’s vastly more likely to end up in the 2-3 CP range for the good ones, allowing for peaks and troughs in the rolling of 6s, and the fact that plenty of armies like to blow through their CP on the first few turns.

This is a gigantic change with three key effects.

Firstly, armies with multiple high-intensity CP sinks (such as the Guard/Bangle/Knight trifecta) look a lot more questionable – the Battalion/Brigade/Aux version of the super list now realistically caps out at 22-23 CP, and while that’s still a crap tonne it isn’t “functionally infinite” like they had before. Combined with how much their pre-game setup costs and changes to costs of individual strategems (see later) they’re now at serious risk of straight up running out of CP during the second battle round, which is big.

Secondly, CP traits/relics are no longer “auto-take”. Currently, spending a CP to buy a good relic is basically a no-brainer, as it will almost always pay itself back – after this change that’s no longer the case. For pure armies the good warlord traits may well still be worth it, but it probably discourages some of the more “convoluted” setups. A good example of this is my current Aeldari list (see One_Wing Passim) – at the moment I’m motivated to make the Black Heart Archon in my allied Drukari detachment my warlord because the trait is so good. However, that effectively “costs” me a CP, because I need a craftworld relic (Falcon’s Wing) in my main detachment, and the Drukari relic is a “nice to have”. At the point where the Black Heart trait may only give me 2-3 CP in the game, that becomes a much less compelling option, especially because my Autarch gets a lesser version of regain “built in” if he’s my warlord. I expect to see this affect knights as well – making a guard CoCo the warlord may not any longer be worth the cost of giving a knight a warlord trait through “Exalted Court”.

Finally, Brigades get a lot better. This is highly relevant to guard and Tau in particular, and I’d have though there’s a very good chance Orks can make a decent Brigade post codex. I’m certainly looking at whether I can revive any of my Brigade Craftworld lists, as that’s now the premier way to get CP in Aeldari, not “include a Black Heart Warlord”.

Do I like this change? I think it might be a little too far – I’d probably expect it to change to “per player turn” after rounds of feedback, but it’s certainly elegant and future proof and I don’t hate it. I do worry that it leaves the ball in the Imperium’s court a little too much simply because they have the cheapest brigade, but it certainly will cut down the abuse, and notably will make allied Blood Angels captains less the “obvious” choice for all Imperium lists, because <insert-new-CP-bloodthirst-joke-because-I-already-made-the-obvious-one-last-time>.

The Knight Castellan (and friends)

In addition to being the list probably most affected by the CP changes ceteris paribus several popular Imperium strategems have also been hit with some direct nerfs, specifically:

  • Order of Companions (alias “the House Raven strat”)
  • On Wings of Fire
  • Our Darkest Hour (alias “the other good House strat”)
  • Oathbreaker Guidance Systems (alias “stupid swingy bullshit”)

…have all had 1CP tacked onto their cost. Given that the popular version of the Trifecta wants to use three of the above in the first turn, that’s a big hike, especially combined with the change to farming meaning they have less to play with. Add on paying for “Red Rampage” and “Rotate” and you’re significantly more than half way through even the massive reserves the Trifecta has in battle round 1 – and burning fast makes the farming traits even less effective.

Agents of Vect got a similar hike. I’m less able to be objective about that, but feel like that may have been a bit much – Dark Eldar get other nerfs, and fundamentally Eldar lists with access to Vect max out at 10 starting CP outside of environments that allow dual battalions. Equally, it remains the Strategem with the highest power ceiling in the game, and there’s arguably no price that remains payable where it would be out-and-out bad – if stopping a strategem will win you the game, any price is fair.

Outside of that, all the above seem fair. I’m a little surprised that “Rotate Ion” and/or “Exalted Court” didn’t catch a similar hike when targeting a Castellan, and am unhappy that the option of buffing a Castellan to a 3++ and using the Raven strat turn 1 is still possible, because as has previously been covered this breaks maths. The fact that they can’t really keep doing it is big though, and we will see if that’s enough to keep them in check. I’m reassured by what’s changed here that GW are good enough at spotting problems that if it isn’t enough more changes will be incoming.

