Competitive Innovations Editorial: What GW Should do About Drukhari

How do you solve a problem like Drukhari?

Realistically, you have two options: A. ride it out and hope that a mixture of players adapting and future releases will bring the problem under control, or B. get the nerf bat out and start swinging. In this editorial, I’m going to make a pitch for why I think option B is the right choice, and what changes I’d like to see GW make as soon as reasonably possible to try and bring the metagame under control.

I’m convinced, having been through the Dallas Results yesterday, that there just isn’t space for adaptation to bring the Drukhari win rates down to acceptable levels – they’re too far ahead of the field, and even in a top ten where every other list showed signs of having been tuned for effective elf killing, they still cleaned up. What’s more, as our esteemed stats team will be exploring further in tomorrow’s Meta Analysis, history is firmly on my side here – on the vast majority of previous occasions where something has been overpowered, it’s taken changes that directly target the builds themselves to bring them under control, and I see no indication that Drukhari are going to somehow buck this trend.

With that in mind, this is where I’ve landed on what should happen now. It is, ultimately, just my opinion, but I wanted to sit down and make a real attempt at threading the needle between doing enough to clip Drukhari’s wings slightly, while also keeping the proposed package small enough that it’s realistically something that could happen, and also doesn’t go too far and over-nerf things – which many of the changes I’ve seen advocated online definitely would. As ever, I am always keen to see what people think, so do leave a comment either here or wherever else this ends up, particularly if you’ve got other suggestions of where updates should fall.

The other important thing to say is that just because Drukhari are too good, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it as a player of another faction. Make sure you take a look at the top non-Drukhari lists from the Dallas Open and the advice I pulled together from them about things to consider when putting your own together. A 70% win rate still means opponents pulling off victories 30% of the time, and you can and should try to maximise your chances of being among that group.

Why Changes Should be Made

Credit: Robert “theChirurgeon” Jones

Drukhari are too good, to a degree that’s going to deal real and lasting harm to the competitive game if its not addressed. I wasn’t particularly expecting any balance changes in the FAQ (with one exception on the balance/mistake border I’ll get to), hence my fairly sober writeup of it, and I am basically on board with that as the standard practice in 9th. “The meta will adjust” has quickly become a bit of a joke in some online circles, but there’s some truth to the idea that waiting and seeing is often the right play. However, this is not one of those times.

The Meta Analysis team are going to deep dive on where the numbers are at right now, what historical comparators look like and what the consequences of not acting are likely to be tomorrow, but just to summarise:

  • Drukhari are achieving outrageous performances on a level not seen since Iron Hands, winning a swathe of last week’s GTs, dominating Dallas, and hitting non-mirror win rates in the 70% range, and go-first win rates higher than 80%.
  • Results at Dallas suggest it’s unlikely there’s scope for players to challenge this with the tools currently available.
  • Historically, win rates this bad don’t recover without something being changed, and sometimes need multiple changes for it to really stick – so getting the ball rolling now is important. The Meta Analysis team are going to deep dive on this tomorrow.
  • Very clear trends can be observed in the Drukhari lists, suggesting good targets for changes.
  • Hypothetical future books are both not coming soon enough, and even if AdMech are a counter, the impact on the metagame is still not going to be healthy.

Weighing against this are some costs, and those do need to be considered.

Changing the rules this soon after a book releases harms customer confidence. Models players (including me) purchased a month ago become less powerful, and in the future players might choose to wait and see before going in on an exciting new book. Feedback from more casual players suggests they’re already sometimes annoyed by the pace of rules updates, and a perception that one of their favourite units has ended up nerfed because of what the horrible WAAC bastards in the tournament crowd has gotten up to creates resentment. Finally, getting an update finalised, formatted and translated is work that takes designers away from future projects, and will inevitably set expectations that the next time the internet is Real Mad about something the team will step in, risking either scope creep or future dissatisfaction, neither of which is good.

All of these factors need to be acknowledged – but this time they should still go ahead. Consumer confidence can be knocked just as badly by a perception that a beloved army could become worthless overnight because overpowered factions will be allowed to run riot. Perceptions that an army is overpowered bleed out into the wider community, and result in long-time fans being accused of powergaming or not being able to find games at all. Finally – this time things are demonstrably, qualitatively different from run of the mill balance complaints. The risks and costs should be kept in mind when designing changes, but here they aren’t a compelling argument for doing nothing.

