Going Fast and Breaking Things: Are Drukhari Too Good?

This past weekend saw fair weather and a slew of new US 40k Grand Tournaments, kicking off both our biggest weekend of tournament action in months and the first big weekend of events using the new Codex: Drukhari. While pretty much every event was using the corrected 20-point Reaver costs, there were some notable results around the new book – of the seven U.S. GT events tracked in Best Coast Pairings over the weekend, Drukari players won four of them, including our own James “Boon” Kelling, who won the Renegade Wargaming’s Spring Up GT.  Additionally, few Drukhari players finished in the bottom third of any event, and when you combine these results with those from two weeks ago, Drukhari have been absolutely dominant since the new book was allowed in tournaments.

While Drukhari represent a fairly small portion of the field, players have begun to ask the question if maybe Drukhari are too good, and if we’re set to endure another “Iron Hands winter” at the hands of this surprisingly deadly army. To answer the question – or at least further the debate a bit – today we’re talking with a number of high-level competitive players about their thoughts on the new book, last weekend’s results, and what they think should be done going forward.

The Roundtable

In today’s roundtable discussion we are joined by some special guests – Richard Siegler from the Art of War, Peter “The Falcon” Colosimo of 40kstats, and Innes Wilson, Team Scotland WTC captain.

  • James “Boon” Kelling
  • James “One_Wing” Grover
  • Richard Siegler
  • Innes Wilson
  • Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
  • Peter “The Falcon” Colosimo

Data used in today’s article comes from tournament results pulled from Best Coast Pairings and the ITC Battles App.

Q. Alright, let’s start with the general statement. Are Drukhari Overpowered, Overrated, or are we all just Overreacting?

Rob: Initially I’d have had you mark me down in the “tentative, but leaning toward overpowered” column, but the more data I see the worse it gets. The data right now suggests that even if Drukhari aren’t overpowered, they’re definitely the game’s strongest faction now. There’s a question of whether it’s too much and it’s at least heartening that the top players from last weekend were all people I could believe won a GT any other week. That said, Drukhari only represented about 3% of the meta pre-codex and may only represent 5-6% post if they double in popularity and that’d be a far cry from Iron Hands. I don’t think you could play an event between October 2019 and February 2020 without playing at least one Iron Hands army. So it could be worse? 

The data right now is pretty stark, though – since their book came out, the Glicko2 scores and win rates for Drukhari are now the highest in the game, and Drukhari are as far ahead of the next-highest factions – Adepta Sororitas and Harlequins – as those factions are ahead of Genestealer Cults, sitting on a win percentage over 70% and beating good factions to boot.

 

Credit: Dexefiend

Richard Siegler: The Drukhari Codex is the best set of rules in 40k at the moment.  Does it mean they are overpowered in the context of 9th edition 40k? The future may say otherwise.  But right now, they have more units than you do and their units hit harder with upgraded profiles than your units hit.  Many Drukhari units feel a couple of points or so undercosted at the moment in comparison to the rest of the game (most of which is still stuck in 8th edition land).  

 

 

 

Innes Wilson: My initial reactions to Drukhari have them somewhere between hyper efficient and actually overpowered. Where they actually fall on that spectrum will depend on the rest of the books that comprise the ongoing 9th competitive ecosystem. As it stands, they out trade every army that we’re currently seeing; are fast; have strong incidental long range shooting in the form of Dark Lances on Raiders and bluntly broken short range shooting from Dark Technomancers Liquifiers. Compounding that their core is cheap, has objective secured and comes with no compromises in the form of detachments or pure rules and it seems that they have an unmatched toolbox and the raw power to get through the games where their tools don’t line up perfectly. 

In comparison to the rest of the 9th books they feel like the top of the pile, with a particularly brutal set of strengths for marines. Compared to the 8th books? They’re just better designed for 9th edition and it shows. Over time it’s entirely probable this levels out but for people playing now I think Drukhari are just better.

