Man in the Arena: An Interview with ITC Champion Jack Harpster

Every generation gets their opportunity to mint a fresh set of greats. Those who have done their sentence but committed no crime. Made some bad mistakes, had sand kicked in their face but came through. Those individuals whose dogged pursuit of excellence in their chosen craft is tested and proven time after time on the field or in the arena.  The Mia Hamms, Willy Mays, Richard Sieglers, and regrettably, Tom Bradys of the world whose achievements stand out and are forever immortalized in our memory. Now, with the Las Vegas Open behind us, we add another name to that list – Jack Harpster.

In a year absolutely packed with events and excellent players on the tabletop, Jack has stood out. Over the season he played nine different factions across thirteen events taking home the gold in six and podium’ed in two more. His supermajor wins include the Las Vegas Open, the NOVA Open, the Cherokee Open, and the GW US Open Chicago. Not captured in this stunning list of accomplishments is the GW US Open Finale where he won Best General against a field strictly comprised of some of the top players in the game today. You’d be hard pressed to find a tougher or more personable opponent on or off the table.

We caught up with Jack (badgered him until he answered our questions) and he was gracious enough to discuss his year, how he approached the LVO, and what lies ahead for him in competitive play.

The Man, Myth, and Legend

Congratulations Jack on an incredible year in tournament play. How does it feel to win your first LVO and the ITC to boot? What does it mean to you?

Thank you!  It’s kind of unbelievable to me to be honest.  The ITC #1 spot had always seemed unattainable to me before and it will be an achievement I’ll look back on with pride for the rest of my life.  I had some incredibly stiff competition this year, Vik Vijay, David Gaylard, Mike Porter and my own teammate John Lennon to name just a few all had a stellar year and are fantastic players.  I greatly enjoyed getting a chance to meet them and had two fantastic games against Mike. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to get to play Vik and David, they’ve been lovely people. 

Entering LVO you were trailing the ITC leader Vik Vijay – with everything on the line for the season walk us through your decision to take Blood Angels in the Nephilim meta.

At an event as random as the LVO you can drive yourself insane trying to control for every matchup and possible table you could play those people on.  I was in the middle of that spiral when I was convinced by Anthony Vanella to just take Blood Angels.  It’s an army I know well, it matched up well into Thousand Sons which was the best army at the time, and it allowed me to try my best to not worry over the details I couldn’t control and to just play the best 40k that I could.

It makes a lot of sense that you ended up going with what you knew – controlling the variables you could. Were there any factions or players that you worried about facing off against? How did you approach thinking about these games?

I was extremely worried about Tau and Tyranids, especially John Lennon or Alex MacDougall.  Luckily I didn’t pair into Tau on one of the extremely open tables but it would have been extremely difficult if I had.  My strategy in both matchups was to lean on my excellent secondary game and attempt to hold on to the board for long enough to rack up an insurmountable lead.  That would not have been easy though, Tyranids are difficult to beat in a straight up fight and against a skilled opponent my time would be limited, whereas it’s hard to have a fair fight into Tau.  They would take the early couple turns to shred me from range while avoiding my counterpunch.  On industrial, field base or Necron tables I’d have difficulty making it past turn three but if I can accept that I’ll get tabled and stall well enough maybe I could scrape out a win.  I was under the impression that terrain would be significantly better this LVO than in other years, however it turned out that tables with non-functional terrain were sprinkled throughout the event and if I had hit a shooting army on those boards I would have had a rough day at the office.  Luckily that didn’t happen and I managed to have playable games all weekend.

What was your toughest match of the event or a moment where you thought it might be all over? What happened, what adjustments did you make?

My round five game into Mephrit Necrons with a Tesseract Vault gave me way more trouble than I thought going in.  My purely melee army was faced with a decent shooting army with out of line of sight mortals from Sky of Falling Stars and the Necron push up the board was spearheaded by three units I couldn’t kill, the Vault, the Deceiver and The Silent King.  Luckily I was able to run up the scoreboard and a key kill on bottom of turn 5 with a unit of Death Company gave me a one point victory.  I would not sleep on the Tesseract Vault, at 360pts that thing is mean.

You’ve mentioned your ability to reliably score secondaries a couple of times, what stood out to you as a key to that success on the table? Any unheralded units, combos, or approaches that opponents struggled with?

The addition of multiple Death Company units alongside Lemartes meant that I had enough units to score a reliable Fury of the Lost.  This meant that if people hung back and played a trade-y game, I would outscore them reliably on Shock Tactics and Fury. If they came forward then I’d hit them with the full force of the Blood Angels. That pincer between outscoring your opponent and being able to rush them down throws some serious monkey wrenches into their strategy and is a great plan to try to work into a list in Arks of Omen even if Fury of the Lost is no longer around.

Jack vs John Lennon – GW US Open Finale. Credit: Jack Hunter

You mentioned the terrain earlier, how did it factor into your game plan? Tell us how it affects your planning vs non-player placed events and what adjustments you made pre-event.

I needed enough terrain to deploy in and hopefully to block out an objective or two in midboard as well.  Unfortunately you can’t guarantee even that much terrain at LVO.  Sometimes you get the sisters or chaos table and your opponent is unable to meaningfully shoot all game and other times you play on industrial, field base or Necrons table and are unable to hide anything.  If I’d known the state of the terrain I probably would have gone with Twilight Harlequins to avoid risking the open tables as much.  It worked out though so I’m not complaining.  

Looking back on your season what did you most enjoy? Any factions or events? What is going to stick with you? 

Team 40k is by far the best 40k.  ATC was a blast but WTC was the highlight of the year and was my favorite event I’ve ever been to.  I had the privilege of flying to Europe to play against their best.  Last year we came incredibly close to winning it all but a pair of narrow draws landed us in a disappointing 4th.  I’m looking forward to running it back more than anything else this year.

Certainly WTC hasn’t had the same level of attention state-side that it has internationally, but with the excitement you and Team USA bring I hope we’ll see a growing interest in the team play style. In the nearer term, with Arks, what advice do you have for BA players who are looking to your success as they craft their own strategies?

Now more than ever Blood Angels aren’t a mindless rushdown army.  They take patience, good positioning and an eye on the scoreboard at all times.  The army still hits as hard as it did before and some units are cheaper but without Armor of Contempt the army is too fragile to run across the board at your opponent.  Hop from ruin to ruin and look to score secondaries like Oaths of Moment or Shock Tactics while controlling objectives with Sanguinary Guard 6” heroically intervening.  If you can run up the scoreboard and control space while conserving resources, then you’re set up to pounce on your opponent when they attemp to take the board back from you.


Standing at the top of the mountain, what’s next for you? What are your goals in 2023? What mountains remain to climb?

The obvious answer for me is WTC, not just winning personally but also working as part of Team America to build a persistent American WTC community that is top notch and supportive.  That’ll be a significant portion of my energy for the front half of this year.  Right now what I want to do is to take a step back and for the next couple months run armies that are more unique or fun to events, maybe even learn Age of Sigmar or work more on hobbying until the WTC prep is in full swing and then focus on that.  I don’t plan to stop going to events at all, that’s where most of my friends are, but currently I’m not focused on trying to take the #1 spot for a second time.

Thanks Jack, we wish you all the best in the year to come and congratulations once again on your amazing year. Good luck at the WTC!

You can see more of Jack Harpster’s armies and tactics in action by checking out the Art of War on YouTube or in the War Room, where they post regular video battle reports and stream games.

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