Chapter Approved: Arks of Omen – The Goonhammer Review

It’s a whole new season in the 41st Millenium – we’re leaving the ruins of Warzone Nephilim behind and confronting the chaotic new battlefields unleashed by the Arks of Omen. We’ve got a new mission pack, carrying with it the biggest shakeup in army construction of the entire edition, a new Balance Dataslate with major implications for almost every army in the game, and a new Munitorum Field Manual that makes some vital tweaks across the board.

As befits such a momentous occasion, we’ve got a bumper set of articles for you today. We would like to offer huge thanks to Games Workshop for sending us review copies of all of this, because that means we’ve been able to prepare a full rundown of what we think this means for the game and the various factions within it. This article will be an overview of the game-wide changes contained in the mission pack and the Balance Dataslate, then we’ve got four further articles taking a look at the implications for:

We’re publishing this all at the same time, so if you’re desperate to skip straight to the news for your army, follow the links above – but with so many big changes to the mission pack itself, we’d recommend you take a look at this article first!

Army Construction in Arks of Omen

Source: Warhammer Community

This is the big one. As previewed on Warhammer Community, Arks of Omen completely replaces the (until now) standard way of building a 9th Edition army with a new set of rules specific to this mission pack. These add significant flexibility around what mandatory units you need to include in your army, but heavily restrict your ability to take multiple detachments – a combination that should ensure we see plenty of new and innovative designs over the next few months.

So, how does it work? When building an Arks of Omen army, you must start with an Arks of Omen detachment as the core of your army. This is a bit like a Battalion, except you can choose which Battlefield Role your mandatory slots come from, as shown below:

Don’t want to take any Troops? You don’t have to! Once you’ve filled out your mandatory choices, you then get a fairly broad set of optional slots that you use to contain the rest of your army, and unless you want to include some allies (more on that in a second), that’s it for selecting your units. You might be asking how you get Lords of War or Fortifications into your army, and the answer is that there are optional slots for them within the Arks of Omen detachment, so they get included like anything else. This is especially important for Lords of War, as it means that you can now take one or two of them with Faction Traits, rather than being forced to take three and spend all your Command Points if you wanted to set up that sort of combo.

Source: Warhammer Community

This detachment also comes at no CP cost, so you’ll always end this process with 6CP to spend on Requisitions, and you can use these on the Warlord Trait and Relic stratagems (returning from Nephilim) or the new Heroic Support stratagem, which can be used once to bypass a one-per-detachment restriction – great news if you want to take multiple Hive Tyrants or Tau Commanders at a lower cost than putting in an additional Patrol used to run you. Finally, which Faction you select for your Arks of Omen detachment determines which set of Faction Secondaries you get access to, even if you choose to include an Allied Detachment. This is particularly good news for Ynnari, because a Ynnari detachment containing Harlequin or Drukhari models still explicitly counts as an Asuryani detachment, finally putting to bed the ambiguity over whether they get access to the Asuryani secondaries.

Credit: Docsucram

For plenty of Factions, that will be the end of the process – but some armies also have the option of taking one Allied Detachment. Arks provides a specific, restricted list of Patrol, Super Heavy Auxiliary and Auxiliary Support options that you can take one of alongside your main force, depending on which faction your Arks detachment is from. Most of these cover the “encouraged” soup options that have arisen in books through 9th – Imperium and Chaos can take a Freeblade or Dreadblade, Asuryani or Drukhari can take Travelling Players, that sort of thing. There are a few surprising “missing” options – no way for Tyranids to take Genestealer Cults, and no Daemonic Allies for Chaos Knights, and at the other end two more surprising inclusions.

These are both available to any Imperium army – they can take either an Auxiliary Support with a single Agent of the Imperium (unlocking access to Inquisitors for Knights), or a Leagues of Votann Patrol. The former is mostly housekeeping, but the latter opens up some pretty potent possibilities – at a price. The catch on the Votann option is that Allied Detachments don’t intrinsically allow you to use “monofaction” rules like Combat Doctrines for your main detachment if you take one. Most of the options available are for combinations where other rules like Agent of the Imperium stop them breaking your monofaction bonuses, but Votann are the clear exception here, so you’ll need to decide if losing some of your rules is worth it. For everyone else, taking these “encouraged” soup options is now cheaper than ever, as the Allied Detachment is also free.

