Boon’s NOVA Recap: One Game to Rule Them All

I want to first acknowledge all the fantastic goons I met for the first time, or again since the last time – you guys are awesome, supportive, and make my decision to pay $10 to a dead internet forum the best internet-related decision I’ve ever made. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hang out with you as much as I’d have liked, but I look forward to the next time nonetheless!

Overall, my NOVA experience was decidedly mixed. On the one hand I met some fantastic people and played some great or fun games – thank you to Robert Kelley, Ricky Parks, Trevor Attridge, Jason Smith, Jordan Malik, and our very own Naramyth for the fun games. On the other, I think the whole experience has been punctuated by a single round-three GT game against Jim Vesal, or rather the aftermath of it that cast a pall over the rest of the event.

If you’re not already familiar, the game results were overturned prior to the start of round four. The reason for this was because I mistakenly selected Marked for Death and Cull the Hordes as secondaries. In the NOVA format, Marked for Death cannot be used on Troop units if Cull the Hordes is selected. The situation was a tough one for head judge Phil Rodonakis and organizer Mike Brandt to adjudicate, but ultimately the decision was a fair one and I largely accept his reasoning. Ultimately, I made a mistake that affected our game and because of it I did not deserve the win. This does, however, remain a tough pill for me to swallow. It is very hard to know that you outplayed your opponent all the way to the finish line only to later find out that the results would be overturned on an easily corrected technicality. That feeling is made much worse knowing that my opponent acted in bad faith following the game, in an unsporting manner that makes it hard for me to say that Jim Vesal deserved to win as a result. I’ll dig into it a little below, first by reviewing our game, then by looking at the aftermath.

Game Three vs Jim Vesal

In the third round of the GT I was matched against the current #1 in the ITC, Jim Vesal. Both of us being 2-0 going into the final game of the day, it was a Hammer and Anvil game with objectives spaced such that we each may hold, with relative ease, 3 objectives in and around our deployment zones. In our pre-game, I cannot recall his exact primary scoring choice with 100% accuracy (I believe Endgame), and so will pass on discussing this piece of it. He chose Shoot the Big Ones, Marked for Death (2x Wraithseers, Wraithblades, Shadow Spectres), and Engineers. Importantly, however, I chose Marked For Death (Bloodletters, Brimstone Horrors, Pink Horrors, Nurglings), Cull the Hordes, and Headhunter. More on that in a bit, but looking back, against Jim I should have chosen Engineers rather than Marked for Death which would have resulted in a near automatic four points and the win. My opponent played a variation of his standard ITC Daemon list, with a lot of models and a lot of characters and winning likely meant taking out the big-bads at a minimum, but also a significant amount of the daemon horde. In total he had six troop units and seven characters.

Overall, it was an amicable enough game, not overly engaging or friendly, but not contentious or argumentative. There were a couple moments of disagreement around the order of operations for a power regarding my Hemlock or the effect of daemon summoning with mortal wounds, but once adjudicated we moved on accordingly.

The only notable element of the first half of the game was that he had failed to cover his third objective on turn 1 – not wishing to expose a DP beyond his Plaguebearer line and thus, leaving me an opportunity to hold more on my turn 2. By the end of turn 3 neither one of us had fully engaged the other army as we played a positioning battle – him slowly plodding up the field bearing down on my right flank and completely refusing my left, cautiously guarding his offensive characters and reaching out at 24” with mortal wound spells. Meanwhile I shifted in my backfield, covering objectives, firing at range against increasingly strung out Plaguebearers, and trying to slow their advance and awaiting his deep-striking Horror and Bloodletter units. In the first three turns I looked for any opportunity to strike that didn’t result in a poor trade, but to his credit, my opponent gave none. He was obviously very practiced with his army (he should be, he’s used it all year) and his positioning was excellent. His Bloodletters came in conservatively behind a NOVA L-blocker, my army having presented him with no good options for a charge. His Horrors came in on a flank to shoot down my psychic-crippled Wave Serpent. Moreover, nearly all the Plaguebearers I killed in the first three turns were returned in the morale phase – to the point where despite having killed double-digit PBs, he had only lost 4 at the end of turn three. Nevertheless, they counted for Cull the Hordes so it wasn’t a total loss. The first half of the game, thus, was some of the fastest and most boring 40k I’ve ever played.

