Hammer of Math: Nerfed Numerics

Today is a momentous day, dear readers. In their infinite wisdom Games Workshop has thoroughly and completely nerfed Iron Hands, eliminating one of Hammer of Math’s favorite topics and subsequently forcing me to write about something other than bionic Space Marines shrugging off hilariously absurd quantities of damage. Eventually. This week we’re going to examine exactly how massive a shift these changes are. 

Iron Hands Intercessor by Booley
Look for a massive number of shoulder pads to suddenly change from white hands to white bird skulls. Credit: Jack Hunter

Way back in September, we released what remains the most popular Hammer of Math article ever. It covered how Iron Hands, with their amazing combination of Chapter Tactics, Stratagems, and special units could make units effectively invulnerable to incoming fire. We missed something major; with Cogitated Martyrdom certain Dreadnoughts could be made even more impossible to kill as shown in the popular Brohammer list. Only melee attacks from units such as Grey Knight Paladins had even a chance of taking one out in a single turn. The reason for all of was due to a combination of stacked effects which were individually devastating and cumulatively insurmountable:

  1. Space Marine dreadnoughts could use the Duty Eternal Stratagem to cut incoming damage by half. Modifications to driving rolls like damage are incredibly powerful, drastically more effective than boosts to gatekeeping rolls like armor saves or wound rolls.
  2. Iron Hands could use the Ironstone Relic to reduce damage by an extra point. Because of the mathematical order of operations division occurs before subtraction, which meant when combined with Duty Eternal this Relic was twice as powerful.
  3. Iron Hands players could apply the Cogitated Martyrdom Stratagem to shift wounds to a squad of Intercessors on a 2+, effectively adding 20 ablative wounds and making even T’au players jealous.
  4.  Iron Hands all receive a 6+ Feel No Pain, increasing the number of effective wounds by 20% since every wound (including mortal wounds) can be negated. This could be further enhanced to a 5+ (effectively 50% more wounds), and worse yet with Cogitated Martyrdom the rolls both applied.

The cumulative effect was a drastic reduction in damage. Any attack that hit and got through the high toughness and save was effectively disregarded a staggering 94% of the time, and as much as 75% of the damage applied was ignored before a single die was rolled. To put it bluntly this should never have happened, and the impact was so egregious (particularly when coupled with the absurd levels of offensive capability that Iron Hands also received) that some events completely banned the Supplement and Games Workshop made an unprecedented out of cycle correction. In addition to severely curtailing the doctrine system, the nerf made several changes to Space Marines in general and Iron Hands in particular:

  1. Duty Eternal only reduces damage by a single point, and could no longer stack with the Ironstone or any other damage reduction ability.
  2. Cogitated Martyrdom no longer applied to vehicles, and the roll to divert the wound was made before any Feel No Pain rolls.

In other words literally everything that made this particular combination powerful is now changed. How much? Let’s take a look at the damage dealt to an Iron Hand’s Dreadnought from last week’s article:

And compare it to now:

The difference is obvious. With no ablative wounds and only a -1 penalty to damage the Leviathan comes crashing down to a far more balanced level. Cogitated Martyrdom is still incredibly useful for protecting valuable characters, especially with Raven Guard likely going to be significantly more popular, but it had no business protecting 14 wound T8 models with a 4+ invulnerable save.

The Warlord Titan

Of course we should end this where we started; with a Warlord Titan.

So here’s the interesting thing; at the end of the day the Warlord Titan is actually a pretty terrible platform. 6000 points in this particular configuration gets you 2d6 Bellicosa Volcano Cannon Shots and 6d3 Reaver Laser Blaster shots. On average that’s around 7 Volcano Cannon and 12 Reaver Laser Blaster shots, which to be frank isn’t very many for a model which costs three times a typical 40K army. Fully half of those hits that manage to hit and wound will be completely disregarded by the 4+ invulnerable save which is native to the Leviathan Dreadnought, even though the Warlord Titan is from a fluff perspective a platform designed to raze entire cities. Clearly something is wrong here, and it’s not the Leviathan’s fault.

So what’s wrong? The Warlord Titan seems to suffer from the same misconception that also allowed the Iron Hands to reign supreme for several months. That misconception is the relative importance of the driving values (number of attacks and damage) to the gatekeeping rolls (hit, wound, save, feel no pain). The Warlord Titans are massive, lumbering constructs that are entirely dependent on the high variance associated with the number of shots. It’s entirely possible for a 6000 point unit to only fire 8 shots in an entire turn. Whatever the number, 30% of those shots are likely to either miss or fail to wound, as Titans don’t get re-rolls and a result of 1 always fails. And in the case of the Bellicosa and Reaver Laser Blaster if there’s an invulnerable save the target will have a chance to use it whether it’s a Knight or a particularly lucky grot. Numbers matter, and a 6000 point war machine should be a threat to 6000 points worth of models. Hopefully Games Workshop will correct that when they address the Forge World units in the near future.

Wrapping Up

It will take some time for the full ramifications of the latest errata to be realized across the 40K community, but the numbers above make it clear that things are significantly different. On the defensive front Dreadnoughts and Iron Hands in particular have become significantly more vulnerable, with a popular combination completely eliminated thanks to multiple corrections. Fundamentally this is good for the game; it’s not fun to know there’s nothing you can do against a particular target.

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