Codex: Leagues of Votann is fast approaching and the 40k community have A Lot of Opinions on the strength of the new book. While we all agree that the book is strong in general, exactly how strong is a bit more contentious, as well as what should be done. We sat down once again with some of our top competitive players to ask the important questions about what Votann are like and how they’ll play.
- Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
- Ben Jurek
- The Falcon
- Greg Chiasson
- John Lennon
- James “One_Wing” Grover
- Danny Porter
Leagues of Votann seem pretty good. Just how strong are they, compared to the rest of the field? Are they going to be Iron Hands levels of oppressive?
TheChirurgeon: This is a really interesting question with a lot of factors that go into it. Basically, we all know Votann are strong from an army rules and datasheet standpoint, but that’s only half the battle at this point – Tyranids have some of the game’s best datasheets but they’re not quite the game’s best army at the moment. And the reason is because being the game’s strongest faction is currently tied to having the game’s best secondary objectives, where no one can really compete with Necrons and Adepta Sororitas. In that sense, I think the Votann’s biggest challenge isn’t necessarily speed – their bikes and transports can get them all around the table – it’s more that they just don’t have the kinds of secondary objectives you need to beat Sisters or Necrons.
On the other hand, none of that matters if they can just table opponents in every game, and I’ve seen more than a few very good players whose opinions I respect seem confident that will just be the outcome. A lot of it is going to depend on what nerfs hit in the next balance dataslate. Votann definitely have the potential to be every bit as oppressive as Iron Hands and Drukhari, if not moreso, and that will be compounded by the game’s top players suddenly deciding that actually, they’ve always been fans of Squats, if you think about it. A lot of this will also depend on when all of the book’s units release and how events handle proxies.
Ben: For a codex with just a handful of datasheets they are proving to be point to pound more efficient than other models of the same cost. In some cases this is before you even factor in judgment tokens which is where everything goes off the.. magna-rails.
I really thought the balance issues were going to be the worst thing about Votann but no, it’s actually this joke. Everybody please join me in booing this man.
Falcon: In 1993, Kimberly caught the eye of a handsome young martial artist named Tommy. She and Jason were intrigued by how well he excelled in practice at the high school and both were enamored with his charm and skill. BUT YOU KNOW WHO ELSE WAS CHARMED!?! Rita Mother Effin’ Repulsa. And she turned him into the Green Ranger and he beat all of the other power rangers up using a flute and a friggin’ robot dragon AND a sword of darkness. Leagues of Votann are amazing because, like Tommy, too many people saw their potential and gave them too many gifts and now these little short kings and queens are going to take everyone to band camp with their own fancy beam flutes and judgment tokens and every other mechanic that was seen as problematic with previous armies. Our saving grace might just be that their secondaries aren’t super hot but I’m not sure that matters once their full line is released and they begin methodically tabling people on 3. I am not sure Votann are the strongest codex released this edition, but they are a good head above the state of everything else right now.
Greg: They seem like they’re going to be a problem, though I’m not sure we’ll ever really see them at their full potential. Depending on the release schedule for the models versus how quickly an FAQ comes out, the faction might end up being brought down a peg before the truly bonkers lists ever get a chance to hit a table. That’s probably a good thing. They’re a hard faction to really get a handle on: they’re indisputably going to be brutal to play into, but the way scoring works is totally different now. Votanns’ lack of auto-15 secondaries will lead to games where they’re just as brutally uninteractive as the old Iron Hands or Loyal 32/Castellan builds and you spend five turns feeling like you’re absorbing punishment can’t catch a break, but when the dust settles the Votanns have lost. It won’t be often, but it’s something.
James: After a few rounds of this in 9th Edition, at this point it’s very difficult to analyze this sort of thing without second guessing yourself in both directions. On paper, many of their mechanics are too pushed, but what if they’re not as much better than other armies than they look? On the other hand, what if they absolutely are just going to slam almost any list off the table in a few turns? I think I end up coming down on them being a fourth army to join the “needs a nerf” tier with Necrons, Sororitas and Tyranids – I think all of those can plausibly assemble a plan to beat them, but anything else is in real trouble – and I also think that thanks to the sheer brute efficiency of the Votann, it’ll be harder for other factions to take games off them than it is for the other three. That means that while I’d potentially expect to see them sharing tournament dominance with the other current top builds, their existence is going to crater list diversity, because losing to them with a weaker faction is going to suck.