 

Wings: I think it’s pretty clear that the book is currently too good, but care needs to be taken in working out what (if anything) to change, because part of what makes this book so strong is how much everything interconnects and overlaps. Changing Covens units too much in response to Dark Technomancers (which I’m honestly still astonished made the jump to 9th in any form) could end up rendering everything else non-viable, and the Cult of Strife is in a pretty similar position for Wyches. Meanwhile, any change to the transports has a knock-on effect on pretty much all infantry choices in the book, so if they got changed at the same time it could end up going too far. I do, currently, believe we will see some sort of out-of-band nerf made to this book, but I hope an initial pass is reasonably sparing to see how things adjust.

 

 

Boon: Yes. The data will of course bear out over the coming weeks to what extent, but they are unquestionably the big kids on the block right now – for the reasons stated above. I want to go on record right now and state that it is my fervent hope that the rumors of ‘balance by release’ are due to a rock-paper-scissors effect and not just a straight power creep of newer books. The former makes the meta actually interesting while the latter is just poor game design.

 

 

 

Falcon: I generally try to lean on waiting for the dust to settle when it comes to powerful releases but there are some numbers that are just a little too hard to ignore. In the last 3 years we’ve seen a lot of codex drops and only Iron Hands (and to a lesser extent Raven Guard and Imperial Fists) have had such an impressive start. Most ‘strong’ codex releases start out slow and take 3-4 weeks to begin to hit their stride at the GT level, but the early results here are just too impressive. 6 GT/Major wins, 2 2nd place finishes and a 4th in effectively 2 weeks of play. A 72.2% win rate (74.8% when accounting for mirror), average first loss of 2.86, and TiWP of 32.5% at just over 6% of the meta over the course of 150 games. When you pull the 300+ RTT games in the same timeframe the win rates don’t change, either. At least at this moment in time Drukhari are the biggest dogs by a longshot. 

 

 

Q. Overpowered people: Are we in for another Iron Hands or is it not that bad?

Richard Siegler: It’s not that bad because Iron Hands arrived at the end of an edition where most factions had their codex rules already and it was just vastly superior to everything that had come before it. Drukhari feels like there was a shift in design philosophy for 9th edition after they sent the first several books/supplements off to the printers. Outside of the Succubus combo and to a lesser extent Dark Technomancer liquifiers they are not based on fundamentally broken rules mechanics. Instead, Drukhari are comparatively undercosted and thus they feel as though they have an extra 150-200 pts. Essentially they start the game with an extra raider full of units that probably shouldn’t be there. And because of this, Drukhari players can make mistakes and still have a safety net of “oops, I just have more stuff so it is okay.”

 

 

Innes Wilson: Probably not. The Iron Hands rules were a product of the end of an edition and marked a degree of power creep that there was little expectation of other books getting to match. The course of multiple nerfs and continual discovery of new interactions combined with the bloat of then years old Forgeworld rules created an unholy concoction. We’ve got one codex and one strong supplement which have hopefully been designed in concert with the rest of the editions. I think one or two passes of FAQs and a Chapter Approved will be all it takes to see Drukhari feeling reasonable, even if they are still on top. Plus just not as many people play them. Marines were everywhere, Drukhari will hit a ceiling on the mid tables eventually even if they do crowd the top.

 

 

Boon: I agree with Siegler on this – I think this was best said by my teammate and round 5 opponent Scott Blegen when he said, “I was ok after the first 2 waves but the third wave broke my back. And [Boon] still had a 4th wave that could have been sent in.”

They are extremely points efficient, and it starts with their rides and their characters.

 

 

 

Falcon: Not quite. In the same timeframe IH sat at 10% of the meta and had slightly higher numbers (73% win rate, 78 accounting for mirror), in a much busier time in terms of events. As Siegler and Innes both mention, we’re still in the early stages of the edition here and what is coming may be what is to hold them in line. To be fair to this argument, though, we should note that Iron Hands were supposed to be kept in line by the Psychic Awakening releases that followed and it was only the last couple that had anything close to their level of power. I think the big difference here is Iron Hands had a plethora of rules interactions that you had to break apart and therefore had a litany of list builds that were equally deadly on release. I believe we’ll find that Drukhari are reliant on a smaller handful of slightly undercosted units and interactions that can be played around with some tweaks.

