Hammer of Math: Save Distribution in Warhammer 40k

This week’s Hammer of Math expands on the work from last week and looks at how Saves are distributed across the competitive scene.

Last week we looked at how toughness characteristics were distributed in Warhammer 40k tournament lists and talked about what that meant for weapon strength, particularly in the context of the Blood Angels Detachment and their +2S rule in the new dataslate. This time around we’re looking at the distribution of save characteristics.

The balance of attacks and targets is heavily dependent on not only the interaction between weapon Strength and target Toughness, but also the relationship between the Save characteristic of the target and the Armour Penetration characteristic of the attack. This week I took a closer look at the units that are showing up in the Competitive Innovation series and examined how the Save characteristic was distributed. Adding in the units from the last two CI articles puts the total number of lists analyzed up to 77. The numbers below were derived from the following process:

  1. Determine the characteristics for each unit featured in a list from CI.
  2. Weight those characteristics by the percentage of points in a 2000 point army.
  3. Add up all of the weights for each Toughness/Save combination and then divide by the number of lists analyzed.

Several profiles immediately stand out.

  • T6/2+ is the most common profile due to the large number of Custodes lists that have been featured in Competitive Innovations. Turns out Custodes are really good after this latest round of dataslate updates. It’s also where Terminators live.
  • T10/3+ is a very popular profile, associated with vehicles such as Gladiators as well as War Dogs.
  • T6/3+ is the Gravis profile seen in Aggressors, Eradicators, and Inceptors.
  • T4/3+ is the famous Space Marine/Chaos Space Marine profile.
  • T3/3+ is for Adepta Sororitas.

Within the chart we can also see some very interesting relationships, such as how no unit of T6 or higher has a save worse than 4+, or how the majority of T12 targets have a 2+ save (the Repulsor Executioner is the T12 profile with a 3+ save). The chart also reinforces exactly how much of a disadvantage the unmodified melta profile is at, with S9 falling short of the vast majority of relevant targets.

Primaris Eradicators - Heavy Melta Rifles. Credit: Rockfish
Primaris Eradicators – Heavy Melta Rifles. Credit: Rockfish

Maximum Armour Penetration

Of course the Save characteristic is not the only relevant ability; a huge number of units in the game have an Invulnerable save which can neuter Armour Penetration. When the target save is modified to a cap (either an invulnerable save or no save at all), the excess AP contributes nothing. This is similar to how a high damage weapon against a low Wound target results in reduced efficiency. The chart below uses the same method as the previous chart, only instead of looking at the Save characteristic the chart looks at the maximum useful AP before excess is wasted.

The T6 Custodes profile stands out due to the prevalence of the 2+/4++ combination which makes anything better than AP -2 ineffective (not including the Benefits of Cover). T10 notably features a heavy distribution of targets which cap out at AP -2, -3, or -4 thanks to the presence in invulnerable saves (particularly a lot of Adepta Sororitas vehicles). AP -2 remains the sweet spot, with roughly one third of the weighted targets falling within that region. AP -4 was the second most relevant value, with approximately one fourth of the weight falling there. Roughly one fifth of the weighted targets either ignored AP entirely or at most capped out at AP -1. Note that presence of cover does make AP more effective, although quantifying that effect is difficult.

Chaos Knight Wardog Brigands – Credit: Bair

Final Thoughts

It’s pretty evident that profiles associated with Custodes and War Dogs are ones that competitive players should be used to dealing with, as they form a significant portion of the points fielded. This makes T6 and T10 toughness the two values that are worth focusing on right now, especially when combined with AP -3 to ensure that the Benefits of Cover can be overcome. This is one of the reasons why profiles like Dark Lances and the Flamestorm cannons on Land Raider Redeemers are so efficient, and why melta weapons are so disappointing. Alternatively, AP-2 with Ignores Cover is a great place to be as well, so TORRENT weapons which can hit that mark are also at a premium.

Going back to our Blood Angels examples, this again points us to power weapons and Encarmine blades as the options of choice for going from S5 to S7, with AP-2 on the swing. The Encarmine Blades here also give you 2 damage, and while there’s never a good time to be in melee with Custodes, they’re going to be your best option when it happens.

Now all of this may shift if the meta changes but ultimately the prevalence of 4+ invulnerable saves puts a solid cap on how good your AP needs to be, whether you’re up against Custodes or C’Tan. Paying a premium to go beyond AP-3 just may not be worth it in the current meta.

Rob: This is great news if you’re a Death Guard player, since you have access to a large number of TORRENT weapons with either AP0 or AP-1 and the ability to bump their AP by 1 with Ferric Blight, plus the ability to give targets -1 to their saves with Rattlejoint Ague. This is perfect for putting Terminators and Custodes on their 4+ saves, while also wounding them on a 2+ or 4+ with your gun’s ANTI-INFANTRY rule.

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