What does this mean? A whole lot! Here’s the key takeaways from where we’re standing:

  • More command points to play with – factions that frequently used double Patrols or Patrol/Outrider (etc.) pay a far lower price to do so, and have more CP to spend on upgrades or early-game stratagems.
  • More herohammer – you know where a lot of people are going to spend that CP.
  • No more troop tax – if you don’t want to take any Troops, you don’t have to! This is great for factions where the Troop options are a bit mediocre, especially ones where the HQ or Elites slot was particularly valuable. Arks does create some other incentives to include Troops though, so you may still want to take some.
  • Big boy season – in-detachment Lords of War with faction traits is huge news for the viability of some units, particularly Monoliths, Lords of Skulls and Guard Superheavies.
  • Freeblades on the march – with no CP cost for taking them, expect to see a lot of Hunters of Beasts Helverins alongside Custodes and Adepta Sororitas.
  • A cap on the most extreme builds – most armies aren’t going to struggle to fit into the new detachment, but a few very extreme builds might previously have wanted more than six units in a non-Troops slot, and that’s now outright impossible (with the possible exception of Elites where there are extra slots for Character models).
  • Votann possibilities – we’ll have to see whether any Imperium armies decide to take the plunge on adding Votann, but it certainly seems probable that they’ll appear somewhere.

Most of this is really cool, and we’re pretty enthusiastic to see what people do with it (especially the new ease of taking Lords of War). The only thing we don’t love are some of the “missing” soup options, and the Votann option feeling unlikely to have healthy impacts – because it comes at a price, you’re basically only going to do it if the raw maths on the Votann tools results in them being boring but effective killing machines. Otherwise, Wings is chomping at the bit to see what happens in Competitive Innovations when these new rules are unleashed, and in combination with the Balance Dataslate and point changes, there should be some huge shakeups.

Drukhari Alliance of Agony | Credit: Garrett “John Condit” Severson

There is one final note before leaving this section – there are a few places where (we assume) some Faction-specific FAQs are coming down the line to handle interactions that no longer work. The WarCom article about this mentioned that Drukhari and Dark Angels would be getting some rules to handle their unique detachment options (which aren’t in the book), and some Supreme Commanders who have a fixed subfaction like Abaddon, Szarekh, and Shadowsun need an exemption to the boilerplate “you cannot include units from more than one <subfaction> in the same detachment” rule that turns up in every codex, which Supreme Commander doesn’t intrinsically provide. We’ve assumed (in our faction analyses) that something like this is going to get added, as it would seem strange to cut off access to some of these units in a lot of lists.

Update: Games Workshop have released a number of FAQs today, but we haven’t had time to parse them all as of this writing. We’ll revisit them in another article either today or tomorrow.

Mission Pack

Mission Steps

The steps for playing an Arks of Omen game are going to look very familiar to anyone who’s been keeping up with competitive play in 9th Edition. Most of the refinements that have been built up over the last few years remain, including the requirement for every Transport to have models within it, and the option to remove a terrain piece if you can’t fit your Fortification. There are, however, two changes in this section, one very impactful, and one that’s mostly just a welcome bit of housekeeping.

The big, big change here is that putting units into Strategic Reserves is now free. This compounds some of the impacts that the changes to army construction have by ensuring that players can afford to spend even more of their CP on upgrades or stratagems, and helping make Lords of War less of a risky inclusion in your list; if you see a wall of Leman Russes on the other side of the table, and don’t trust the dice gods to give you the first turn, just stash your big toy in Strategic Reserves for free. This feels like a great change that should finally let this mechanic properly shine, and encourages people to do more interesting things with their Command Points.

The other change is that the rules for what happens if a player concedes no longer specify a fixed score that their opponent receives, instead just requiring that they remove their models from the table, and fixing their opponent as the victor. This stops salty losers being complete assholes and trying to cap their opponents score at 70VP to tank their tiebreakers, and while most TOs wouldn’t stand for that, it’s good to take a potential weapon away from the worst people in the game.

Secondary Objectives

It wouldn’t be a new season without some changes to the Secondary Objectives, and Arks of Omen has some pretty impactful ones. Faction-specific Secondaries see plenty of tweaks and re-balancing, which we’ll cover in each of the faction articles, but there are some surprisingly big updates to the core choices as well.