We are, of course, also due a balance dataslate pretty soon, and if that sands the edges off the Necron and Sororitas Secondaries, you could end up with pretty much only Tyranids able to compete into them (as I think the most likely change to Tyranids is to hit Leviathan, and that’s less good against Votann than the field).
Danny: Votann are at some incredible levels of power output, there’s no question there. They’re very strong and have some ridiculous damage thanks to their token system. Are they as oppressive as 8th Iron hands? I really do not think so. I’d even go as far as saying they’re not at the level of 9th pre-nerf Nids in my honest opinion. I think this is another case where until it’s played out on the table, a lot of players are going to look at this codex, look at the datasheets and think this is good, simply too good. However whilst people are very much hanging on how good this codex is, they’re conveniently avoiding the limitations and the problems with the codex, and I think because this codex was leaked too early, it’s given time for negative emotions to stir and rile up communities across the globe. Their scoring is actually quite limited and outside of YMYR, whilst they have some crazy combos like the Brokhyr turning the damage of 1 failed save into a 0 for a land fortress etc, they’re not actually as tanky as people think, regardless of void armour. My biggest problem with this army is that their strengths are obvious, but their weaknesses are not and this is leading to a lot of people worrying more than they should.
What makes Votann so good?
TheChirurgeon: Every single datasheet is just a little too strong, a little too durable, and a little too cheap. The army does too many things well, and even its weaknesses aren’t particularly glaring. It leans hard on several mechanics we already knew were an issue from even worse versions in books like Codex: Adeptus Mechanicus or Codex: T’au Empire. This book is like “what if you gave Death Guard access to T’au guns and worthwhile transports?”
Falcon: As already has been mentioned, the Votann datasheets are extremely good across the board. Much like how Drukhari looked back in the way before, there is just so much juice to squeeze out of these stout lads and lasses that it feels like making a ‘4-1’ list will be achievable with a blindfold and a spinny wheel. But on top of all the beef in the sheets, they feature probably 4 of the best subfaction abilities in the game and their stratagems are also simple and incredibly effective. Easy access to mortal wounds, full hit rerolls, and more? Yes please. The impact of all this efficiency in the vacuum left after the repeated nerfs and mechanic changes to big bads of the last couple of years feels like a perfect storm.
Greg: Votanns just ignore too many opposing mechanics. They sidestep high toughness or Transhuman-like effects by auto-wounding, you can’t re-roll wounds or damage into them, and they have pretty good Mortal Wound output. They have ways around invulnerable saves, and even if they themselves don’t get a lot of invulns, their 2+ and 3+ saves combined with Armor of Contempt blunt the worst of incoming AP. Elite armies? They got beams. Horde armies? They got damage roll-over. All of this is baseline by the way, for any League you want. You get a lot as a door prize purely for being a Votann, and then on top of that you also get subfactions and datasheets that are among the best in the game.
John: Do you remember that moment when you thought you understood the AdMech codex, and then your opponent pulled out another rule you’d never heard of to ignore whatever bad thing might have happened to them? Votann has that level of rules on datasheets that make a Tyranid blush. Votann is the best army in the game at simply getting in a punching match, with a brutal combination of conventional defense and damage output.
James: I talked about this a bit at the end of our review, and I think there’s a few things going on here. First up, the baseline of units in this book is largely right on the line where they’d be competitive with minimal further support, and then all the faction traits, abilities etc. are also very strong, and these two combine to create builds that are incredibly efficient and with no dead weight on baseline. Secondly, the Judgement Tokens mechanic messes with the normal maths of the game too much once it gets past the 6+ version (especially with full hit re-rolls, which the book hands out liberally), and it’s a bit too easy to do that reliably. Finally, I think there’s too much stuff in here that seems designed to pre-mitigate the army’s weaknesses, making them quite difficult to counter. Slow? Give their ultra-fast bikes ObSec for free, and make sure they can’t be slowed further. Short Ranged? Mitigate that in one of the best subfactions. Elite? Stack a bunch of free defences on them.