From turn 4 onward, the game picked up rapidly and would be focused entirely on my right flank – Jim having refused to engage me in the center or my left. At this point, I deemed my opponent had stretched the board enough that I could shoot forward into his backfield with my planes to try and excise a couple of the Marked for Death units – his Brimstone Horrors and, if possible, Nurglings. In retrospect, this was likely a trap as he brilliantly, but not completely, sealed off my path for placement in the ensuing turn with a combination of Plaguebearers and summoned Horrors. He left a minor gap on a hilltop either due to error or for other inexplicable reasons which allowed the targeted plane to survive on my next turn. I gunned down his Brimstones in the backfield for a Marked for Death and the Pink Horrors threatening on my right flank leaving just his Plaguebearers and Khorne Daemon Prince positioned to reach my right-most objective, currently held with two Dire Avenger squads and a Farseer. His Bloodletters tucked behind the L were too far back to be an immediate threat, so I sent my Slicey Bois (Wraithblades) into the fray knowing I’d lose them on the next turn but needing to hold that line to buy time for my Shadow Spectres to winnow down the stretched line of Plaguebearers and possibly Bloodletters. A combination of poor rolls on my part, and good rolls on saves and Feel No Pains on his part meant fewer died than I would have liked, but it was no matter – it bought me an additional turn and thinned his already strung out PB line. On his turn I did indeed lose the Wraithblades to the combination of psychic, and a Khorne Daemon Prince and Bloodletter assault.

On turn 5 my Hemlock, having previously suffered a half-move, no advance psychic assault very nearly resulted in a crash due to his PB string, and my Crimson Hunter survived due to his failed placement on the hilltop (a 2” gap between levels). As a result of the assault and counter-assault of the Wraithblades, my opponent’s 20 Bloodletters barely screened his below half-strength Khorne Daemon Prince – if I could clear the Bloodletters, I could fairly easily strike down the DP which would have taken the teeth out of his assault on my right flank and left him in very tough position to push forward with what faced him in my backfield (both Wraithseers, planes zooming around, a full contingent of Shadow Spectres and psykers). He still had both Tzeentch Daemon Princes and Ahriman, but on turn 5 they were out of position to push to clear my objective and undergunned in their ability to move my forces. Unfortunately, my combined psychic and shooting left ONE Bloodletter remaining (later died to morale); moreover, my Autarch Skyrunner whiffed hard on the DP and was promptly crushed. This left me with a big bad in my objective line ready to wreck face on his target of choice. On his turn 5 he pushed forward with his PBs to reach, but not take, my objective (Dire Avengers outnumbered and held). By this point, the lead squad of Plaguebearers numbered fewer than 10 and strung out across the board from his right flank to my right flank. His other squad, damaged but still over 20 models, covered his backfield and his center and left flank objective while shielding his characters up the flank. They were not able to reach my right flank objective by the end of the game. His Khorne DP, surviving the last turn, took advantage of his new life and hammered down most of my Shadow Spectres but having left a few alive and surviving the ensuing morale phase did not claim his Marked point – they would live through the battle from this point on. My planes, which were positioned to kill the Khorne DP on the previous turn, were now subject to a charge from the Epitome and a Tzeentch DP. One was ripped down by the DP who took several wounds on the way in, while the other failed to leave combat and crashed on my next turn.

On my turn 6, I finally dunked the Khorne DP with psychic, freeing the Shadow Spectres, and moved my Wraithseers in a position to engage the remaining tendrils of the Daemon advance. With the thin string of PBs remaining unable to block, one Wraithseer was able to target Ahriman, while the other focused on the Epitome. Some remaining shots targeted the larger, further back PB squad to pick up a couple of models before the rest of the units, Shadow Spectres included, assaulted the small remaining PBs to lock up and prevent any forward movement (turns out to be unnecessary and risky given the status of the coherency of the PBs) but it killed a few more leaving just a handful remaining. Both Wraithseers easily dispatched their targets, leaving Jim’s remaining forces as a single, critically wounded, DP, an unhurt but out of position DP, two supporting Nurgle characters, and two PB squads, one just above 20 and the other down to a handful of five or so, a summoned Brimstone squad, and a Nurgling squad. Nowhere near enough to drop my remaining Wraithseers (Marked) but enough to drop the Crimson Hunter with perfect rolls (Big Game) or clear my right-most objective for an endgame primary boost with similarly perfect rolling and failed morale on my two engaged Dire Avenger squads and Farseer. Unlikely.

