Goonhammer FAQ Hot Take: Mission Updates January 2021

An article by    Competitive Play Gaming Hot Take Warhammer 40k        0

GW released a bombshell of new FAQs today, covering updates to the GT missions, points updates, and rules clarifications and errata. And as always, we’ve got you covered with the rundown of what’s changed and what it means for your games. In this series of Hot Take articles, we’ll be covering the changes and our initial reactions to them but for more detailed analysis, check back over the next two weeks as we dive deeper into how these changes affect the game and its factions.

The GT Missions adjustments are potentially the smallest set of changes of today’s updates but likely to have among the largest impacts on the competitive game as a whole. There’s some crucial stuff here, so let’s get into it.

The Changes

We’ve written at length about the potential impact of taking the first turn. The good news is that someone at GW appears to be listening (or is at least tuned into the same issues), and there are two major changes in this update that will likely shift the impact of taking the first turn.

First Turn

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Change

The winner of the roll off in step 12 of the pre-game procedure no longer gets to choose to go first or second – they now have to go first.

What it Means

A big change right out the gate, and one that helps reduce the advantage of winning the pre-game roll-off. As we’ve extensively covered, on average going first in the 9th Edition missions is advantageous, but that won’t be true in all situations, and it’s definitely possible to build lists that want to go second, or it to be correct to choose to go second if both players have deployed defensively. That means that winning the roll-off right now gives you a huge advantage, and can also sometimes put a player in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” position against lists that can exploit the first turn when they get it – you’re kind of obliged to deploy defensively, but if you do and they win the roll off, they just force you to go first and either fall behind on scoring or expose yourself to attack anyway.

Ultimately, however, both before and after this change you should get the “correct” option roughly half the time, so the impact it has on the outcomes of games should be reasonably limited in the aggregate. Where it will probably matter is in matchups where one side very strongly favours the first or second turn, and the other can be flexible. There, if the flexible player is savvy they can deploy their army for an option that they know they’ll get most of the time, either because the opponent wins the roll and chooses their favoured one, or they win and choose the one they planned for. The other place it might have an impact is on games where one player is less familiar with the matchup, and would make the wrong decision if given the option, another place where flexible armies like Harlequins could really capitalise.

How to Adapt

In terms of how this should affect your strategy, it’s going to be more important than ever to have a plan for how you’re going to win whichever way the dice comes up, and the value of abilities that let you redeploy at the start of the first battle round (Phantasm, Relentlessly Expansionist etc.) will continue to be extremely high, as they let you adapt on the fly.

Now, obviously, the potential downside here is that if, in a given situation, you really want to go first or second, the disappointment of not getting your way is going to start to sink in straight away once the dice lands, without even the hope of your opponent gifting you a reprieve. Luckily, the second change here takes a stab at reducing how often that’s going to be the case…

 

Primary Scoring for the Second Player

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Change

All GT Missions have a change to their primary scoring. In the final battle round, the player who went second now scores their primary points at the end of their fifth turn rather than in the command phase.

What it Means

This is obviously intended to address the first turn win rate issue, and up front, we think it’s a great sign that GW have acted here, as it shows a commitment to responding to feedback and actively working to promote the health of the competitive game. Our data has fairly consistently shown approximately a 58% go-first win rate, and while that isn’t a disastrous figure (it certainly wasn’t as bad as early opinions suggested), it’s well over the line to where something needed to be done, so we’re thrilled to see it tackled head-on.

This change means that the second player now has vastly more agency to control the scoring in the final turn. Because they get to move and then score without the first player getting to respond, they can deploy whatever resources they have left to maximise their objective control, and in many situations will be able to squeeze out an extra five or ten points that might be enough to earn them an epic comeback, even if they only have a few models left. It also means they’ve got the “last touch” on influencing primary scoring, where previously the scores were locked-in at the end of player one’s fifth turn.

By handing player two a turn where they’re in the driving seat for scoring, and taking away player one’s ability to go all-out for point denial on their fifth turn, the hope would be that this will be enough to level the playing field and get those win rates closer to 50:50. Will it work?

