Hammer of Math: Space Marines in the New Meta (January 2023)

This week’s Hammer of Math takes a look at the effect of the changes in the new Balance Dataslate, Munitorium Field Manual, and Arks of Omen on Space Marines.

What a week.

For those who don’t obsess over every detail of Warhammer 40k, Games Workshop made some significant shifts to how the game is played through a trio of publications (not to mention a FAQ Update and a cool way to play). Collectively we’re referring to the latest Munitorium Field Manual, Balance Dataslate, and Arks of Omen: Grand Tournament as simply “Arks of Omen”. If you’re more of a casual player I recommend checking out my summary of the changes, otherwise you’ve probably already read our detailed review of the update from a competitive perspective. One of the most significant changes revolve around loyalist Space Marines, which is a faction that the vast majority of players own but have suffered quite a bit recently. Changes to Astartes can have a massive impact on the competitive scene because so many players can pivot to them.

So will it happen? Probably.

Credit: Greg Chiasson

Is the loss of Armour of Contempt offset by the points adjustment?

One of the most significant changes is that Games Workshop removed Armour of Contempt, which they had added not too long ago. This ability reduced the AP of incoming attacks by 1 so long as the unit didn’t have a shield or affected the AP through another ability. To offset the loss of AoC, most Adeptus Astartes units were reduced in points by either altering the core model cost or eliminating the vast majority of upgrade costs. So one question that’s been percolating is whether or not the cost reduction actually did offset the loss of AoC.

To calculate this, we’ll take a look the impact of modifying a save on effective wounds. When you make a save, you force your opponent to make a subsequent attack. That attack is also subject to a save roll, which means you can force another attack and so forth. The cumulative effect is greater than the probability of simply making the save and is shown in the formula and chart below. The end result is the number of ‘effective wounds’ that the model has, or a modifier that indicates on average how many wounds a model with no save would need to be in order to be as survivable as a model with a save. I say on average because the presence of a probability inherently adds variance; some models will fail their first save while others will seemingly save no matter how many times you shoot them.

Effective Wounds = 1 / (1 – P(Save))

We can use this to look at how many effective wounds a model has for a given save target, see how many effective wounds are lost when the save is reduced by different AP values, and compare that to the reduction in points from the latest Munitorium Field Manual. This will tell us where the break even point is for a given model; the AP at which point the loss of AoC is offset by the reduction in points. So the first thing we need to do is chart up exactly how AP modifies effective wounds, which is done below.

An example using the chart above shows that an Intercessor (3+ save) normally has an effective wounds of 300%, meaning that its Wounds characteristic of 2 is equivalent to 6 wounds with no save. When hit with something with an AP of -2, the save drops from 3+ to 5+. This makes the equivalent wounds drop from 300% to 150%, which is a 50% reduction. Against an AP -3 threat the Intercessor lost 50% of their 6 effective wounds, which makes new their value 3 wounds. We can now look at what happens when AoC is removed by comparing the effective wounds from the different modified saves, shown in the chart below.

Continuing our example from the previous paragraph, the Intercessor that was wounded by the AP -2 attack had a 4+ save with AoC (200% effective wounds) but now has a 5+ save (150% effective wounds). That’s a 25% reduction in effective wounds. If the difference in points costs before and after the latest points change is greater than 25% then the Marine is better off now than they were before. Comparing the 2022 Mk II Field Manual to the 2023 Mk I Field Manual we see that the Intercessor went from 20 points down to 18, which is a 10% reduction. Looking at the chart for the 3+ save line we see that you have to hit an AP -5 threat before the loss of AoC is offset by the reduction in points.

Note that this chart does not include invulnerable saves, which would cap out at whatever AP hit the invulnerable. For example a Terminator (2+/5++) hit the 5++ threshold against AP -3, so against AP -4 or higher the difference is 0% since the save is unchanged. Anything with a storm shield (which are generally free now) is also unchanged, and armies which have easy access to invulnerable saves (such as Black Templar taking the vow to Uphold the Honour of the Emperor) benefit more from the points reduction.