What Changes Should Aim to Do

Given the risks above, I think any emergency changes proposed should aim to bring Drukhari down a notch, but aim to do so within the following boundaries:

  • They should aim to be a minimum adequate set of changes: the fewer words in the printed Drukhari Codex are invalidated by the changes, the better.
  • They should avoid invalidating models: nothing should be hit so hard that the models involved just aren’t a thing any more.
  • They should focus on competitive builds: realistically, some stuff in books tends to get much more airtime in optimised competitive lists than in casual armies, and if fixes can be focused in on those, all the better.
  • They should consider comparisons with other books: every book does unique things. When these are clearly part of the identity and design, that’s fine. Sometimes, however, the rules accumulate to give one faction something that feels like an arbitrary advantage without a good reason behind it, and that should be up for review, because leaving them makes players of every other faction feel hard done by. If a faction is excelling at something that clearly isn’t part of its core design, that also needs scrutiny.
  • They should err towards restraint: I do not think the intention of any set of changes should be to ensure Drukhari are no longer the best army in the game. The goal should be to close the gap to the point where other top builds adapting is a realistic prospect, and then see if that happens.

Essentially, we want to be proportionate about this – go as far as we need to, but no further.

Can we do that in this context? I think so.

The Changes To Make

From the main article today, we can pull out the following things that are almost uniformly present in Drukhari builds:

  • Triple Patrol
  • 5+ Raiders
  • At least three units of Dark Technomancer Wracks with liquifier guns
  • Drazhar
  • The Cult of Strife
  • At least one Master Succubus and Master Archon
  • At least one unit of Incubi
  • A unit of Kabalite Trueborn

Trueborn I’m largely happy should be left alone – they’re clearly great, but they’re an (essentially) one per army cool special trick, and those are the right place for the power level to be a bit pushed – especially as if they’re overpowered, its only because of what they’re riding in. Incubi also get a pass for now – while every army has some, not everyone is maxing out on three units – which you’d expect for a “wildcard” unit if they were outright broken on rate. Finally, I think it’s going to be very difficult to meaningfully stop the Cult of Strife being the best Wych Cult when they have masses more rules than any of the others, and there’s at least some variety in how it’s currently being used.

The rest, however, needs a look. If you put me in charge of the GW FAQ-o-tron, these are the six changes I would make to try and achieve the goals above. For each, I’ve explained why I want the change, and why I think it fits within the bounds described above.

Note: We haven’t seen a Book of Rust FAQ yet, so there’s nothing about the Cult of Strife Succubus Competitive Edge/Dark Lotus Toxin/Razorflails combo here. For my money, the correct fix to that is just to say “you cannot use this with a weapon that makes multiple hit rolls” – it’s such a unique effect and this one combo is so clearly not compatible with it that I think you just directly shut it down.

1. Add 10pts to the cost of a Raider

Credit: Wings

What?

As title, with the qualifier that if any of the other changes (especially the Technomancers one) are too controversial, the cost here needs to be increased by 15pts instead.

Why?

Raiders are too cheap, and despite what many increasingly nervous Drukhari players online may try to tell you, there’s no fix for this book that doesn’t involve some kind of hit here. The pricing on Drukhari stuff in general is pretty pushed, but Raiders cross a line. They’re fast and flexible, pack a good gun, and turbo charge various INFANTRY options in the book. The tradeoff for this, thematically, is that they’re meant to be brittle, but they just aren’t. Drukhari vehicles have always been in the wonky place of being tougher against “real” anti tank than the vehicles of other factions thanks to their invulnerable save, but the move to T6 has massively reduced the weakness they used to have in trade-off against small and mid-range firepower.

At T5, lots of high rate-of-fire anti-infantry weaponry was incidentally dangerous to them, and even lasguns could meaningfully chip some wounds off. At T6, the window of guns that they’re uniquely vulnerable to is incredibly narrow, essentially being exactly multi-damage weaponry that’s S7 AP-1. These exist, and the fact that AdMech books often end up being “Codex: Better Autocannons” does bring some possibility of them being specifically good at killing Drukhari, but access to these options is inconsistent, and even when you can pile them up your performance against Raiders tends to only hit “acceptable” rather than “amazing”. That they also now have a melee invuln in pure Drukhari builds only compounds this.