Maybe! This change will definitely help, and is pretty close to some of the ones we’ve spitballed internally. Our conclusion from our deep-dives into the data has been that the driving force behind the first turn advantage has been the substantial imbalance in control over scoring on the second turn of the game, with it being much easier for player one to interfere with player two’s scoring, and extremely difficult for player two to stop player one getting 10pts on some objective maps. What this change needs to do, therefore, is create a similar imbalance in the other direction for the final turn, giving player two a chance to recover that deficit.

It could plausibly do that. Anyone familiar with ITC from 8th will know that the second player could often seize “hold more” on the last turn with very few resources, and if that holds true for the way games of 9th play out, that’s obviously great for player two, as it’ll be a cool 15pts a lot of the time. That does, of course, rely on them having at least some assets left on the table, and them having successfully depleted the opposing army enough for it to be non-trivial for player one to just squad on all the objectives, and I think that’s what this’ll come down to, because one of the advantages player one gets in some matchups is the first crack at killing stuff, and this isn’t going to help a player who has been dunked into oblivion.

For that reason, in our last look at this topic our position was that we’d prefer a change that aimed at helping player two match player one’s early initiative, as it more directly cut to the heart of what was going wrong with the balance, but that doesn’t mean this won’t work, and this change also has other advantages. It’s a very “clean” change, and is easy for anyone familiar with competitive play to grasp, and doesn’t involve inventing any whole new rules to try and give player two an early boost. It also makes the closing stages of the game more exciting – one of the big problems with the current setup is that it’s not uncommon for it to be pointless to play out the second player’s final turn, and essentially getting to only play four and a half-ish turns to player one’s five just isn’t fun. Finally, while it’s a change that will be significant, it’s also a relatively light one, which at this point of time was definitely the right call – there’s a lot to like about the missions, and some of the proposed fixes we’ve seen in the wild would have essentially gutted and replaced them. As we’ve seen with the weapon updates recently, small changes can have surprisingly huge impacts, so starting small and then working up if the problem remains is the right way to go about this.

How to Adapt

You’re not just here for philosophical meanderings about win-rates though – how should you adapt to this? This incentivises including three things in your lists:

  • Fast characters/small units. These are the best things for zipping out for a last second steal to rack up a big final turn if you go second. Coldstar Commanders out of Tau are the all-time champs here.
  • Durable units. The last turn isn’t going to help you if you haven’t got anything left on the board, and now when you’re going first you want to have as many units as possible left to occupy objectives on your fifth turn.
  • Stratagems/abilities that let you do a staged redeploy like the new version of Upon Wings of Fire. If you’re going second, you can use one of these on your fourth turn to ensure you have some assets that you can either throw into a heroic charge or place on an unoccupied objective in your fifth.

There’s bound to be far more depth here as people explore what this means, but those are some things you can start thinking about right away!

 

Secondary Objectives

As well as primary scoring, three of the Secondary Objectives in the mission pack have received an update. There’s also a knock-on impact to the Warpcraft category from one of the core rule changes that we’ll cover here too.

Abhor the Witch

Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Change

Abhor the Witch now rewards 3VP for each PSYKER CHARACTER destroyed (down from 5VP) and 2VP for each other PSYKER destroyed (down from 3VP).

Impact

This change is extremely welcome, as the previous version of Abhor the Witch was far too generous (it had the highest average score of any generic secondary), to the point of skewing the metagame quite a bit as players left psykers out of their lists just so they could take this in matchups where it was good. On the other side, armies that are heavily dependent on Psykers like Craftworlds or Tyranids were put in a horrible position of either not taking some of their best units or giving up easy points. The fact that many of the valid targets for this stacked with Bring it Down or Assassinate only made things worse, with Hive Tyrants being particular casualties of that interaction.