So what’s the answer to the question in the header? For the most part, yes the points drop offsets the loss of Armour of Contempt. Though as usual, context is important.

  • Upgrades mostly being free means we need to take a holistic approach to pricing units. For example an individual Intercessor went from 20 to 18, but a squad can now get a free thunder hammer, grenade launcher, and a hand flamer. Add those bonuses and the squad which was 130 is now 90, a 31% decrease. Now that 3+ profile is a net positive against everything but AP -1.
  • The weapons that benefit the most are generally low AP. By the time you get into weapons that are designed to kill Marines (such as plasma) the impact of AoC was negligible.
  • These calculations don’t take into account that offense is also boosted. Free upgrades and reduced point costs mean you get more attacks leading to more dead enemies.
  • Many of the real winners weren’t affected by AoC in the first place. Units like Deathwing or Wolf Guard Terminators with storm shields already had a 1+/4++ profile that didn’t get any benefits from AoC. Now those units are 23% cheaper. To a lesser extent this also applies to units with an invulnerability save that isn’t reflected in the core unit, like Deathwatch in proximity to a Dominus Aegis or Iron Hands infantry hanging around Feirros.
  • Attributes or abilities outside of the save profile don’t affect the results. Effects like damage reduction or Feel No Pain occur equally for units before and after the loss of AoC, which means they are independent and not going to change the save roll. Similarly these results don’t change anything against mortal wound spam.

Imperial Fist Gladiator Reapers
Imperial Fist Gladiator Reapers. Credit: Jack Hunter

Changes to Combat Doctrines

The other major shift to Astartes was that their core ability, Combat Doctrines, has been reverted back to 8th Edition rules where you were not forced to advance along the doctrinal path. In other words if your Chapter happens to have a bonus for a particular doctrine, you’re no longer forced to shift once you get there. If your Chapter happens to have a bonus which focuses on an early doctrine, such as Imperial Fists and the Devastator Doctrine, then you can leverage that ability for the entire game. If your Chapter happens to have a bonus which focuses on an early doctrine and allows you to tailor your entire force to it, such as Iron Hands and heavy weapons, then life is particularly good.

  • Black Templar use a vow ability which doesn’t depend on a specific Doctrine, but the can use Accept Any Challenge, No Matter the Odds to always get the Assault Doctrine bonus while in Devastator or Tactical. Why they would do this instead of leverage Uphold the Honour of the Emperor to get a 5++ and a permanent low-grade Transhuman Physiology is a philosophical discussion for greater minds than I.
  • Blood Angels, Space Wolves, and White Scars all have bonuses that require the Assault Doctrine and as a result get no benefit from this change. Ideally these chapters would be allowed to start in the doctrine that works best for them, particularly since they’re going to be assaulting long before Turn 3, but apparently the Codex Astartes does not support this action.
  • Dark Angels get bonuses depending on their army composition and Doctrine, with Ravenwing getting the option to permanently stay in Devastator to leverage Speed of the Raven and enjoy extra movement and no penalty to Advance and shoot.
  • Deathwatch are screwed, because Mission Tactics override the original Doctrine ability and is now decidedly worse. Deathwatch will probably want to take an Ally Detachment of Imperial Knights to avoid it.
  • Imperial Fists now have the permanent option to get +1 Damage against VEHICLE or BUILDING units when attacking with a Heavy Weapon with a Strength characteristic of 7 or more. Why GW decided these guys needed such a constricting bonus continues to beyond my comprehension; at least make it against MONSTERS as well. The good news is that in the right circumstances the bonus Damage can be one of the most significant improvements to lethality, improving output more than hit bonuses or re-rolls in many circumstances.
  • Iron Hands are the big winner here, achieving the combination of re-rolling 1s to hit (a fixed and permanent 17% improvement in lethality) as well as being able to move and fire Heavy weapons without penalty. For a BS 3+ unit the net improvement for a heavy weapon moving is incredible; the original unit would hit 50% of the time, while probability of the Iron Hand hitting is 78%. That’s a 56% improvement in lethality.
  • Raven Guard get +1 to hit and wound against CHARACTER units in the Tactical Doctrine. The bonus here is highly subjective but effective; going from a 3+ to hit and 3+ to wound to a 2+ to hit and 2+ to wound is a 53% improvement in lethal output. Unfortunately the viability of this bonus depends on the army composition of the enemy, making it as limited as the Imperial Fists one.
  • Salamanders prefer to live in the Tactical Doctrine and can leverage Promethean Cult to get a +1 to wound for flame or melta weapons. Much like Iron Hands this is an ability that the army can be composed around, particularly since Flamestorm Aggressors are considerably cheaper and melta units like Eradicators and Gladiator Valiants took a discount. For a typical scenario in which a S8 weapon is attacking a T8 target, changing a 4+ to a 3+ to wound is a 33% bonus in lethality.
  • Ultramarines get added flexibility in the Tactical Doctrine by being able to fire their weapons as if they had Remained Stationary so long as they hadn’t Advanced or Fallen Back. In other words they get half the bonus that Iron Hands do in a Doctrine which doesn’t actually benefit heavy weapons.

