Competitive Innovations in 9th: Lightning Round 20/05 & Drukhari Thoughts

It’s been another busy week in the 40K calendar, so it’s time for another Competitive Innovations Lightning Round. As well as the two events covered yesterday, two more GT+ events took place over the weekend, so today we’re going to blast through them to make sure that you, the beloved reader, can stay on top of all the exciting, innovative builds that are out there. With two more weeks of results in our hands, I also thought I’d put together a very quick update on where my thoughts currently are on the controversial subject of whether Drukhari need some attention from the dreaded nerf bat.

Let’s dive into the results first, as the first event we’re going to zoom in on sported some breakout anti-Drukhari builds that have gathered a lot of attention.

The Cool Place Spring GT

All the lists for this event can be found in Best Coast Pairings. One player achieved a 5-0 record, and six players reached 4-1.

Ultramarine Suppressors
Ultramarine Suppressors. Credit: Jonathan Reynolds

  • 1st – John Lennon – Ultramarine Successors: At their fancy new T6 profile, pretty much the only class of gun that’s uniquely excellent at killing Raiders is autocannons and equivalents – being exactly S7, multi-damage and moderate AP is where you get the bang for your buck. AdMech have the best access to weapons in this weight class, but Space Marines have quietly built up a decent arsenal across the Primaris range, and this list puts them to elf-hunting work, sporting Suppressors and Invictors alongside a pair each of the generically excellent VolCons and plasma Redemptors. Ultramarine Successors (Master Artisans/Whirlwind of Rage, especially good on Invictors) provide fantastic support for this setup, with the superdoctrine providing the Suppressors with the ability to turn up and shoot without penalty on turn 2 or 3 (or launch from cover with Adaptive Strategy on turn 1) and Rapid Redeployment letting you position Invictors very aggressively when there’s an opportunity for a blowout start, then whisk them to safety if you lose the roll-off. Against non-elf foes, access to the Seal of Oath lets you meaningfully turn all this autocannon fire on pretty much any key tarpit unit and blast it to bits, while Adept of the Codex and Scryer’s Gaze keep the list well stocked with CP for all its tricks. This list ends up as one of the absolute best out there for blowing elves clean off the board, while still having deep enough reserves of sneaky tricks to defeat other opponents, and expect to see Marine players everywhere frantically taking notes.
  • 2nd – Stephen Mitchell – Chaos: We now swing from one of the few setups that can reliably wipe Drukhari off the table to one of the few that can reliably soak up all the punches they can throw. Stephen’s list brings back the hordes of Beasts of Nurgle that were breakout stars at the start of the edition, putting down a brick of disgusting meat that can bog down even the most vicious of builds, especially with a Doomsday Bell-toting Great Unclean One watching over them. Thousand Sons psychic firepower and some utility units complete the picture, building an extraordinarily tough to move attrition army that elves don’t traditionally bring the right tools to counter. The classic way to beat the Beasts is to tie them up with durable ObSec stuff (e.g. Rites of War Bladeguard) but Drukhari don’t really have any of that, which severely limits their options for dealing with the fleshy tide, letting this list potentially overwhelm them, especially with the Beasts being able to heroic. That’s the theory anyway, and it did reasonably well in practice, racking up a 2-1 record against the elf menace, beating two builds that were leaning on the conventional damage dealers but coming up short against the fourth place army that sported a full Hellion unit (which as Strife are easily the best anti-Beast tool in their arsenal). That’s still a record most armies would kill for, and the only thing making me hesitate from declaring that Beasts are fully back is that the same kind of firepower that wipes Raiders will chew through them pretty handily as well, especially VolCons. Definitely a unit to keep an eye on though, and a great finish here.
  • 3rd – Daniel Hesters – Drukhari: An unusually Technomancers heavy build here, sporting four Raiders full of nastiness – two 10-model Wrack squads and 2×5 liquifier Grotesques. The latter are supplemented with a Court of the Archon in a Black Heart detachment to make up a trio of While We Stand choices, and a scattering of characters and trade units to finish things off. Being even heavier on Technomancers than normal gives the army exceptional game against any opposing Elite lists, but does leave it vulnerable to slamming into the few things that these aren’t great against, and here the Beasts of Nurgle were able to rack up a convincing win. I’d plausibly expect similar issues into Death Guard, but on the flip side having a much safer WWSWF plan than the Cronos Technomancers builds can help against more static lists. This is definitely one of the directions in which Drukhari can lean depending on how the top metagame finally shakes out, and swapping the Black Heart out for Poisoned Tongue could also give this the flexibility to adapt to shooting blowout lists. Strong stuff overall, and an excellent finish.
  • 4th – Matthew Casey – Drukhari: This list cleaves pretty closely to the successful template established at Dallas, with the standout deviation from that being the inclusion of a full 20-model unit of Hellions. This gives the list a gigantic melee punch it can throw pretty much on demand, which stood it in extremely good stead against the Beasts of Nurgle, where it accomplished what two other Drukhari players couldn’t and swept through. The flipside of that is that the stuff that kills Raiders effectively absolutely butchers Hellions, and this build went down in the final to John’s autocannon and volkite nightmare after a fantastic run up to that point. Just like with the previous list and the Talos/Cronos builds we saw yesterday, which flex option ends up standing out will depend a lot on which anti-Drukhari counter rises to the top of the pile, and Hellions should definitely be on people’s short lists of possible tools, both as they are here and split into units of ten for more coverage.