Now, both those armies can bring a sensible number of Psykers without opening themselves wide to this, and players of other factions can be a bit more open to using the psychic options available to them. It at least helps Grey Knights and Thousand Sons, as the opponent no longer gets 15pts just for showing up, but in those cases it’s still going to be pretty brutal. Realistically, however, there’s no version of this that’s still relevant against any other armies that isn’t brutal for those two, and maybe they’ll see some sort of specific mitigation added whenever their codexes show up.

The only arguable downside of this is that it helps out Daemons by reducing the number of points Greater Daemons give out, and they in no-way needed a power boost. However, the overall positive impact on the game is healthy enough that we’ll forgive them that, especially as they just took a hit on Nurglings!

Bring it Down

Imperial Fist Gladiator Reapers

Imperial Fist Gladiator Reapers. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Change

Bring it Down now awards 1VP for each VEHICLE or MONSTER with 10 or fewer wounds destroyed (down from 2VP), 2VP for one with 11-19 wounds destroyed (down from 3VP) and 3VP for those with 20+.

Impact

Bring it Down wasn’t far behind Abhor the Witch in the secondary rankings, and was pickable in a vastly wider array of matchups. Especially for light vehicles that come in squads like Piranhas, the old scoring track here was absolutely brutal, with units that could easily be evaporated in a single turn giving up 6VP. That meant it was very tough to justify picking that kind of unit if you were planning on using any other VEHICLES or MONSTERS in your strategy, putting a lot of units on the shelf. It was also terrible for Guard, Craftworlds and Tyranids, all of whom tend to rely heavily on units that qualify for this while also being vulnerable to other “kill” secondaries that can stack with it, and it’s no coincidence that all three of those armies have been having a tough time of it.

This gives you much more breathing room to use a moderate number of big toys without immediately shooting yourself in the foot, and should help the factions with high quality choices here a lot. Combined with the change to Abhor, it’ll also have the effect of lifting up many other secondaries, because these two tended to have both a higher ceiling and a lower floor than many others in the right matchups, essentially making them auto-picks.

Strategy-wise, the main thing here is to look again at your squadron vehicle options. It wouldn’t shock me if some flavour of the go-wide Expert Crafters builds returned on the back of this, and the marketing representatives of the Hive Mind have informed me that it’s now big boy season at the Tyranid factory. Also, Guard can put three Russ Commanders and two Manticores on the board without immediately opening themselves up to this, and maybe take advantage of their newly discounted Chimeras, so that’s nice!

While We Stand, We Fight

Tau Commander

Tau Commander. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Change

For While We Stand, We Fight, your three most expensive Units rather than Models now become the things you need to keep alive.

Impact

This one is a bit more of a curveball, as While We Stand was firmly middle of the pack in terms of scores, and this nerfs it straight into the ground for most of the armies that could use it. This was most valuable to armies that had mid-high cost CHARACTERS that could contribute while being hidden among their units, and didn’t take any expensive tanks or whatever that had higher costs than them. As long as they could keep them screened through the course of the game, that was 15pts on the scoreboard right there. That, obviously, is now much harder for the vast majority of lists – not taking any individual models more expensive than your characters was one thing, but keeping the costs of all your units down below that floor is going to make you jump through way more hoops, likely to the point where it isn’t worth swinging for this on that angle. For most armies, you also can’t just take this on a whim and expect to do well out of it, as it’s very likely that at least some of your most expensive units will be in the thick of it.

So if this wasn’t breaking the game, and this largely works out as a major nerf, why do it? Well, apart from the fact that it straight up didn’t work with the way some units are costed, our read on it is that while not broken in the aggregate, the play patterns this generated weren’t fantastic, and as long as it existed in its previous form there was a reasonably high risk of someone finding a list where it was overpowered and unfun. From my dalliance with reviewing lists from team events, it was also quite skewing in that context in a way that probably wasn’t super healthy. Changing it so that the more skewed uses of this are off the table makes sense, considering all of that, but I hope that if a larger revision of the Secondaries happens in the future, this gets a more ground-up re-write.