The kind of durability they provide matters more than ever in 9th’s missions too. An open topped vehicle with meaningful defences “staggers” the rate at which opponents can chew through the Drukhari army, as they’ll often struggle to line up the firepower needed to take down both the Raider and the contents on the same turn. With only five turns on the clock, this gives Drukhari players a tonne of agency to keep drip-feeding stuff in Raiders onto objectives, and given that a lot of stuff that’s inside is ObSec, that makes it intensely tough to beat them on primary scoring. At T6 and with good units to put inside them, these are perfectly designed to attack the current missions.

This is thoroughly borne out by the composition of winning lists. Almost all of them are packing 5+ Raiders, with 6 being the consensus number. Drukhari troops are fragile, but when you always have to chew through an undercosted hull to get to them that essentially vanishes as a weakness. Considerable improvements in the shooting that can be coming out of a Raider in this edition, plus the advantage of shielding units for While We Stand, We Fight, also mean that these being too cheap has even more of an outsized effect.

Despite all this, I do think it’s important not to go too far here – at least not without giving the metagame a chance to adapt after some initial nerfs. There is some truth to the fact that Raiders probably should be a bit better on rate than the transports most factions get, because high-quality transports are a core part of Drukhari’s identity. No one would argue that Astra Militarum should have more efficient melee units than Orks, and you do need to pitch this so that a heavily mounted force is still a great way to play Drukhari. However, faction identity cuts both ways, and Drukhari are meant to be fragile in tradeoff for their mobility and spike damage, and right now Raiders are making them almost impossible to wipe off the board in five turns, and one of the best factions at scoring a secondary themed around not dying. Something’s got to give.

Why It’s Proportionate

  • A 10pt increase isn’t invalidating the models. Players are, in fact, routinely strapping 10pts of upgrades to their Raiders already, and many players could eat the cost change just by losing those, then have to make a choice about whether they still want to invest in them. At 95pts base, a Raider still compares favourably to almost every other vehicle in the game, and will still show up in big numbers.
  • The impact here is going to be smaller on more casual groups. Most Drukhari players are going to have some Raiders. Packing six or more in a 2000pt game is more restricted to competitive play.
  • If you don’t add a cost on Raiders, I think you need to start looking more widely at the pricing on Infantry in the book. Making the change here minimises the number of points you need to change.

To address a counter argument that’s doing the rounds, I also don’t think fixing Dark Technomancers magically fixes Raiders and makes them non-problematic. The Art of War build that won Dallas features six Raiders and only enough Techno Wracks to fill one-and-a-half of them – that does not scream “only the Wracks are the problem”.

 

2. Reduce Triple Patrol Lists to 12CP

What?

The Raiding Force rule means that Drukhari lists consisting of three patrols currently get 14CP rather than 12. Change the wording on Raiding force so you can no longer claim the “warlord” benefit from one of your patrols when you use this option, meaning triple patrol lists start on 12 CP, in line with single detachment lists from other armies.

Why?

This change was heavily speculated on as something that might happen in the FAQ, but it didn’t come to pass. I think it needs to. Drukhari get two army building options – Realspace Raids and Patrols. Realspace Raids have a whole bunch of cool things to offer you and are very thematic – but once again we see the Triple Patrol option used in 100% of the eight Drukhari lists at Dallas.

Given taking three patrols rewards you with CP, that should in theory mean they’re somehow constraining you compared to Realspace Raids. They don’t, because:

  • The Cult of Strife stratagems don’t unlock in a Realspace Raid, and they’re overwhelmingly the best option for Wych Cults. That means if you want to take a RSR, you’ll often need to take a patrol alongside it, changing the disparity to 4CP.
  • Realspace Raids lock you in to taking a Haemoculus, the weakest of the three “core” character types. In a Raiding Force, you can just take Drazhar (or currently an Archon/Succubus, see the next point) in the HQ slot for your Covens contingent.
  • There’s no space for Drazhar in a Realspace Raid, creating yet another reason why you would almost always end up with a 4CP disparity if you went with the RSR option.

In practice, the way the chips fall mean that taking a triple patrol creates almost no constraints on your list construction you weren’t already happy to embrace. The net result of that is that Drukhari, currently overwhelmingly the game’s best faction, get bonus CP just for showing up. They shouldn’t.