Danny: There’s not really much to add here to what others have said, I think they’re a little too efficient for their points and there are just too many mortals and this needs toning down as a side nerf. Ultimately their system is too good due to its debuffs sticking until the end of the game. This needs to be altered first.
Which current factions will do well against them?
TheChirurgeon: OK so ***if*** there’s a place Votann will struggle, it’ll be against Sisters and Necrons, at least in those armies’ current state. Right now any game you go up against Sisters or Necrons you need to have a plan to score 100 VP – to the point where you cannot afford to take secondaries that don’t have a reasonable chance of scoring 15 points. Votann fundamentally lack these secondaries in their repertoire – their best option, The Ancestors Are Watching, can rack up points easily but will struggle to give you 10 points in value unless you table the opponent, since you’re likely to lose 3-5 VP per game on surviving units with Judgement tokens, particularly if an opponent can hide them. I think they’ll struggle against Sisters and Necrons for this reason – those armies can just put out too much passive VP scoring – and I think Tyranids and Daemons have some play against them, with the former just having similarly amazing datasheets and the latter having the ability to ignore some of their most heinous nonsense from a saves standpoint.
Of course none of this will matter if A. Votann can just table the Sisters and Necrons players they go up against before T5, or B. GW doesn’t fix the Sisters/Necrons secondary issues and nerfs Tyranids without nerfing Votann, which I suspect they’ll do.
Ben: I don’t think you can build a true anti-LoV list with any army. That’s a problem. I think armies that may succeed against an uphill battle will be fast moving armies with enough trade pieces to efficiently trade up. Armies like Nids and Orks and Daemons. Daemons still actually get a save and may be the only “counter” available.
Falcon: Necrons can still hang by just making it to turn 4 and screaming ‘I did the Ancient Machineries!’ every turn as they already do, with all the skill that entails. Higher-level Tyranid players will probably pivot back to Kraken and claim their brains were just too big all along and put in some performances. Sisters have the tools to hold their own at least until the Siege Fortresses filled with Berserkers become a thing. Somebody will win something with Harlequins and be proclaimed the King or Queen of Narnia until it gets pointed out that the only Votann player in attendance was playing 400 points down. This is the new world order. It is fun.
Greg: The fact that they have mid-tier (and, technically, not usable in Nephilim) secondaries will hold them back, inasmuch as anything can. If you can reliably score early points while they rip huge chunks out of your army every turn, and then hang on for dear life, you might have a shot. Looking at their durability I don’t see kill secondaries being useful, so maybe go wide on Activities (preferably ones that complete on your own turn, since nothing is going to survive the clapback on theirs)? All of this is a long way of saying: Necrons, Sisters. I’m not sure how highly I’d rate the Daemon saves, either: even if they tech hard into rails you’re still in trouble on the non-magna-rail shooting, and there’s no shortage of that.
John: Votann players are quickly going to get used to looking at the scoreboard, realizing that they’re losing, and then pushing their army straight through their opponent’s face and out the other side for a victory. What army can deter the push? Tyranids. Tyranids can put out ungodly amounts of mortals with mines, the psychic phase, and various rules. Kraken has always been the best hive fleet, but now that Leviathan is dead, bug players can start using their big veiny Zoanthrope brains to try and actually fight Votann. It may still end up as an uphill battle, but Nids are #1 in my heart for this one.
James: Agree with several of the points already made – the armies that count to 100VP through over-pushed Secondaries can probably give them some trouble, Psychic-heavy Tyranids (maybe with the big ObSec Tervigon+Gant blob too) may actually be able to take them in a fight, and there’s probably some bonkers Tzeentch-based Daemon list that gets them (though whether that beats anything else is up in the air).
Danny: Ok so to be fair I’ve been playing Votann a lot recently (don’t judge me) – 40 games to be exact and I can say there’s definitely some armies it will struggle against. As mentioned previously, armies who can score passively and score high like Necrons or sisters can do really well, this is not an army who can score 100s unless you massively outskill your opponent. Sure there will be times where you table your opponent but that can happen with any army. Additionally there are armies that can deny scoring, and tarpit. I think some interesting builds from GSC, Orks, Daemons can provide big challenges to Votann, especially those that build into land fortresses. As well as this, armies that can throw as many mortal wounds at Votann have been doing really well. Thousand sons, GK, Nids have been a thorn in my experience. I would definitely suggest to anyone wanting to counter votann, it’s definitely less about creating a particular build, and more about utilising an entirely different game plan than vs other armies.