So, right now, who does this help and hurt. Sadly, near the top of victims among those that were using this effectively but “fairly” are Tau, who really can’t catch a break right now. Commanders were the perfect unit for this, being comfortably above the price of even their tanks, but perfectly happy lurking in a castle most of the game. Some Necron lists also made effective use of it, keeping Crypteks safe behind hordes of Scarabs and Wraiths. Beyond that, you generally had to do a bit more work to enable it, but it wasn’t completely unusual to be most of the way through writing a list and realising that a few small tweaks would enable this, and that ship has thoroughly sailed.

Is there anyone this helps? Maybe – now this helps you if your three most expensive units are either nails hard or are going to be sitting outside of harm’s way. 9th generally wants you to have your best stuff really in the thick of it, so the former seems more likely, and that means the nails-hard option is more likely to work out. I could imagine Black Templars being able to stack up a big Terminator squad and a couple of Bladeguard units or something and that being pretty hard to take down, or Space Wolves throwing down three big units of ThunderCav and daring the opponent to face them head on. Dark Angels can also do some stuff here, having access to both Deathwing Knights and actual reasons to take squads of Invader ATVs. Daemons can definitely do some nasty work here – do you enjoy trying to take down Big Bird and two 9-model squads of Beasts of Nurgle? What’s that? You don’t? Oh dear. The less said about the double plane Custodes list the better. Just move on.

Ultimately, of the changes here this is the one I’m least sold on. While I can see while it’s been done, the impact on the metagame is likely going to be to remove a choice that’s sometimes accessible to weaker armies, and reward the factions that can put up the kind of nightmare tarpits that are already top tier in 9th. There is almost always going to be some counterplay to it, so it isn’t going to cause cataclysmic metagame damage or anything, but I’m also not convinced it’s doing much positive in its new form either, so I’ll reiterate that I hope we see further changes down the line here.

Psychic Actions

Farseer. Credit: Rockfish

Farseer. Credit: Rockfish

The Change

One final point on the missions comes from a Designer Note in the Core Book FAQ. While we’ll mostly be covering the core changes in a separate article, this one obviously directly impacts the missions, so we’ll look at it here.

The ruling here clarifies that, while Psychic Actions are not technically Psychic Powers, attempting one functions identically to manifesting a psychic power, and all rules that interact with that process apply here too.

Impact

The key thing here is that this means that special abilities that can Deny Psychic Powers (e.g. the Adepta Sororitas Purity of Faith stratagem) can be used to Deny Psychic Actions as well, whereas a strict reading of the rules in the book only allowed enemy Psykers to step up and try for a deny.

While it does also allow the player using the actions to benefit from abilities that boost casting, this definitely works out as a downgrade for psychic actions overall, which isn’t fantastic given these already tended to be relatively weak secondaries. The fact that some of the best Secondaries are taking a hit at the same time softens the blow a bit, as it lowers what your target is for a “respectable” score on these is, but with Sisters riding roughshod over the metagame right now, them being able to flip a coin to mess with your scoring every turn isn’t fantastic news.

Ultimately, your main takeaway here is “watch out for deny abilities”, and beyond that it isn’t changing your evaluation much – so consider yourself warned.

 

The Takeaways

Obviously these mission changes form part of a vastly larger set of updates, and it’s going to take everyone a little while to work out what the lay of the land is as we enter a new year. The three big obvious takeaways, however, are:

  • While we don’t know how big the effect will be, the advantage you get from going first in games where you would currently be correct to is definitely going to be smaller than it was yesterday.
  • Multiple weaker factions can draw on high quality parts of their Codexes without opening themselves up so badly to some secondaries, giving them more options and a definite boost.
  • That same change is going to reduce the average score of two of the highest scoring “generic” secondaries, likely making some of the middle-of-the-road choices more attractive in comparison.

All of that sounds pretty good to me, and I can’t wait to try some games with the new updates in place.

 

Wrap Up

That’s it for our look at the missions, we hope you’re enjoying Hot Taek Thursday, and keep your eyes peeled for more that’s coming as fast as we can write it! If we’ve missed anything, let us know at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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