War Dog - Karnivore. Credit: Rockfish
War Dog – Karnivore. Credit: Rockfish

The first big change is a new rule added to each of the three “default” Secondary choices (a concept that returns from Nephilim), Assassination, Behind Enemy Lines and Grind Them Down. All of these now provide an opportunity to gain a Command Point if you have a Troops or Armiger/War Dog unit achieve the objective (or in Grind’s case, simply kill *a* unit), which gives you a small incentive to still take some Troops even when they’re not mandatory, and is a great bonus for Knights and factions with premium Troops like Death Guard, Tyranids, and Harlequins, as it’s essentially pure upside for them.

Behind Enemy Lines also gets an additional change, now rewarding 3VP if you get one unit into your opponent’s Deployment Zone rather than 2VP (and keeping the 4VP score for managing two). This is extremely good for faster armies and pressure builds, and this is likely to be a very common Secondary choice in Arks.

Elsewhere, there are three further changes:

  • Engage on All Fronts gets a boost – it’s unchanged for how scoring for three quarters works, but now to score for all four quarters, your qualifying units only need to be 3” away from other quarters rather than 6” (note: You still need to be more than 6” away from other quarters to score for being in three table quarters). This makes it easier to pick up a few 3-point turns of this later on in the game, though for aggressive lists the competition with improved BEL is fairly stiff.
  • Psychic Interrogation gets a major nerf – it’s back to requiring Line of Sight, and the Warp Charge has gone up by 1. It’s still going to be the right pick some of the time, but it’s no longer so easy to pick up a high score on it while playing passively. That’s probably good for the game overall, but it hurts the armies that were heavy users of it. There is a weird quirk to the way the Line of Sight is applied that means Psyker Characters with >18W are way better at this – it relies on the caster being visible to the target, not the other way round, so if you’re Magnus or Mortarion with massive, un-obscurable wings, you’re hard to hide from.
  • Warp Ritual gets a very minor nerf, going up to Warp Charge 4. It’s still likely to get picked quite a lot more in this pack, as the change to Interrogation makes it a much closer contest between the two.

All the other core options are unchanged, leaving the changes to Behind Enemy Lines and Interrogation as the most impactful in this section.

Rob: I think the nerf to Interrogation makes it substantially worse than Warp Ritual. Its value was strongly tied to your ability to do it on turn 1 and generate 15 VP out of it and now that will likely not be possible on most missions and against many armies unless you’re going second and your opponent decides to give you the opportunity to score it. If Interrogate is liable to cap out at 12 VP just because you won’t get it T1 going first then I suspect that it’s just not worth taking over Warp Ritual unless your army can trivially put psyker characters in the enemy deployment zone turn 1.

Mission Rule Changes

The now familiar set of GT missions returns for Arks without too many changes. The way the standard set of scoring rules is presented has been tidied up a bit for clarity (no bad thing) but not actually been modified, and some missions are identical to their previous incarnation. The following missions remain exactly the same as before:

  • Recover the Relics
  • Tear Down Their Icons
  • Data-scry Salvage
  • Death and Zeal
  • Secure Missing Artefacts

That leaves four with varying degrees of changes.

Conversion gets the smallest change of the bunch, slightly softening the penalty for not having your Warlord on the Battlefield – you now get a CP on a 4+ once your Warlord is dead rather than not getting them at all. This is probably healthy, as it means that taking Warlords like big Knights who risk getting shot to death early isn’t quite as dangerous.

Tide of Conviction gets a similar change to the Supply Lines condition on gaining CP, and slightly re-balances the scoring of the end-game objective, now awarding a flat 3VP for each objective in the opponent’s Territory that you control rather than tying a higher score to the one in their deployment zone. This makes it quite a bit easier for the player going second to aim to lock in 6VP at the end of the game – if they’re still on the table.

Credit: Jonathon Reynolds

Abandoned Sanctuaries also gets two changes, one to the No Man’s Land rule, and one to scoring. No Man’s Land retains all the previous prohibitions on pre-game shenanigans and adds one more – Reinforcements cannot be set up in No Man’s Land during the first Battle Round. This is a blow to Drop Pods and redeploy tricks, but very helpful for anyone that was relying on their scout deploy units to screen out that kind of tool! Genestealer Cults do also still get to flip off everyone else with a be-clawed hand, because They Came From Below is now even more unique in getting round this. Scoring in this mission also changes significantly – the end-game condition is gone, and the progressive element now awards 2VP for achieving one condition, or 3VP for both. This feels healthy – the previous heavy end-game weighting combined with the restriction on some aggressive tricks made it a bit too viable to focus on just blasting the enemy into dust on this mission.