My opponent’s final turn grew tense as he realized he was in a losing position. For my part, I was many bourbons in at this point and feeling real good (side note: Hudson Baby, go get it, it’s great).  After deliberating for some time, he made the move to assault my Crimson Hunter and the sum total of units on my objective. The assault on the Crimson Hunter failed to kill it, while the wounded DP into my Dire Avengers died to their overwatch – thank god for Defence Tactics hitting on 5s giving me my final Headhunter. Jim deflated at this point and we tallied the points quickly resulting in a 23-21 win in my favor.

Great! 3-0 on day one and going through the #1 in the ITC to do it! Unfortunately, it was not to be.

The Aftermath

This news dropped like a hammer. Jim contacted me on Facebook to say there was an issue with the result due to the secondary picks. I reviewed the rules for secondaries and confirmed that the two couldn’t be taken together. This was a tough spot to be in and I sought advice from friends and teammates. I did not feel comfortable responding directly to Jim; instead, I planned to wait until the morning to discuss the issue with the judges. However, I was a bit taken aback by a couple of things and outraged at a third:

  1. Jim reaching out to me directly to tell me that the scores should be reversed – note that I don’t object to him raising the issue with the game, just him unilaterally declaring the scores would be swapped before I’d had a chance to speak to a judge about it
  2. The late state of this error and the conclusion that he reached on it
  3. Jim taking to the internet to declare his win and badmouth me on 40k Shit Talking n “Tactics” (ST&T)

To the former, Jim is not a judge, he is a player. He may want to let me know that there is a problem with the game, but any judgement or potential action is not his to make once we’ve concluded. I do not expect to be told what will happen by him, even if he is technically correct. I was also concerned that Jim was attempting to railroad me into an outcome before consulting with the event judges.

Second, the entirety of the game was played, from pre-game to conclusion and score submission with neither one of us being aware of a technical mistake in the secondaries. The conclusion that he unilaterally reached was naturally the one most favorable to him; that Marked for Death would be wiped thus dropping the score to 20-21 and giving him the win. 

To the third part, if you are not familiar, ST&T is a private online Facebook community started by a small group of the ITC elite that ridiculed the more ridiculous elements of the community, especially the online community. As it has grown and evolved, it has become increasingly more negative and needlessly malicious. It is, however, a place where many of the top players have an online presence, and it is also the place where, over the course of the night, Jim would forge his narrative of events (and paint me in a negative light) before any decision was ever reached by the judges. He repeatedly claimed that “I knew something didn’t seem right,” which didn’t fit with anything that actually happened at the table, nor with him adding up and submitting the scores with no issue. It seemed more like he shifted into excuse-making later on after being embarrassed about losing. All this put the judges in an impossible position – when one of the top players in the world is all but accusing someone of cheating at your event, how do you make a fair decision?

I’m told by friends as i stepped out of the elevator that Jim was waiting that night for me at the entrance of the rooftop bar with some judges and was painting me in a rather poor light, claiming that I had cheated him. This certainly aligns with the tone and content of his messages on social media that evening. I was advised not to go and took that advice. I did not sleep that night as I couldn’t stop thinking about the game. The next morning when I headed down early to discuss with the judges Jim was waiting to catch me out, but at this point I had nothing to say to him and told him as much in no uncertain terms. I’d talk to the judges at the first opportunity. Both the head judge Phil Rodonakis and organizer Mike Brandt discussed the game with us, but in Mike’s final decision he wiped the Marked for Death category giving the win to Jim. I can’t argue with that conclusion – it was the one which most closely aligned with the rules of the event and was the only plausible option at such a late stage.

With all said and done, it’s another event in the books. I feel that I can hold my head high in this instance and feel good about having outplayed my opponent. I think both Phil and Mike were put in a tough position and they reacted in the way they felt was the best path forward. I may disagree with some of the reasoning behind Mike’s decision, but I do not fault him for it and ultimately accept it – again, the fault is my own. I do not, however, see my opponent in the same light, and in fact, feel that some of the shine has slipped away from his reputation following his actions and comments after the game. I feel that he behaved in a manner that is both shameful, in bad faith, and had it been anyone else, would not have been tolerated.

It certainly cast a pall over the next day but in the end, I had plenty of friends graciously offering their support and condolences, and for that I am very thankful. For that reason alone, it was a successful NOVA and I look forward to the next. Not as much for the GT but rather the people who make the trip worthwhile – goons, teammates (both Warhammered and Frozen North) and any others who I may have missed. Thank you.