Which current factions will struggle the most against Votann?
TheChirurgeon: Knights seem like they’ll just be completely dead in a meta packed with Votann and the occasional T’au opponent. Death Guard just have no play whatsoever, since they get screwed on both ends – their plague weapons become worthless and their high toughness is just trivially bypassed.
Greg: I don’t suppose I can just say “all of them”, but in particular I’m struggling to think of what a T’au list can do that isn’t just playing a worse version of the Votann’s game. Also any army that relies on tanking incoming fire is hosed, straight up. Obviously the first place my head goes here is Deathwing, but I think if you are still running Space Marines of any type, this is probably your sign to put them away, possibly forever.
John: Custodes are the absolute biggest loser here. Knights of both allegiances, and Death Guard, are probably also going to have a bad time, but Custodes profiles are just not suited to ever killing Votann while also dying horribly in return. I can envision a world where loyal knights’ damage output is good enough, if they somehow get the first shot. But Custodes have the rotten combination of bad offense for this matchup and secondaries that do not let them hide.
James: Pretty much everything else, though I’ll throw Aeldari into the mix on top of those already mentioned, as they are very reliant on pushing through big spikes of damage to make things dead, and the incredible defences that all Votann units have on baseline make that a non-starter.
German events have already announced bans for Leagues of Votann in competitive play. Is this appropriate or too much?
Falcon: I’ll wait to see what happens once the first Votann FAQ drops. This is an increasingly common thing we’ve seen of TOs and clubs banning codexes until they’ve had at least 1 FAQ. That said, if the FAQ drops and it is just the expected minor clarifications we’ve seen in the past and our friends overseas decide to uphold the ban regardless? Then I say you do you my friends! I generally am against banning until we’ve seen some results to back up our claims but the community has decided that once the cat has been allowed out of the bag then it can just foreclose on our homes and make out with our significant others and send us to the dark dimension to fight Goldarr and we just have to live with it so maybe this is the better answer since I hate the dark dimension.
Greg: I don’t love it. The book isn’t out yet and there’s no real data to work off of, and banning it ensures that there won’t be any. Even if this is normal pre-FAQ behavior, I sort of doubt that they’re going to suddenly legalize Votanns afterward, unless this unaccountable cabal of TOs decides that it’s been nerfed sufficiently. Which is funny because Votanns right now are absolutely the weakest they’re ever going to be – the only models available are the troops and bikes, not the really spooky units, so if someone really wanted to go nuts and buy four army sets to grind out RTTs, I don’t see it going well for them. Banning the book outright hews a little too closely to house-ruling for me, though I’ll admit that it is a pragmatic, if heavy-handed, solution to the problem.
The solution I’d rather see is to ban prints or proxies for things that don’t have an official model released (I won’t go so far as to say ban all proxies and prints – I don’t want anyone with lovely conversions catching strays over this). Notionally this is because you want to avoid proxies that aren’t provably the correct size or configuration (and with no official release you can’t prove anything), but really it’s because I just think it’s tacky to print a bunch of Land Fortresses when most people don’t have access to them.
John: I don’t think that Votann are going to require a ban, but I’m willing to have the conversation to put a spotlight on how big this problem is. Even if Votann ends up strong enough that a ban is warranted, I think the most a handful of conversations would achieve is driving GW to fix the balance earlier than whatever their plan is.
Condit: While pretty much everybody agrees that this book is likely to be extremely powerful, it’s an open question how powerful it will be, and there’s no real way to figure that out until we’ve seen it on the table. Additionally, every tournament that does ban Votann is another datapoint that neither the community nor the GW rules team will be able to look at when determining what particular fixes are worth looking at. On top of that, there’s the possibility that if they’re too good in the current meta, there may be a shift in lists to address that. That sort of shift probably won’t be enough to bring them into parity with the rest of the game on its own, but it would make the faction’s weaknesses even clearer, which would help identify what approaches to balance might not help. Long story short, while allowing the book to be played in tournaments may be painful in the short term, I think it’s likely enough to help identify what rules need to be addressed that banning it right now is probably premature.