 

 

Q. Overreacting/Overrated people: Why are the Overpowered people Overreacting?

Rob: Mostly I want to see more events data before we make any final determinations, and I especially want more data before we suggest or GW makes any adjustments. Everyone thought they knew what made Iron Hands overpowered and it turned out to actually be a combination of not one or two but several factors that all had to be adjusted to bring the faction down and honestly several of those can be tweaked back upward now that marines are forced to cycle through doctrines. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not clear to me yet if Drukhari are actually overpowered or just hyper efficient and an amazing tier 1 play, and I’m hesitant to call for a nerf to change every faction that comes in and does well to begin with if it’s not dominating T8s like Iron Hands were.

 

 

Falcon: I always want more data. While the general 40k meta adapts far more quickly than I think the public assumes, it’s always possible that someone will find an achilles heel. Also, given how the current global situation has drastically slowed down releases we may just need to wait for Admech/Orks/Sisters before we see the bigger picture. I am not the biggest fan of that for a number of reasons especially given it unfortunately may mean taking our lumps in the meantime.

 

 

 

Rob: That’s interesting – I tend to think the meta is pretty slow to react, and sometimes just doesn’t adjust at all thanks to dynamics like who owns what armies and how likely you are to come across a particular list or faction (not to mention odd incentives like best in faction awards). The meta was warped by Iron Hands but even if Drukhari are insanely dominant, they might not occur at high enough rates to warp the meta in the same way, even if they win more than half the big events over the next few months.

If a faction wins 50% of events but only shows up in 7% of lists, how do you plan for them? Especially if teching for them causes you to eat shit to marines?

 

 

Falcon: I guess when I refer to ‘the meta’ here I am leaning on what is happening at the top end of competitive play rather than the game as a whole. Frequently, we’ll see people suggest that ‘once the meta adapts’ everything will be fine with a particular codex but it fails to consider that the top level of play generally adapts within the first couple of weeks due to a myriad of test games and discussions, while the rest just never do for the reasons you’ve outlined. Occasionally a singular build will pop up within a faction that turns things on their head to a degree but that is the exception to the rule and it is often rooted in a minor change somewhere else.

 

 

Rob: Yeah I agree that those mindsets are misguided, in part because they assume there even is a way for the meta to adapt – which isn’t a given – but also because top players are likely to adjust to the Drukhari meta by playing Drukhari, which is the easiest solution and just makes the problem worse.

 

 

 

Q. What makes Drukhari so good, anyways?

Innes Wilson: Drukhari are a book that feels custom designed to be incredible at mission play. Army-wide Advance and Charge; reasonable secondaries; a generous spread of core and strong Detachment Abilities that make reasonable options hyper powerful are combined together with an unholy concoction of undercosted units that compound the issues. You won’t out trade them in combat because Incubi and Wyches hit so hard, you can’t body block them because raiders fly with great shooting in them. Hiding doesn’t work because secondaries like While We Stand We Fight with Courts of the Archon and Herd the Prey make it so that their secondaries plan is better than yours with no interaction.  The faction is so good that units like Hellions which would be an all star MVP in almost any other book are being passed over and to me that’s just a sign that the book is deep enough to last through some nerfs and still come out strong and be resilient to meta changes too and that is in itself worrying. 

What this means is that they force you to play their game and they’re just better at it. In games where they can’t do that, they have the raw power to abuse you anyway with a dozen undercosted piece trading units and the points to support them in transports. Finally they have the best characters in the game for damage output, which can comfortably use the 14 starting CP of triple patrol to punch well about their weight for no opportunity cost. 