Credit: Wings

  • 5th – Seth Piper – Necrons: A pretty elite Necron force here that features full units of both Lychguard and Triarch Praetorians marching to war alongside the Silent King. Like many Necron lists it looks like an absolute blast to play, and while on paper I’m a little worried about whether it can stand up to the amount of D2 firepower lists like John’s are packing, this army did actually manage to end up 1-1 against the Ultramarines, thanks to…
  • 6th – Benjamin Cromer – Ultramarine Successors: Another copy of John’s list. It even calls itself “John’s List 2.0” in the title. That puts the army at a total of 9-1 for the event, which is obviously a formidible record, and while John was beating up on Drukhari Ben was taking out multiple Dark Angels players, strongly suggesting there’s some real legs here.
  • 7th – Gabriel Rocheleau – Imperium: The Telemon triple puts in a good score here to finish off the 4-1 bracket at this event, with a pair of Galatus dreads and some Astra Militarum Manticores backing them up. Telemons are among the hardest units in the game for Drukhari to bring down, making them extremely appealing right now, but sadly on this occasion the army didn’t actually get tested against the Aeldari, instead facing a gauntlet of Chaos confections. Still, it had a fantastic run through those, going into the final round undefeated but getting ground to a halt at the last by the Beast of Nurgle build.

Gameology – Battle for LA – GT

All the lists for this event can be found in Best Coast Pairings. This event featured one undefeated player and eight more players on 4-1 records.


  • 1st – Brandon Grant – Adepta Sororitas: Brandon took down the event with a reasonably conventional Bloody Rose list that, similar to others we’ve seen recently, adapts to the possible threat of Drukhari by going a bit lower and wider than normal, bringing some extra Rhinos to minimise early attrition, and including some Arco-flagellants as an additional trade piece. All good, and undeniably effective in general, but the only caveat I have to throw in here is that this list managed to dodge facing down Drukhari, so whether the adaptations are enough to consistently win that matchup remains untested on the top tables. I definitely think the kinds of changes we’re seeing here are the right ones, and I’d expect that when a consensus post-Drukhari Sisters build emerges it’s probably pretty close to this one, maybe with some extra Seraphim as trade pieces.
  • 2nd – Joel Wilson – Dark Angels: While Ravenwing-heavy builds are generally doing better, people haven’t given up on the Deathwing dream and this build shows off where they’ve ended up extremely effectively. The key ingredient that seems to have given them a nudge over earlier attempts is the inclusion of multiple mixed-arms Deathwing units that have both storm shield carriers and cyclone missile launchers packed in. Including some firepower in the units makes it much less safe to ignore them, allowing some real attrition to be racked up while the enemy works out how to deal with the bone-clad warriors, and while I’d still lean towards Attack Bike builds if you made me choose, the newer builds in this vein are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
  • 3rd – William Saunders – Salamanders: A surprisingly normal looking Salamanders build here, with the main noticeable standout being three Eradicator MSUs. That feels like a pretty astute metagame pick, as (especially with the Salamander doctrine and tactic) each unit legitimately threatens to pop a whole entire Raider the turn they commit, giving the army a fierce counterattack. Flamer Aggressors also feature heavily, and Born Protectors can be a powerful tool to complicate charge plans. Sadly, like Brandon’s list in first this one didn’t get a chance to try out its anti-elf Tech, but there’s some neat stuff here and it would definitely be easy for an overconfident Raider spam player to underestimate the swing turn it can muster.
  • 4th – Eddy Goshorn – Drukhari: Another list that makes the rare choice to go Technomancer free, instead leaning on a mixture of Poisoned Tongue Raiders, Venoms and Ravagers from the Kabal side and a big Hellion unit from the Cult of Strife. This list tries out the option of bringing a MSU of Reavers alongside the Hellions to tee up Deadly Rivals, letting an already deadly unit hit even harder.

