Meta Update: October Results and the SoCal Open

Welcome to Goonhammer’s inaugural monthly meta analysis! In our new series we’ll take a look at the performance of varying factions within the competitive scene during the month prior and attempt to draw conclusions, prognosticate, and wildly speculate on what it all means.

In our initial entry, we’re going to continue our focus on the performance of the new Codex: Space Marines armies, which you can think of a continuation of our previous analysis of the Iron Hands. This is largely because 1. Our plan is to focus on one or two major trends each month and right now, the Iron Hands FAQ is still fresh, and 2. manual data entry is a lot of work, and as Stephen King taught us, all work and no play makes James an ax murderer. However, in future installments we’ll look to expand the data to capture all of the current 40k factions to bring you, dear reader, a more holistic analysis.

In terms of overall impact on the 40k meta, you’d be hard-pressed to identify something with a more seismic impact than the release of Codex Supplement: Iron Hands and the FAQ that followed. In a short period of time, Iron Hands rose to ridiculous heights and tournament success, only to be met with one of the most severe FAQs and Errata we’ve ever seen in a GW publication. But did the changes have a major impact? In our analysis this month we’ll look back on the meta pre- and post-errata to get an idea of how the FAQ (re-released version 2!) has brought the Iron Hands back down to Terra. We’ll also dive deep on the units being used by Iron Hands players, and look at how Iron Hands lists have changed pre- and post-FAQ. Finally, we’ll look at the overall new Marines’ performance since their release and at the SoCal Open specifically to identify what, if anything, we can learn from the event that might inform unit selection and army composition moving forward.

First, let’s talk about our sample..

The Events

An event was included in our analysis if it was an ITC, ETC, or ITC-like event with a minimum of 5 rounds and at least 19 players. Events where scores for individual games or player lists cannot be accessed were excluded. Data in our sample comes from Best Coast Pairings, Down Under Pairings, and The Iron Hands FAQ was released on October 17th, and our analysis suggests that events were all too eager to enact the new rules for the 19th.

The following ITC events are included for the month of October:

  • Middle of Nowhere GT – 46-player GT – October 5-6th
  • Harbor Heresey GT – 28-player GT – October 12-13th
  • Clash of the Tetons – 19-player RTT – October 12-13th
  • Crucible 8 Champions – 67-player MAJOR – October 12-13th
  • Battle for Salvation – 98-player MAJOR – October 12-13th
  • Into the Hellstorm 4 – 60-player MAJOR – October 12-13th
  • Michigan GT (non-ITC) – 118-player MAJOR – October 12-13th
  • Midtcon (non-ITC) – 48-player MAJOR – October 12-13th

Post-Iron Hands FAQ:

  • SLG Champions 2 GT – 29-player GT – October 19-20th
  • The General’s Gambit – 28-player GT – October 19-20th
  • Warzone: Come the Apocalypse (non-ITC) – 29-player GT – October 19-20th
  • Glasshammer Open (non-ITC) – 70-player MAJOR – October 19-20th
  • Malmo Wargaming Weekend IV – 82-player MAJOR – October 26-27th
  • The Autumn Hull GT – 31-player GT – October 26-27th
  • Steel City Showdown – 44-player GT – October 26-27th
  • Edmonton Onslaught – 28-player GT – October 26-27th
  • SoCal Open – 221-player MAJOR – October 26-27th
  • North Wales Open (non-ITC) – 24-player RTT – October 26-27th

Top-Line Numbers

James: Overall we saw 36 Iron Hands/Successors players in our pre-FAQ sample, posting a win percentage of 71.13 percent, a shockingly high result.They averaged 28.3 points per game in events using ITC scoring, with an average margin of victory of 9.1 points, also the highest observed margin at the time by a considerable amount. Additionally, six out of the 11 measured events in the pre-FAQ sample saw Iron Hands or Successor lists winning the event, for a 55% overall win rate and fully one third of observed lists (35%) placed in the top 5.