Other Changes

The above were all areas we were expecting to see changes. Interestingly GW haven’t stopped there, and have made some tweaks to several other things, including what I think is the second biggest change (CP farming being the biggest) in the FAQ, and the one that potentially has the most impact on the metagame. We’ll come to that last, first a few smaller ones:

Fly

Fly has been changed to effectively only work in the movement phase – you can no longer ignore enemy models and terrain while charging or piling in. Implicitly, this also reverses their previous change of vertical distance not counting while charging with flying models. This has two big impacts:

  1. Armies that rely on flying melee units, such as Ynnari, Blood Angels and Custodes now need to worry about screens more. This affects Blood Angels the most – both Shining Spears and Custodes Bikes can do some nasty murder to a screen in the shooting phase, but the others now struggle a lot more to “wrap” a unit (especially a large thing like a transport), as they can’t just sail into a wrapping position on a good charge.
  2. Armies that rely on flying melee non-infantry units need to worry a lot about units in ruins. Infantry can move through ruin walls. Bikers and monsters can’t. Up till now, Custodes Bikes, Shining Spears and Flyrants could noclip straight into ruins in the charge phase. No longer. This makes setting up to defend against these units significantly more practical.

I quite like the second change – playing against competent players with Custodes Bikes/Spears can be spectacularly soul crushing as if they really know what they’re doing with charges/pile ins it can feel like there’s nothing you can do.

I’m less sold on the first point – it does further impact those self-same bikes a bit, but it hurts jump pack infantry a lot more, and jump pack assault infantry is not in a good place right now. Blood Angels in particular take a big hit here, along with the hit to “Upon Wings of Fire”, which sucks, as they’re hardly unfair by themselves. It also affects larger units more than something like a solo slamcap – with clever charge allocation, a Slamcap still has some chance of making it through a screen to their “true” target by simply declaring the screen as a target as well and waltzing through the gap, but it’s much harder for a full squad of Sanguiniary guard to pull off.

I think this should probably be dialled back a bit. Honestly, I like the effect on various bullshit bikes enough that I’d be inclined to just add “INFANTRY with fly also ignore terrain/models when moving in the assault phase”.

They’ve duplicated this into the Wraith rule in Necrons, because apparently:

  1. At no point should any reason for wraiths not just having fly exist.
  2. Nerfing the second best unit in one of the worst armies in the game is cool and sensible.

Not bitter.

Deep Striking

Booooooooooooooooo.

I spent a whole weekend’s training montage teaching myself not to fuck up and let my opponent make good use of turn 1 deep strike and they only go and change it.

To be clear, I actually like this.

The change here is that you can no longer deep strike at all in turn 1 (other than via redeploy effects), and lots of the effects that would previously allow a “start of first battle round” deep strike have changed to be a scouting move similar to Sentinels/Pathfinders, with the odd exception of Eldar Rangers, who just became full deep strike (honestly probably intended as a justifiable nerf).

This rule makes plenty of sense, as the current situation allows a few units that can consistently profitably deep strike in their own deployment zone (Ravagers, Long Fangs, Pylons) to get around the whole point of the deep strike changes being made in the first place – you shouldn’t be able to shield alpha units from being attacked with absolutely no drawback.

They’ve also changed from “half your army” being counted on power level to being counted on points. I am glad they are admitting that rules for serious events should not care about power level. Unfortunately, this has the side effect of being a stealth nerf to Grey Knights, another compelling contender for “worst army in the game”, because no longer can adding one model to a five-man power armour strike squad provide enough PL “cover” to deep strike a Nemesis Grand Master. I still think this is a good change – “power level hacking” is clearly a manifestation of a bad rule being bad, but I wish they’d brought some sort of Grey Knight buff forward to compensate, because they’ve now gone from bad to worse. Hopefully the FAQ will bring a big buff for them. GSC have also had their exemption removed, but they’re about to get a codex which is heavily hinted to have some ways around it.

The removal of the “infiltrate strategems” is sensible in-line with the principles underlying this, because otherwise they would have provided a way around this that no-one else had. I do feel that to compensate for their significant reduction in power level, it should have changed to a 1CP/3CP option to do one or two units that you only had to decide on after choosing first turn etc. Another one for the feedback email.

Eldar rangers getting nerfed is a little odd – I don’t quite see why they couldn’t change to work like marine scouts rather than gaining deep strike, but if we’re honest with ourselves they were far to “obvious” a pick to fill out detachments as they stood, and would have remained so with SM scout abilities, so I’m fine with this, for all that I think Rangers will now be seen fairly rarely.

Bizarrely, The Deceiver is left well alone. This has to be an oversight, and if this stays I expect it to change in the next round.

Finally the Yncarne gets a straight buff of not being forced to deploy in Deep Strike. I call it a straight buff because their ability already allows them to redeploy when a unit dies – which is the same trigger that previously let them DS in. Did…did they need a buff?