Kastelan Robots with Cybernetica Datasmith. Credit: Rockfish
Kastelan Robots with Cybernetica Datasmith. Credit: Rockfish

  • 5th – Jason McKenzie – Adeptus Mechanicus: Even more so than the average AdMech build, this one goes hard on elf killing firepower, supplementing the standard trio of Skorpii with two Icarus Dunecrawlers and a pair of Kastelan Robots. You’d think that with all of that it would be a little light on board control, but the incredible cost efficiency of Serberys Raiders allows this army to tick that box too, giving another ferociously effective all-rounder build that blasted its way to the finals before being defeated by Brandon.
  • 6th – Junior Aflleje – Blood Angels: Another strong finish for Junior with a (very mildly tweaked) version of the build he won the Comic Quest GT with. The go-wide plan here feels pretty well tuned to a Drukhari world, as it does the classic Blood Angels trick of making every unit is scary enough that it demands respect without putting too many eggs in any one basket – though as is a bit of a litany for many of the Marine builds here, didn’t actually end up facing any Drukhari.
  • 7th – Aaron Weisman – Dark Angels: This list is the exception to that, and on some level the culprit – by spiking Eddy’s Drukhari with a convincing win round 1, Aaron minimised the number of Drukhari players in the high brackets, meaning that many of the lists cruising along at the top didn’t run into them. In terms of the list itself, this is a pretty standard Deathwing/Ravenwing combo build, with the unusual twist of using Relic Terminators for one of its big squads so it can use the lightning claw/storm bolter build so beloved of Chaos. I’m in to it – tarpits being very flexible in what they can engage is a big upside, and a single claw each is enough to let this unit threaten almost anything in combat while still maintaining the ability to project force with their bolters.
  • 8th – Kyle Parry – Aeldari: Largely a Harlequin list with some Craftworld hangers on. The clown contingent features a couple of big foot Troupes, a trio of fusion boats and a single Skyweaver blob, which maximises the breadth of tricks it can play with and lets it adapt to whatever its facing. The Craftworld units ensure that it’s got a reliable objective plan while doing that, with two units of Warp Spiders locking down Scramblers and a quartet of Shadow Weavers providing both models to hold home objectives and efficient moppers-up of Drukhari that try and slink to cover after their boats die.
  • 9th – Anthony O’Dell – Drukhari: Not too many surprises in our final list of the week –  Black Heart, Technomancers and the Cult of Strife play all the familiar tunes, with Ravagers and a 10-model Hellion squad as the flex choices.

Drukhari – How’s it Going Then?

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

We’re two weeks on from Drukhari’s astounding sweep of the Dallas Open, and also two weeks on from me sticking my head above the parapet and arguing for them to catch a nerf to try and bring them under control

Just from scanning the results, it’s clear that this weekend was an improvement in terms of metagame health, with two things standing out:

  • There’s a higher diversity in the top fours. Drukhari are still substantially over-represented, but at least we’re seeing other armies up there.
  • At least one new dedicated anti-Drukhari list has been deployed (Lennon’s), and appears to work.

Despite that, overall signs are still pretty concerning.

The big one is that the win rate hasn’t shifted that much despite a substantial bandwagon effect and a massive target on the faction’s head, both factors that usually tank an initial spike from a new book. Here, that just hasn’t happened – despite representing over 9% of the games in the 40K stats dataset since they released, their overall non-mirror win rate is 73%. The drop that represents from where it was at a few weeks ago is miniscule (small enough not to be statistically significant), while the proportion of the dataset they represent has increased by 50% since Dallas. People are flocking to the faction, everyone else is gunning for them and it’s barely having an impact on their success in the majority of the pack.