Why It’s Proportionate

  • No impact on models or datasheets.
  • Encourages the use of a broader range of the tools that are in the book – Realspace Raids are cool, it would be nice to see them used.
  • Brings Drukhari in line with other armies. Other factions get ways to mitigate CP costs when they turn up with faction-appropriate builds. Getting 2 extra CP just for showing up is wildly out of line with this.

 

3. Make Dark Technomancers Hurt with Liquifier Guns

Drukhari Wracks. Credit: Corrode

What?

Change the penultimate sentence of Dark Technomancers to:

“If any unmodified hit rolls of 1 are made for attacks with an enhanced weapon, or the weapon is one that automatically hits its target, the bearer’s unit suffers 1 mortal wound after shooting with this weapon”.

Why?

Dark Technomancers optionally boosts the wound roll and damage of shooting attacks, at the cost of a risk of taking mortal wounds on a bad hit roll. With Liquifier Guns (and technically one of the Cronos guns), the risk vanishes – the weapons automatically hit, so you get all of the upside and none of the downside.

This is brutal, and one of the other extremely uniform things about the Drukhari lists we’re seeing is that at least 3×5 Dark Technomancer Wracks with two liquifiers per squad are staples (and more isn’t uncommon), and no other Coven really gets a look in. It turns out that wound-boosted AP-2 D2 flamers firing out of fast transports are wildly powerful, and provides a clip of attrition damage that it’s incredibly hard for many armies to deal with, with some factions (notably any flavour of Marines) getting especially badly maimed.

This sort of power should come at a price – that’s meant to be the whole deal here – so add one. If you want to reap the extreme power boost of Technomancers on a weapon that automatically hits, then take the penalty automatically as well.

This seems harsh, but works out as less bad than you might think, and I don’t think anything less harsh on the ability itself fixes the problem. All Covens units have a 5+++, which means that with a unit of five Wracks, you’ve got a pretty strong chance of getting to fire your two liquifiers three times on the enhanced profile before the unit expires, and as long as they stay in the transport, casualties up to that point have minimal impact. A unit of Grotesques can fire three liquifiers the first time with no risk of losing a model. Cronos can heal. You get your first few dips into ultimate cosmic power at a minimal price but if you keep using it all game, some meaningful attrition will build up on you for making that choice – which remember, you can always just stop doing if the situation doesn’t call for it.

Part of the challenge of beating Drukhari right now is that by the time you’ve crunched through their Raider coating, they’ve still got all the stuff inside to swarm out and overwhelm your battered forces. This change would ensure that if a Drukhari player goes all out with turbocharged guns, they’ve got that bit less in the tank – as they would for any other weapons using Technomancers. It also introduces a skill testing aspect to using Technomancers effectively.

Finally, it sandboxes the fix. If you try and address this by changing the Wrack datasheet or points costs, you effectively ensure that they’re only worthwhile when used with Technomancers, creating one of those very negative impacts where many other builds and casual armies suffer as a knock on from dealing with one overpowered one. Confronting the workings of Technomancers directly is a more sensible way to go about it.

Why It’s Proportionate

  • Minimal – this interaction is currently too good. Making the change to Technomancers minimises the impact of the changes outside the specific interaction. I do not think there is a fair price you can put liquifier guns at with the rule as it currently sits, or at least not one that doesn’t totally invalidate them for any other usage.
  • Avoids invalidating models – I think with this change, the builds currently in use still work, just at a slightly lower power level.
  • Focused on competitive builds – casual players will probably use Technomancers, but having maxed out numbers of liquifier guns lined up is likely unique to competitive play.

The other standout options people have suggested are:

  • Change Technomancers back to wound rolls. I both don’t think this is harsh enough to deal with the power level issue, and my assumption is that the move to the hit rolls was to reduce the number of other force multipliers you can apply to Technomancer weaponry (since there are multiple ways to get shooting hit re-rolls in this book, and far fewer for wounds). Potentially unlocking other powerful options in the course of doing this seems counterproductive.
  • Just stop Technomancers working at all with auto-hit weapons. It’s boring but it would obviously work. However, in line with the goal of tuning the power level down and seeing if the meta can adapt, I do feel like making a college try with a version that has reduced power but still does something first is better.