The Big One – Turn 1 Cover Strat

I hate/love this for a different reason. A while back I was brainstorming a way of fixing first turn, which was a “hand” of a few 0CP strategems player 2 got to mitigate the impact of going second. “A unit counts as in cover” was one of them. I can’t find any evidence of writing this down. I nearly put it in my last article, but didn’t, because I thought it was a big enough change that it was more a “Chapter Approved” sort of thing.

I have no proof of my prescient genius. Fuck.

I’ll console myself that GW have put in a phenomenal home run of a rule that’s going to shake things up and improve the game massively. Given this isn’t massively far from “literally one of my ideas for fixing the game” I obviously love it, and I think a lot of people are underestimating how great this is, and how much it will change things. Fundamentally, outside of a few specific armies it doesn’t really affect (Nurgle Horde, mostly) this change substantially reduces the number of games that are going to be “over” after a good turn 1 – and that’s fantastic! I’m mostly going to cover what this means in winners or losers section, but suffice to say that this is the kind of slam dunk home run change (just like Ro3 and deep strike changes were last time) that enthuses me about the future prospects of this game I write too many words about.

Any Other Business

A few specific interactions got clarified. It has finally been clarified that Tau drones cannot saviour protocols against mortal wounds, which means I retroactively win a rules argument from my very first club game of 40K over a year ago. Go me. Some amount of silliness around Bullgryns has been hit with the nerf bat, and by all accounts that’s probably for the best. The silliness that was the original wording of Pathogenic Slime dies in a fire and no one is sad. Next, GW swerve left on one of the recent galaxy brain rules lawyer tricks, and right on the other. Apparently you are intended to be able to heroically intervene against units that didn’t charge – so I guess if you try and use a shooty assassin to take down a melee character, make sure it works. Conversely, the latest hotness, forcing people to declare “defensive” strategems after you pick targets but before you allocate shots has been stamped on hard. This is good because it was bullshit and I’m glad it’s dead. Seriously, watch the recent Tabletop Tactics video where someone pulls it on someone else. The look on the victim’s face tells a story, and that story is “I am restraining myself, with difficulty, from resorting to physical violence”. Finally, another favourite rules lawyer trick (forcing people to fire optional one-use weapons on overwatch) is thrown into the prison for bad rules where it belongs.

Of these, only the Bullgryn change is likely to have a serious impact, but all of them represent a healthy attitude to rules hygiene and closing some of the loopholes – multiple of these were in my feedback email prior to the last FAQ, so it’s good that they’re churning through the problems.

Outcomes

So what does this mean? Well, I think we’re likely to see a number of things that are better/worse “holistically”, and a few factions/armies that are thus affected:

Losers

CP Farmers

If your army was dependent on farming CP to power its nonsense, this is bad for you. Very bad. This mostly impacts:

  • Imperium nonsense
  • Aeldari Soup
  • Dark Eldar

This same set is affected by strategem cost hikes.

Flying Assault Alpha Units

The Charge/Fly changes make a huge difference to the effectiveness of Flying assault units. Prior to this FAQ, they were one of the deadliest scalpels in the game, able to murder many things with effective impunity. No longer.

This impacts

  • Blood Angels (Massively)
  • Ynnari
  • Custodes

Victims of the Deep Strike Changes

Anyone reliant on deep striking in their deployment zone or using one of the pre-game infiltrate strats takes a big hit.

This impacts:

  • Dark Eldar
  • Raven Guard
  • Alpha Legion
  • Aeldari Soup

Low AP High Damage Weapons

The recent metagame has heavily favoured weapons that put their points into strength and damage over AP, because a large number of relevant targets have an invuln only 1 point worse than their armour save. The first turn strategem re-balances this a bit – Against many armies, AP -1 weapons are going to look very questionable for a first turn alpha strike, and even AP-2 weapons are significantly diminished in stature. This hurts, notably:

  • Knights – Helverins and Crusaders both currently excel based on weapons that meet this description.
  • Ynnari – Dark Reapers will be a bit less good on the alpha strike.

Good riddance to both of them I say. Neither becomes bad, but both are dialed back a little bit.

The Biggest Losers

I would pick out:

  • Blood Angels
  • Dark Eldar
  • Helverins

As the biggest losers from these changes. Blood angels are hit massively by the fly changes, and they didn’t need the nerf – though they do get the general improvement I think the FAQ represents for Space Marines.