There are also a couple of specific factors from this weekend which means I’m not in a rush to declare Drukhari solved:

  • All the events this weekend capped at 5 rounds, meaning that many of the high-placing players avoided playing Drukhari. Notably, both the winners of the Maryland GT and the Battle for LA entirely avoided the elf menace. Dallas had enough rounds that this just wasn’t an option at the higher end, and we all saw how that worked out.
  • At the event where Drukhari dominated the most, it was because powerful new configurations were being unleashed, and a build in that vein also put up their best Maryland finish.

Weighing up these competing factors, do I still think changes are needed, and would I prescribe the same medicine?

The headline answers are “definitely yes”  and “maybe“.

Drukhari Wracks. Credit: Corrode

I still think the package of changes I proposed would be proportionate and wouldn’t tank the faction out of top tier, but feedback from that article, the results from this weekend and the deep-dive number crunching on Technomancers that The Falcon did has swapped the priority of my top two items. Specifically, I’ve been brought round to thinking that Dark Technomancers is the single highest priority thing to fix, and that as an alternative to applying a package of multiple changes, the best option right now might just be a single errata saying “delete this trait” or preventing it from working with auto-hit weapons outright. Especially with the new AdMech codex finally about to land, I’m a little more game to see if the metagame could adapt to a Technomancers-free Drukhari world, and while I strongly suspect the outcome would still end up being that some hit was needed to the Raider as well, it feels like if any one single change is going to move win rates enough to matter, this is it. It would also mostly remove the urgency to slap down the keyword issue, as that’s primarily being used to dodge bringing Haemoculi while using Coven Obsessions.

The main issue with that is that I assume there will be some real hesitancy to (essentially or actually) outright delete an ability this soon after the book’s release – and with anything less harsh than that, I’d still prescribe applying the full set of changes (plus shutting down the super Succubus).

In particular, I’ve seen it confidently asserted that moving Technomancers back to the wound roll would be a silver bullet, and I’m afraid it absolutely wouldn’t be. One of the big innovations this week has been people packing 10-model Wrack units to squeeze the most liquifiers, and thanks to Covens units having a 5+++, if you move Technomancers back to the wound roll you would take an average of ~0.3 unsoaked mortal wounds each time an enhanced gun was fired. That means those 10-model units can fire at full effect for an entire five turn game and end up at about half strength on average – which is just not that relevant for a unit that’s jetting around in a transport. Even with my harsher version where you always take the wound, it’s still only the fourth time you fire the souped up guns that you lose one of the models carrying them on average. It leaves you much more glass jawed which affects close games, and the impact is a bit more severe on Cronos, but the more that Technomancers dominates, the more I’m wondering if anything other than outright deletion is good enough.

Credit: Wings

RIght now, top fours consist of Drukhari, dedicated anti-Drukhari lists and people who mostly dodge Drukhari. One faction should not warp the metagame so fundamentally around it, and Technomancers looks ever more like the suspiciously smoking gun. I suspect at this point AdMech is going to be given a chance to save the day – but if it doesn’t, swift action on at least this most warping of Obsessions would be welcome. Also, while results do seem to suggest there are some counterplay options you can field for 6-7 Raider lists, the game experience they create really harkens back to the bad bits of 8th Edition where walls of undercosted hulls slammed into brutally overtuned gunlines. I don’t particularly want to return to that, and if lists sporting that many of the boats continue to win events even after players have tuned for them, I’ll still be strongly advocating that they take a hit. Also – just because it’s technically possible to create lists that can destroy them, every list should not be required to have its damage options tuned to target one specific model just to get a chance to participate in games against a faction. An “adjusted” meta could still be a wildly, wildly unhealthy one.

In summary therefore – still think Technomancers needs to be hit super hard, maybe even harder, still basically think Raiders need a hit, but would trade a Technomancers hit now for holding fire on Raiders, especially now AdMech are right on the doorstep. We’ll see where we land in another few weeks.

Wrap Up

We’ll have even more data to pore over next week, as there are three majors scheduled to fire this weekend (one each in Texas, Utah and Perth) and a scattering of smaller events besides. Whether you’re hoping to see me proved wrong so you can keep your broken liquifier guns or are itching for the straw that breaks the nerf camel’s back, you won’t want to miss it, so we’ll see you then. Any comments, questions or suggestions to as ever.