James: As people have mentioned this is at least somewhat a misinterpretation of how these policies normally work, and leaving that aside, I wouldn’t ban them. Games Workshop have shown themselves to be far more responsive to issues this edition, and the sooner we get enough reliable data to show a trend (and highlight if some of the dream or meme things like the sniper Brokhyr are actually as unfun as they look, or don’t get there), the sooner something gets done about it. I like it when the tournament scene all reads from the same script, and I don’t think fragmentation on this front helps anyone.
Danny: I think the idea of banning any codex is too much. Whilst yes, there’s definitely a line where the community as a whole just has to say no to GW, enough is enough, the idea that a player cannot play their chosen army because some people deem it too strong is a bit much. I think Germany is also massively overreacting if they are banning because it’s too good, though “No FAQ, no play” is a general rule adopted widely across Europe. I do think this whole recent interaction should encourage Games Workshop to alter their approach to fixing armies, which needs to be sooner.
What is an appropriate response here until Games Workshop can fix things?
Ben: This is a deep question. Are you moral and ethical? Do you believe in game health and longevity? I would minimally not allow them until the FAQ. Other game companies such as WOTC have taken pre-emptive action before a set release to ensure the health of their game.
TheChirurgeon: I think Votann are fine until the full range releases, then they’re a problem until the Q4 dataslate nerfs Sister/Necron secondaries, and they’re a full-on nightmare after that will dominate the meta until they’re fixed. I think at the very least, events should ban 3D prints or proxies of unreleased models, similar to what we saw with the Kill Rig last year. This helps stem the Votann domination a bit by forcing players to play with what’s available, while also being plausible as a solution. Also potentially forcing Votann to use generic secondaries until we have a dataslate that addresses the faction and makes the faction secondaries legal also seems like a fine move.
Falcon: Make everyone play Votann. Do it. 3D print every unit in the book. Make it ugly. Burn it all to the ground so we can look at what we have wrought in shame! They were the princes that were promised! They were the fabled 6th ranger! A myth made manifest! I wanted to love them with my whole heart. But they are broken, and so we must lay it to waste and let the fields lay fallow for some time. Indulge in them until we choke. We need to be the baddies.
Greg: Were I to be paired into them, I would simply be better at Warhammer than my opponent, and win my games. Easy. Honestly, on some level I don’t want the non-GW actors to do anything. I don’t trust them to get it right. Even if they do, having inconsistent hedge rulesets fractures the player base and their expectations for the game in ways I don’t approve of. But it’s mostly because I want to indulge my sicko mindset and see how truly bad it can get when a faction has an 80% win rate, even if the collateral damage is poor James having to write a CI that features 6 Votann-on-Votann mirror matches every single week.
John: Not allowing prints or proxies of unreleased units feels like an effective shadowban, because I don’t think the box set alone will burn down the meta. If Games Workshop announces the Land Train with no faq in sight, I’d be down to adopt the European policy of waiting on an FAQ to allow the book at majors.
What kind of action should Games Workshop be taking to fix this situation?
TheChirurgeon: Agreed. Judgement tokens need to be a resource you spend when you attack an enemy unit, and I’d probably remove the rider about counting as 6s to wound. It’s just a bonkers mechanic in an army full of them, and they’ll probably need multiple rounds of nerfs to bring them in line with the rest of the game factions. They just seem like they’ll be totally miserable to play against.
Falcon: Start with Judgment tokens so that people won’t build around them and make suboptimal lists. THEN break the mind control spell on the rest of the codex and bring things more in line with the rest of the game.
Greg: There’s a lot going on with the army, but it seems like the cleanest fix here to re-balance them without tweaking every single sheet is to bring Judgement Tokens down a notch. Possible solutions, in order of descending harshness:
- “ERRATA: on the Judgement Tokens table, change the ‘benefits’ column to read ‘none’”.
- Treat them like Markerlights, where using them during an attack consumes the token, and they all fall off at the end of the turn.
- Limit how high they stack, so you can’t proc the auto-wounds on a 4+ anymore.