 

4. Fix the Overly Permissive Keyword Issue

What?

Change “Raiding Force” to add:

“A detachment designated as a <Kabal> detachment cannot contain <Cult> or <Coven> units. A <Cult> detachment cannot contain <Kabal> or <Coven> units. A <Coven> detachment cannot contain <Kabal> or <Cult> units. ”

This one needs a bit more explaining. The summary is that the exact way that Drukhari restrictions around keywords work mean that you can take a patrol that you declare as a “Kabal of the Black Heart” detachment, then any <Kabal> units you add to it have to be “Kabal of the Black Heart”, gain the relevant Obsession, and you unlock the stratagem. However, there’s nothing that says, once you’ve declared a detachment to be “Kabal of the Black Heart”, that you cannot still add <Cult> or <Coven> units to it – they won’t get an Obsession, but they’ll have their keyword, and can thus still be given warlord traits from the relevant <Cult> or <Coven>, and bring auras or abilities to benefit them.

This allows you, as can be seen in Sean Nayden’s army, to bring a detachment that leans on a Haemoculus Coven Obsession to power up the troops, but bring Kabal and Cult HQs with access to a toolbox of abilities instead of buying yourself a Haemoculus.

Why?

So, this is the one I thought would potentially get hit in the FAQ, because to me this just feels like a mistake that’s been pried wide open by closely scrutinising the rules. The Drukhari book contains rules for creating a detachment combining Kabal, Coven and Cult units – it’s a Realspace Raid. In that context, it feels very unlikely that authorial intent was that when you create a “Kabal” detachment, you can cheerfully sneak Wych Cult units into it. To me, the way the rules are worded look like an attempt to express “Blades for Hire don’t break Obsessions” in the most elegant way possible, which they largely succeed at – but accidentally open the door to mixing and matching across the categories within a patrol, because Drukhari are unique in that they have three “categories” of faction keyword.

That means that the new boilerplate rule that all books in 9th have (you can only include units from one <subfaction> in a detachment) doesn’t completely shut down the kind of mix and match utility detachments that were prevalent in 8th. Sean’s list shows off why this is a problem – in an army that is souping two other kinds of Aeldari as well, he can get access to a powerful Archon trick in Ancient Evil, a premium Cult of Strife trait for the Succubus and access the best Covens obsession for his Wracks, all in a single patrol. Elsewhere, it’s frequently seen used to dodge including a Haemoculus to lead a <Coven> detachment, and has even been used to bring Unaligned units like Borewyrm Cysts in Drukhari patrols with, again, zero downside.

Note: This last one got shut down thanks to people re-reading the rules on detachments themselves, which do prevent the presence of Unaligned units. The rest stands, and needs to be fixed.

Why It’s Proportionate

  • No impact on models or datasheets.
  • Minimal outside the competitive scene. This type of list wizardry doesn’t really cut through to casual play, where if players want to use cool mix and match Drukhari builds they’re just going to bring a Realspace Raid as Vect intended.
  • Brings Drukhari in line with other armies. Other books in 9th have been actively stamping on this kind of thing. Randomly bypassing that for a single faction, and one that has a designated “proper” way to achieve mix and match builds to boot, seems bizarre.
  • Closes future risks. This rule as it exists opens up a whole array of gaps through which builds could potentially try and dodge other balance changes, and also opens up a layer of optimisation for builds that isn’t going to be uniformly represented. Leaving it open makes it harder to make and gauge the impact of other changes.

 

5. Increase the Master Succubus and Master Archon Upgrades by 5pts

Advocating for your models to be nerfed before you’ve put them on the table is a power move right? Credit: Wings

What?

As title.

Why?

All five of the Drukhari lists in the Dallas top 10 use both of these upgrades, and that strongly suggests they’re a bit over-pushed. The why is slightly different for each – the Archon’s built-in boost is a bit less useful, but Trueborn are so powerful that every list wants a squad (and I think this is a better way to tax that than hitting them directly). The Succubus is much more about the actual direct upgrade, letting what is already a spectacularly efficient trade-piece lash out with relative impunity the first time you use her, adding yet another angle for the army to build up incremental advantage. It’s definitely telling that the Art of War build uses one of these without even purchasing the Bloodbrides she unlocks.