Dark Eldar lose their ability to keep their key fragile alpha unit (Ravagers) off the board with no real drawback, lose one of the best CP farms in the game, and suffer for the base 4+ on their vehicles compared to other mech armies. This is one of the more subtle shifts that the first turn rule creates – currently, I’d say 4+/5++ is better than 3+, but that may not be true after the FAQ, because during an alpha strike, Dark Eldar vehicles get no benefit from the T1 strategem against AP-2 weapons (i.e. the Avenger Gatling) and no longer get a better save against Lascannons – both they and 3+ vehicle now end up taking a 5+.

Dark Eldar are currently a top army, but I’m a little concerned that they may be being dunked harder than GW realise – I’m not wholly convinced they ever truly understood how detrimental to balance the army wide 4+/5++ on vehicles was, and part of me thinks they’ve diminished it by accident rather than on purpose.

Helverins suffer substantially diminished effectiveness used in an alpha strike – most of their targets will now enjoy a 3+ save rather than 4+, which is a 1/3rd reduction in output – a big deal. They’re still pretty great though.

Winners

Brigades

Especially in formats that don’t allow duplicate detachments, Brigades are now the only reliable way to get tonnes of CP. This mostly helps:

  • Imperium
  • Tau
  • (Almost certainly after their codex) Orks

The cheapness of the guard Brigade is still a problem. Hopefully Chapter Approved will see to that.

High AP Weapons

This is more a “return to the mean” rather than “OMG so broken now”, but at the moment high AP weapons are often overpriced because too often you run into an invuln before you run out of points of AP. The first turn strategem changes this a decent amount – much more of the time you’ll get benefit from at least 2 points of AP while alpha striking, and more of the time you’ll be trying to crack 2+ saves not backed by invulns.

This favours

  • Eldar
  • Dark Eldar
  • Some Tau options.
  • Dark Angels

3+ Save Armies

Specifically, where you can present an entire army of models with 3+ saves as the attack surface for an opposing Alpha strike. Buffing an entire army to a 2+ save is huge – damage from even the appalling levels of anti infantry firepower Custodes can throw out becomes negligible, and space marines start shrugging off 1/3 of disintegrator hits. One of the reasons current 40k balance is wonky is that a 3+ save just isn’t what it used to be, and armies are paying too much to have it army-wide. This change probably isn’t enough to fix that, but it will help a bit – you can certainly build marine lists at the moment that are “alright if you go first”, and marines get a tonne of benefit from this if they don’t. It also helps things like Dreadnoughts and Wraithlords by making them that much harder to alpha down. Finally (and I suppose if we’re being objective concerningly) it’s a big buff to Mech Eldar – an Alaitoc tank line already (theoretically) soaks up an alpha strike like a champ, and this is just going to make that worse. Finally, this is good for Riptides – currently one of the problems with them is that they’re (literally) shields down if you go second, but their base 2+ means they end up saving on fours against Lascannons on the Alpha Strike, which is great for them. Winners here:

  • Space Marines
  • Mech Eldar
  • Riptides

The Biggest Winners

While I hold out hope that Space Marines will actually find this to be a significant buff, the big winners here are:

  • Mech Eldar (10/10 FAQ game of the year)
  • Tau

Both can benefit from 2/3 of these factors – both enjoy the additional alpha strike protection (army wide for Eldar, on key units for Tau), Tau can do the second best Brigade, and Eldar have access to the best array of weapons that can alpha strike through the new strategem. Both have some downsides too – the Heavy Burst Cannon falls into the AP-2 bucket so loses a bit of alpha strike potential, while the near-mandatory Black Heart splash is less good for the Eldar, but in both cases changes in those areas hurt the armies’ predators more.

I am a little worried that if this is right, and especially if both these armies survive the upcoming points changes largely unscathed given they’re not really performing right now, we could be in for a Xenos winter. Well, I’m worried about that in the abstract – in the specific I intend to enjoy it immensely.

Summing Up

While I’ve got lots of minor criticisms as you’ve seen, I should emphasise again that this FAQ is an absolute slam dunk in my opinion – the game we all love is about to get better, and that improvement is tangibly linked to GW making some great decisions. I’m incredibly fired up for the events I’ve got over the next few weeks (and thinking dangerous thoughts like “can I paint another Wave Serpent in time?”) and am super psyched for games of 40k to come!

 

2 Responses

  1. Pendent says:

    This is a well written, sensible article which is actually to say that these are many of the same thoughts I’ve had myself.

    I really hope my Blood Angels get some love in CA because both this FAQ and the one this spring have hurt the army pretty badly.

  2. TheChirurgeon says:

    Good write-up. I think that, overall, these are some pretty great changes and I’m looking forward to seeing how CA 2018 changes points costs.

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