Wings:  I think the issue is that the book seems to have gone out of its way to try and make all three of the subfactions flavours feel strong and viable (which is good!), but then also handed players unprecedented flexibility to mix and match them compared to really any other army. This makes the book enormously good fun to build casual and semi-competitive lists from, but when it comes to tournament play means that players can pack all the best tools into every list, meaning opponents are facing down an entire roster of things that would be highlights in any other codex. A small minority of units are also just flatly undercosted, with the most egregious example probably being the Raider – it needed at least a 10pt hike to pay for the move to T6. Beyond that, taking Richard and Innes’s points together, a faction whose theme is “go fast and kill things” where everything is aggressively costed is always going to dominate in an edition where objective play is king.

 

 

Boon: ‘What if rhino rush but also Harlequins?’ 

The Dark Technomancers Liquifiers are an x-factor here. The capability to deliver an all-purpose threat that is bad against nothing and limited by only a few units with -1D is powerful already. To do it without downside and while never actually facing return fire in their Raider… well, that’s something else entirely. It really frees the rest of the army to build without having to account for very specific threats. There’s just nothing they’re not good at.

 

 

Falcon: It’s hard to add to the above commentary as it so brilliantly encapsulates everything that is putting Drukhari a step ahead of the competition. I think another element is simply that most factions can’t tech for them without spending more points than they need to handle the other big bads in the game. Most list designs I see that try to engage the threat end up skewing so hard they create glaring holes in their own design, and for a faction at 6% of the meta with things like DA and DG sitting closer to 12 apiece the juice may not be worth the squeeze.

 

 

Q. How can the meta adjust to the faction, and will it be able to adjust?

Richard Siegler: The Drukhari lists that we are currently seeing are largely MSU-based and do not have as much ranged anti-tank outside of a few dark lances and technomancer Wracks. As such they are not the best at destroying enemy transports, especially durable ones like Ghost Arks. Additionally Drukhari do not have objective secured units that are amazingly durable and for the most part they will be embarked in transports. As such if the opponent has fast objective secured units they can contest Drukhari-held objectives to reduce their primary. Lists that can limit the Drukhari player’s ability to hit 90+ points (their average win points are something like 85 right now BIRD NOTE: 85.5) will at least have a shot to compete, but of course Drukhari is built around doing the same thing to their opponent.  

Also, many of the MSU melee-oriented Drukhari builds have a severe lack of damage dealing units with the FLY keyword and thus airborne units can be useful in blocking charging lanes and objectives.  I’m very tempted to run a 6x Archaeopter Adeptus Mechanicus list in this meta.

Innes Wilson: The current Drukhari builds that center around Dark Technomancer Liquifier Wracks, 3×5 Incubi and an armada of Dark Lance Raiders does one thing really well and that’s trade its units for primary, while giving up very little on the secondary front themselves and having an incredible option in While We Stand We Fight with resilient units inside transports. What this means is that you need to be able to pace them on Primary while having a strong Secondary plan yourself. Units that don’t just fold to Incubi or a character, or the capacity to dismount them and kill them before they get to you are important. You can also go with options like horde-ing them out. Current Drukhari lists are limited in the amount of sheer body killing they can bring at range. Options like the Court of the Archon that can deal with them very well in combat force the Drukhari to take different secondaries or risk exposing them. 

Fast Objective Secured, resilient objective holders and ways to dismount raiders and then kill the thing inside in a turn are the way to go. Just killing a raider isn’t enough on its own, you have to get the goods inside to stop the trading. Drukhari builds will also be heavily limited in long range firepower, and while raiders are strong enough with the Kabal of the Black Heart reroll to get over the line vs a couple of vehicles down range, if you can weather a turn or two of it and kill them back you will force them to engage on you if they want to do damage at range. If your army can leverage that to take board positions or push into the Drukhari half for a strong lategame you’ll have a much better time.