Rob: This is still the worst mission, as it disproportionately punishes the crap out of specific armies and strategies. TOs should still avoid running this mission.

Finally, The Scouring gets what is probably the biggest single change – the Mission Action now finishes at the end of the turn, rather than in your next Command Phase. This makes it vastly easier to pick up a decent score on this, especially if you go first and can scan the central objective straight away. This probably nets out as healthy, as getting ground out when you’re forced to move out early in this mission can hurt, so providing a bit of a reward for going for the central objective early can mitigate that a bit (and the Necron builds that could shut opponents out on it get hit in the Dataslate).

All seems like reasonable stuff, but not revolutionary – the big changes this season are going to come from the army construction, Secondary and Balance updates.

Balance Dataslate & Field Manual

Now, obviously, the Balance Dataslate mostly contains changes for individual factions, including some massive ones, and we’ll largely focus in on those in the individual articles. However, there are a few changes there or in the Munitorum Field Manual that have major implications beyond their factions, which we’ll take a look at here.


Credit: Kevin Stillman

Bomber Aircraft have been a dominant force in the recent metagame, particularly the Sun Shark and Harpy. The ability to throw Mortals into infantry with relative impunity by zooming straight off the board creates strong alpha strike potential that severely punishes plenty of units out there. That’s compounded in matchups where opponents don’t have good ways to shoot the planes down, making melee-heavy lists very risky in metagames where such units are good.

GW have taken aim at this issue with an (ironically) nuclear option. All Aircraft units now must start the game in Strategic Reserves, and abilities that trigger when they move over a target now only trigger if the unit remains on the battlefield at the end of its move. This means that the earliest you’re ever getting bombed is turn three, and when your opponent wants to bomb you their plane has to remain on the table for a counterattack afterwards. This is a massive nerf to all bombers, which sucks for people using them, but probably healthy for the game overall. Bombers feel like they’re one of the places where 9th is a victim of its own success in trying to make every datasheet basically “good” at its job. Turns out that good bombers…aren’t very fun, and no one except Tau and Tyranid players are going to miss them (and we guess Ynnari players on the mortal wound alpha strike plan, though that’s mostly vanished).

TheChirurgeon’s Poor, idiot heldrake son

Unfortunately, this does have a fairly painful knock-on effect on all other Aircraft, particularly those like Heldrakes which are intended to be used very aggressively, or flying Transports like the Corvus Blackstar and Night Scythe, which are now terrible at their jobs. Putting units into Strategic Reserves is at least free, so it’s possible that some very shooty planes might survive as a second strike tool, but they’ve got to be really good now, and most aircraft are priced in a way that “bakes in” the upside of getting reliable early shots off. Expect to see barely any Aircraft around this season – the Doom Scythe feels like the most likely candidate to still see occasional representation just on stats, and Stratoraptors are a firm “maybe” in newly revitalized AdMech, but the rest? Tough sells.

Rob: I think Sunshark bombers probably still have play with this change, since the chances you’d put them in reserves anyways were pretty high, but they may also just get pushed out by triple riptide lists.

Armour Of Contempt

Blood Ravens Sergeant Castus. Credit: SRM

…is gone. Vanished. Deceased. An ex-rule. This (obviously) affects the factions that used to have it the most, some of which get other buffs that should compensate, others…not so much (but we’ll get to that). At a game-wide level, this is a massive boost to weaponry with AP-1 and AP-4, because AP-1 won’t be dead in half your games (only against Votann), and AP-4 is back to being a “guaranteed” wound into most Marines without a risk of occasional blowout 6+ spike. You’re also much happier leaning on mid-AP weaponry as your primary damage dealing tools, and can worry a little bit less about being unable to scratch especially nasty tarpits like Grey Knight Paladins and Scarab Occults.

Rob: I’m going to say that aside from AP-1, the big winner here is AP-2 weaponry, particularly AP-2, 2-damage shooting that can take standard profile marines off the table. There are a ton of guns in the AP-2 range that just weren’t super playable because getting AOC + light cover meant you could trivially tank the shots, and meanwhile AP-3 and better shooting was still (and is even moreso now) liable to bump up against invulnerable saves on the units that have one. War Dog Executioners and Armiger Helverins, Hades Autocannons, and Broadside missile pods: Your time has come again.