The other transformational component of the changes to Doctrines are that all Adeptus Astartes forces gain access to the Codex Warfare secondary, which provides VP based on how many enemy units were destroyed using a particular weapon in a particular Doctrine. One would think that GW would balance this so that Doctrines which occur later in the game, such as Assault, would gain more of a bonus that earlies doctrines, but that’s not the case. The best bonus is from destroying units with Heavy weapons in the Devastator Doctrine, which affords 2 VP per unit destroyed while attacks in other Doctrines are only 1 VP. This is likely going to be an auto-take for many Astartes armies.

Purgatum Mathematica. Credit: Kevin Genson

The Most Important Question

Sure, cheaper units and better Combat Doctrines are one thing, but we haven’t answered the real question of the Arks of Omen meta. Does the Repulsor Executioner still suck?

The answer? Yeah, it still kinda does.

The RepEx took a massive price drop, going from a maximum of 320 down to 250. This 22% points cut gives it a net benefit against anything AP -3 or higher. The problem is that while the RepEx got cheaper, so did nearly everything else. A pair of Repulsor Executioners is 500 points and comes with 2 heavy laser destroyers, 2 heavy onslaught gatling cannons, 2 twin-linked heavy bolters, 2 ironhail heavy stubbers, 2 twin Icarus ironhail heavy stubbers, 2 Icarus rocket pods, 4 storm bolters and 4 fragstorm grenade launchers. That armament comes packaged with 32 T8 wounds at a 3+ save and lets you carry 12 Primaris Marines.

To be honest I mostly typed all of that out to show how absurd these things are.

500 points is also conveniently enough the cost for 2 Gladiator Lancers, 1 Gladiator Reaper, and an Impulsor. That arrangement will get you the same number of (slightly weaker) laser destroyers, the same number of gatling shots, more rocket pods, and more obnoxious S4 guns which I honestly loathe keeping track of. All packaged in 36 wounds with the same T8/3+ profile along with another 11 T7 wounds which can get a free 5+ invulnerable save. The only downside is that you only get to carry 6 Primaris Marines instead of 12, but they get to come out of an Assault Vehicle which means the transport capacity might actually be useful.

So yes, the RepEx still sucks. It sucks less than before… but it still sucks.

If you ever have a chance to see Craig’s RepEx in person, do so. It’s gorgeous. Credit: Craig “MasterSlowPoke” Sniffen

Prepare to Die

There’s nothing subtle about what’s going to happen; the combination of reduced costs, shifts to Combat Doctrines, and low barrier to entry due to the prevalence of Astartes armies means that tournaments are likely going to see a lot of Chapters discover they’re actually Iron Hands or Black Templars successors. This in turn will lead to much more lethal games as players take advantage of the numerous reasons to exploit the Devastator Doctrine in their tactics and army composition. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first turn determines a lot of matches, but that in the long run armies that can withstand the initial onslaught through prevalent invulnerable saves or deployment shenanigans will have an advantage.

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