Wings: Not having fantastic answers to serious business T8 vehicles at a distance is one of the mild drawbacks Drukhari have, so builds working around Telemons or maybe even Knights are something I’d consider. Saying that, a Telemon build tried and failed to take out the Drukhari over on the Art of War channel, and Boon reliably informs me that you can just work around them, while Knights have the problem that small numbers of high powered shooting platforms struggle with open-topped transport lists, as you often end up not able to kill what’s inside after you pop them. I think if I had to build something right now to try and win the matchup, I’d probably end up on AdMech/Custodes soup, taking a couple of Telemons, Skorpii and as many ponies as I could fit to try and control the game, but even then I don’t think I’d massively fancy my chances.

 

 

Falcon: Can you take the midboard and weather the storm to stay on your objectives? Can you crack 3 raiders and eat the insides like some kind of weird snake person? If so, then you’ve got a shot, my friends. So far in the early matchup data I’m seeing that the builds that are holding up are doing some combination of that. Massed Necron warriors, supported by all the chronomancy and reanimation aeons of slumber can buy have had some success as have beasts of nurgle backing up hordes of nurglings with some kind of punch held in reserve. Also, the dread 5-6 flyer admech lists that have been showing up in TTS for a bit have finally been built and painted and are showing some play. There is some game to be had out there if you can get at the right combination, there just aren’t many.

 

 

Q. What should be done, if anything, to fix or adjust Drukhari?

Richard Siegler: So for the moment, I would try to fix a couple egregious things and see how that changes things. 1) Change how Competitive Edge and Dark Lotus Toxin interact.  The most obvious change. 2) Dark Technomancer either cannot benefit units that do not roll to hit, or change it back to the wound rolls of one. 3) Fix detachment souping so that units in a detachment only gain the trait if the entire detachment is chosen from that subfaction.  4) Clarify the wording on running 3x patrols so that Drukhari armies made of such detachments do not start with 14 command points.  5) Increase the cost of raiders by 5 pts (probably too little for the best transport in the game now, but let us start with small changes and work up to a big faq).

 

 

Innes Wilson: I have a list.

  1. Dark Technomancers with Liquifiers – Either remove its ability to work on auto hits, or just make it poison only. This effect will only be played if it’s abusive and I’d rather see it unplayable than oppressive.
  2. Cult of Strife Warlord Traits and Relics need to be actually restricted to having a Cult of Strife Warlord.
  3. Tighten up the keyword restrictions on detachments for non-Realspace Raid detachments. Currently far too open to abuse.
  4. I can go either way on the 14 starting CP for a patrol. I think it trivialises spending 3-5CP pregame buffing up your hyper efficient combat characters with Relics and Warlord traits and pushes the much more interesting design of the Realspace Raid from playability and removing it will open up design space for the army to have its power elsewhere, but it’s not fundamentally broken.
  5. Raiders are too cheap. They are pointed like a rhino for a unit that has an incredible multiplier effect so they are eating up none of the armies power budget and that needs to change. A unit that provides incredible resilience; Fly and the speed that comes with it in a world of ever more terrain; shooting; combat manipulation (Grisly Trophies and Tormentors) and even punches okay cannot be priced like a transport, or cannot do everything it does. They’re the glue that keeps the faction working as “designed” but being everything else on top of that is too much. They need a change or the rest of the faction does.
  6. So let’s add Rule of Three for Transports. C’mon GW it’s time.
  7. – 42: Competitive Edge and Razorflails. 

 

Rob: You had me until “rule of three for transports.”