Also, for god’s sake, add a CORE rider on the “1CP for full hit-rerolls” stratagem. That thing is insane, and will only get more insane every time they add a new unit to the army. Picture the inevitable second-wave release that adds a flier, and then picture that flier whomping out like 16 ion beam shots on full re-rolls.
John: Points fix pls? Judgement Tokens do need a fix, but nerfing them still leaves an ultra durable army that shoots everything in mind of sight very, very hard. I’m sure there are more broken mechanics that I haven’t even seen yet, but let’s just start by cutting a few hundred points off of the whole list.
James: I do think it’s sensible to give the codex like three or four weeks hitting at max strength to make absolutely sure the problem is understood, then drop the hammer. Saying that, I basically don’t think the Judgement token mechanic is likely to survive as-is, and would at minimum change it so that 6s to hit aren’t 6s to wound by default (and knock on changes to some other things like how Rail weapons are worded), and the table caps out at 5+, presumably with some other bonus added at three tokens instead of it going to 4+. Also agree on the CORE for the re-roll strat, and I’m sure there are some other interactions and a few point changes that will be needed, but I do want to see which things come to the fore prior to making confident claims about those.
Danny: I think genuinely just making the judgment tokens reset at the start of a new battleround (and making uthar’s ability to change a dice roll into a 6 be core locked) would be enough to be a good starting point. A lot of problems are attributed to the token system, but if they were to be wiped at the start of each battle round then it’s going to be a lot more difficult for Votann players to start stacking up 2-3 on more than 1-2 units, especially once opponents figure out how to play around this mechanic and even more so if the Votann player goes first. Additionally, core locking some strats like full rerolls might go far, or making it 1CP for melee, but 2CP for shooting etc.
Falcon: When it is all said and done, I hope we remember that Tommy was actually a really nice guy all along and he suffered deep mental trauma from being forced to be the evil he never wanted to be. It was only once he took up the mantle of the white ranger that he was able to forgive himself and see his full potential realized. I guess what I’m trying to say is everything will be okay in season 2 (or 3?). I dunno, I lost the extended metaphor a while ago.
TheChirurgeon: What I hate about this is that we were in a pretty good place in Nephilim before this. Yeah, Sisters, Necrons, Nids, and probably Harlqeuins needed some small nerfs, and Admech and Marines needed a bit of help but there’s an extremely healthy middle of the pack in this and sisters/necrons aren’t unassailable, just kind of miserable. Now we get to wipe that whole slate clean with an army that’s going to dumpster the shit out of everyone and dominate. In part because I expect every single top competitive player with the time and resources to play Votann will jump ship to an army that’s likely to have an average first loss stat of 3+. A busted army will become even more oppressive when the game’s best players pick it up competitively.
John: I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of Age of Sigmar, and could really see myself starting a Darkoath warband for warcry. I haven’t bought a fantasy model since Ynnari came out at the end of 7th edition, but never say never right? Jokes aside, I think that GW has at least one employee who remembers that time Iron Hands killed a six month stretch of the game. I’m betting that the Votann apocalypse burns just as brightly as some of the least enjoyable codexes of modern 40k, but for less time as GW continues to learn from their mistakes after making them two more times just to be sure. My prediction? Buy Votann for that November event you just absolutely don’t want to put effort into winning, but don’t bother if you’re making plans for LVO in January.
James: I guess to sound a mildly optimistic note, everything about the past year has convinced me that if Votann are too good, Games Workshop will do something about it fairly promptly. I do also think there’s a fairly good chance that they don’t land as outrageously hot as some previous dominant codices, just because we’re starting from a higher general power level than we have on previous occasions, and all three of the current top factions probably can construct some sort of plan into them. I do think the book will end up aggressively unfun to run many lists into and will need changing, but hopefully the window where we’re getting the full experience will be fairly narrow.
Danny: All in all, the army is really strong (and warrants nerfs on release) though it’s not as un-interactive as some of the previous codexes and it does have its weaknesses. Perhaps we should release a follow up article with more in depth ideas on how to counter this army. Though I understand giving an alternative view point other than “this army is too strong, destroy it” is going to make me very popular, so I will use this platform for a much more important message: Give Aberrants <CORE>, thanks.
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