On the whole though this is really bad news for Chaos armies that depended on terminators with a 2+ save to tank a ton of damage and bully enemy units off objectives. They’ll struggle a bit more now, though Blightlords and Deathshrouds will probably weather the storm just fine since they have a 4+ invulnerable save to fall back on. Scarabs will manage OK as well now that they’re a bit better offensively thanks to AP-2 shooting but standard Chaos Space Marine terminators get hit with multiple point hikes as well: 3 points per model base and +5 for the Mark of Slaanesh – which make them much more expensive while being largely worse at the same role. There’s a strong argument to be made for replacing them with Black Rune Chosen or even Plague Marines, the latter of which have dropped to 19 points per model. For loyalist space marines, the answer is much easier: Just go back to storm shields.

Indirect Fire

The penalty for indirect fire remains, but Astra Militarum’s exemption from it does not. Now that the Codex has had some time to prove itself, I think we can firmly say “good” on that front, especially with Armour of Contempt going away.

Key Faction Nerfs

Credit: BuffaloChicken

If you don’t want to read all of the faction articles (which for our readers is statistically unlikely, but you never know), the things outside your own faction that are mostly likely to have knock-ons are the key nerfs that have been handed out, as they’re generally targeted at units or strategies that were powerful enough to twist the metagame around them. In this category, we have the following:

  • Flamers of Tzeentch roll to hit now (and the way allies work means that non-Daemon lists can have at most two units). They were so over the top before that they’re probably still playable in this form, but you won’t see nearly as many, they won’t hit as hard, and just charging them without overwatch suppression is way more viable.
  • Harlequins get rocked, with reduced invulns army-wide. Surely this is the nerf that will finally take them below a 60% win rate. Right? Right??? Be aware that old Mirror Architect returns at the same time, so you’re back to needing to potentially consider that.
  • Creations of Bile’s Fight on Death only triggers on a 4+, so playing against them with melee armies is a bit less of a total nightmare.
  • Necrons can no longer both have ObSec and a pre-game move with subfaction traits, so getting pinned in your deployment zone out the gate is less of a worry. This combines with secondary changes to the faction to make them much less of an army that punishes you for going second.
  • Spore Mines cost Reinforcement Points now. This makes them close to worthless, so you don’t need to worry about the Spore Mine carpet builds any more.

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s worth noting that Marines (especially the shootier ones) get a lot more deadly, as old-school Combat Doctrines return and Gravis/Terminator units get pushed hard, while Custodes and AdMech pick up some hefty boosts as well, so make sure you’re ready to fight those factions – flat 3D weaponry stocks are going to the moon. Finally, both Assassins and Inquisition forces do have points in here, despite the fact that their supplements are currently scheduled to leave the format in January, so we think there’s a reasonable chance that date is going to be pushed back or otherwise updated.

What Does it All Mean?

A lot. This is going to be one of the biggest shake-ups we’ve seen all Edition, with major changes to army design, significant shifts in how strong various factions are, and (hopefully) fewer serious outlier units dominating the meta (though a risk that some Marine builds might take that crown). Our rough feeling at a glance is that things break down as follows – this isn’t necessarily where armies end up in a tier list, but in terms of impact from these changes this is where we’re at:

  • Major Winners
    • Space Marines (especially Deathwatch, Dark Angels and Space Wolves).
    • Adeptus Mechanicus
    • Genestealer Cults
    • Grey Knights
    • Craftworlds & Ynnari
  • Minor Winners
    • Adeptus Custodes (maybe major?)
    • Imperial Knights
    • Chaos Knights
    • Death Guard
    • Daemons
  • Neutral-ish
    • Astra Militarum
    • Orks
    • Drukhari
  • Minor Losers
    • Necrons (maybe Neutral?)
    • Leagues of Votann
    • Tau
    • Adepta Sororitas
  • Big Losers
    • Thousand Sons
    • Chaos Space Marines
    • Tyranids
    • Harlequins

Make sure to check out our faction rundowns as well if you want the full picture, and otherwise get your spreadsheets open and start planning how you’re going to conquer the world in the new season.

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