 

 

 

 

Wings: Beyond the stuff that’s just tidy-up fixes (stopping you bringing unaligned units in patrols, sorting out Competitive Edge, telling people that when the rules say “you must have a Cult of Strife Warlord to take this relic” they do actually mean it), I’d start by just putting 10pts on Raiders and seeing what happens – as I mentioned above, this knocks on to pretty much every other unit that’s seeing effective play, including the hated Technomancer liquifiers. That’s essentially a 50-60pts tax on every list, and that might not be enough, but applied alongside the various tidyups it tones the army down at least somewhat, and if that brings them down to merely “tier 1” rather than “unquestionably the best book” then I think that’s a sensible place for a holding pattern till the release cycle can kick back into gear, with more changes made if that doesn’t take them off the top. The only other thing I’d consider is adding a specific rule to Technomancers so that it also inflicts a wound if you roll a 1 for shot count on a Liquifier gun, so that there’s still some risk when using it on the auto-hit weapon. Technically I guess you should put that on the Cronos gun too, but they’re currently in the massive list of “stuff in this book that’s probably fine but is eclipsed by better choices”.

Oh, also, kind-of-joking-but-also-kind-of-not – use this as an excuse to un-nerf the Imperial Fists doctrine. The poor yellow bastards are languishing as by far the worse marines now, and the builds the old version of the Doctrine enabled used to be pretty good against Eldar hull lists in 8th. I strongly suspect it would barely even move the dial, but with AdMech next on the list, bringing back the Tank Police seems like it could be no bad thing.

Rob: My biggest concern right now is not “what if Drukhari are too strong” but rather “what if the next three codexes are just as good or better?” I worry that the Space Marine and Necron codexes (and even Death Guard) are going to rapidly be left behind if this is the new power level set by codexes, and so far we’ve seen increases with each new non-supplement book.

That said, Drukhari feel like a faction that could be solved by points adjustments if they’re too good, rather than needing functional errata.

 

 

Falcon: I’m with Rob here. All of the above-mentioned fixes are a definitive step in the right direction (especially a Raider tax; that may fix more than just about anything else while keeping the same murderous feel for the most murdery army), but then what? There is a way of thinking out there that these codexes act as a ‘rock/paper/scissors’ game and we just need to wait for the polar opposite to be released, but that just doesn’t feel good at all. At what point do you look at a pairing and say, ‘Well, I’m not supposed to beat this anyway so it’s fine’ and think that is healthy? And if the answer is instead, ‘The next book is more powerful anyway’, well as Rob said, where does that leave our first little ones? 

 

 

Rob: The funniest part of this may be Drukhari strangling competitive Dark Angels in the womb. Eat shit, Greg.

 

 

 

 

Falcon: Graphic, yet accurate.

 

 

 

 

Q. Final thoughts/arguments

Innes Wilson: Drukhari are a phenomenally designed book that are just plain interesting to build lists with but right now playing against them I have felt like an NPC in the Dark Eldar’s game. They will do their game plan and I either have the tools to try and disrupt it, and then have to deal with their power or they win without having to interact and get to force me to make mistakes. They aren’t unbeatable but I think for two players on an even skill level, the advantage provided by Drukhari does not make for an interesting game. While Drukhari may not be a high % of the meta they will make every game in the mid tables, which is most of any given event, feel like a coinflip of did you draw into them or not. For the top tables? Play them or plan for them above all else if you want to win a GT or Major, there is no other option. 

 

 

Boon: Get ’em while they’re hot.

 

 

 

 

Falcon: When books like this come around it can be polarizing. We see what has come before, we hope there’ve been learnings from it and that makes us wonder if there isn’t a bigger picture we just can’t see yet. I’m definitely curious about what is to come, I just hope we can smooth out the ride a bit in the meantime because otherwise we’re in for a bumpy one while we wait. Most importantly…think of the children.

 

 

 

Rob: I was very reluctant to call Drukhari overpowered until I started seeing more of the data we’ve got from the ITC Battles app and it’s pretty dire. We’ll be doing a full dive next week for our meta analysis but in the meantime here’s a quick preview of top faction Glicko scores over the last 90 days – Drukhari were already on the rise after some improvements in the January FAQ, and this just caused them to skyrocket past any of the competition.

 

 

Credit: Dexefiend

Have any questions or feedback? Want to offer your own take? We certainly can’t stop you from doing so in the comments below or by emailing us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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