On some level, this is also just pragmatic – I think trying Raiders at +10pts for a first pass is the fair way to go, but I think the lists overall need to lose slightly more points than that, and if they can be something that’s harder to dodge, then all the better. Particularly because this harmonises the cost of all three Lord of Commorragh upgrades at the same price, and thus minimises confusion, I think it’s the most sensible place to apply that.

Why It’s Proportionate

  • No datasheet changes
  • Taking both in every list is going to be more common in competitive play than casual.

 

6. Add 10pts to Drazhar

Drazhar, the Master of Blades

Drazhar, the Master of Blades. Credit: Corrode

What?

As title

Why?

Drazhar is in all eight of the pure Drukhari lists in the top 20 of the Dallas open. For a Blade for Hire Named Character, that just isn’t healthy – it means every time you face up against Drukhari, you’re going to have to deal with him, and that gets extremely boring. His statline is one of the nastiest for a melee character in the whole game, he turns Incubi into nightmare killers even more than they are already. More subtly his exact price point makes setting up a bunch of good While We Stand options very easy for the army – it so happens that the standard Trueborn build and three Grotesques with liquifiers both match his price point, while the standard Court of the Archon is 136 to his 135. Taking him up by 10 forces you to either invest more points in these other units to keep them as your choices, or to take on a bit more risk by throwing one of your choices into melees.

Why It’s Proportionate

I think this one is the hardest sell – Drazhar is a pretty new centrepiece model. However:

  • Drazhar is in every tournament build, but is less likely to be in every collection in the wider hobby.
  • Drazhar would still be great at 145pts.
  • A specific part of the issue with his current cost is dodging being a WWSWF target, much less likely to be a consideration in casual play than competitive.

I think this is the least critical of the six changes, but do feel that the stock builds need just a little more of a price increase than just what the other tweaks brings, and Drazhar feels like a better place for the axe to fall than Incubi, especially because of the WWSWF factor.

 

What Will This Add Up To?

The combined set of changes again:

  • +10pts per Raider
  • +10pts for Drazhar
  • +5pts each for Master Succubi/Archons
  • 12CP for triple patrols instead of 14CP
  • Technomancers automatically hurts if you automatically hit.
  • No more mixing and matching outside of Realspace Raids.

The resulting meaningful impact on stock competitive Drukhari lists would be:

  • About 70-80pts of price increases if they choose to make no unit changes, with an option to mitigate this by dropping vehicle upgrades or switching Raiders to Venoms.
  • Accumulating attrition on Wrack units with Liquifiers if they fire continuously.
  • Two fewer CP
  • No ability to bypass keyword limitations when filling out HQs for Covens detachments.

I’m reasonably confident that all of that isn’t going to stop them being the best army in the game – at worst it might let Sisters nip at their heels for the crown again – and that’s fine. The number I’ve seen thrown about is that people reckon Drukhari get maybe 200pts too much stuff, but I think those figures have tended to be genuinely be a bit inflated once people adjust, and the outcome here seems more reasonable.

To be clear, this isn’t me saying these are the only problematic things in the book, or that this is all the changes I would make if I was given ultimate power to update everything – it’s meant to be the bare minimum set of changes that I believe are adequate to shift the win rate a bit.

The goal here isn’t to crush Drukhari into the dust, because that’s no more fun than them being powerful, it’s to put them into a position where finding counters to them starts to be realistic, and then give the metagame some space and see if players can adjust. Realistically, there usually is a best faction in the game at any given time, and there’s no reason Drukhari shouldn’t be that for a bit – but we want the margin by which they’re ahead to be more, well, normal.

I think you could consider going straight to 15pts on Raiders, but I want the overall prospectus here to be something that could be applied immediately and everyone be confident that it definitely doesn’t go too far. I imagine Raiders have gone straight onto the points watchlist for future updates, and going to 100pts base down the line if this doesn’t do the trick should definitely be on the table.

I imagine Drukhari players are going to be furious about these suggestions, and I can appreciate that having your toys taken away is never fun, but for all the reasons outlined at the start of this article, I think this (or something pitched at about the same level of impact) needs to happen – and soon.

 

Wrap Up

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below, or in the midst of whatever nightmare firestorm this generates on Reddit. Alternatively, hit us up at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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