Following the FAQ, things have leveled out considerably: Iron Hands only won one of the 12 post-FAQ events in our sample, and only 12 out of 50 top-5 finishers were playing either Iron Hands or an Iron Hands successor, dropping the percentage of top-5 finishes to 24%. Iron Hands lists won about 62% of their games post-FAQ, and while that result is still very good, it’s nowhere near the oppressive results we were seeing three weeks ago. Iron Hands also scored 1 point per game less on average, and gave up nearly 3 more, for an average margin of victory of 6.7 points. At this point, we can comfortably suggest that Iron Hands have gone from being “game-warpingly oppressive” to “top-tier.” The FAQ appears to have had the intended effect. But was it enough?

Month of October (Pre-FAQ):

Players Win % Avg ITC PF Avg ITC PA ITC Spread Avg Placing Med Placing
Iron Hands 36 71.13% 28.3 19.2 9.1 0.21 0.13

Month of October (Post-FAQ):

Players Win % Avg ITC PF Avg ITC PA ITC Spread Avg Placing Med Placing
Iron Hands 47 62.34% 27.2 20.5 6.7 0.33 0.24
  • 1st Place Finish: 1/12 – 8% (Down from 6/11 – 55%)
  • Top-5 Finish: 12/50 – 24% (Down from 19/55 – 35%)

In our last article, we also suggested that Marines on the whole might just be too powerful. It’s still early, but the results show that SOME Marines are at Ynnari-levels of performance, while others are lagging. We’ll keep an eye on how things progress with Imperial Fists and Salamanders. Currently, Iron Hands were by far the most dominant supplement faction, but there’s a case to be made that White Scars were nearly as strong, although it seems that they are more difficult to play. Ultramarines and Raven Guard appear to be the big losers here, each posting a sub-.500, with just a few outliers placing highly.

Year-to-Date (Beginning September 14th, 2019) – ITC Only

Players Win % Avg ITC PF Avg ITC PA Spread Avg Placing Med Placing
Adeptus Astartes 80 60.14% 25.5 22.4 3.2 0.36 0.29
Ultramarines 47 48.51% 22.9 23.6 -0.7 0.53 0.54
White Scars 18 62.22% 28.0 23.7 4.3 0.38 0.34
Iron Hands 63 66.67% 27.7 18.1 9.7 0.27 0.23
Raven Guard 18 45.16% 24.4 22.8 1.6 0.47 0.48

Note that our numbers display both an average placing and a median placing. The median denotes the midpoint of individual results and helps us to determine a skew in the averages. For example, in the Adeptus Astartes averages we see a 36% average placing, but a 29% median placing. What this means is that more than half the players are placing at or better than 29% but a few very low performers are shifting the average downward. Together they give a more accurate picture of faction performance.

The FAQ’s Impact on Army Selection

Kevin: Following the FAQ, we saw plenty of people talking about both moving away from Iron Hands and laughing at players who had just built their Iron Hands armies. There was a theory that top players might move on to the next top-tier army. But did that happen? Looking at the composition of 85 lists from the 20 events in our sample, we identified the factions used in each of the top lists (defined as finishers in the top 10 or with a record of 4-1 or better) in order to see how army composition changed pre- and post-FAQ. Overall, there was some clear movement: Pre-FAQ, armies that used the Iron Hands supplement made up about 60% of the top Marine lists. Post-FAQ, they’ve dropped to only 51%. Iron Hands still show up disproportionately in top Marine lists, but we saw a greater proportion of “No Supplement” lists, referring to the use of Salamanders and Imperial Fists, which did not have a codex until the weekend of 10/26. It will be interesting to see how these change over the next month now that the full slate of supplements have been released.

The FAQ’s Impact on Unit Selection

Robert: Using data from the lists we collected, we can look at how army compositions changed on a per-unit basis. Theoretically, the nerf to the Ironstone should have made taking multiple Repulsor Executioners far less effective, as now only one could be protected effectively per turn. Likewise, with no ability to repair the same vehicle twice and his Invulnerable save only applying to INFANTRY, Feirros’ utility would also have been strongly diminished. These were good and necessary changes, but as we noted last time around, there were more than enough lists out there that didn’t make heavy use of Repulsor Executioners or Feirros. Let’s see how those predictions were borne out.

In the table below, you can see a unit-by-unit breakdown of the units included in top Iron Hands and Successor Lists before the FAQ (29) and after (25). This list gives you the full breakdown by unit, but jump ahead to get a more focused analysis.

UnitNumber Before FAQNumber After FAQDeltaDelta/TotRank BeforeRank AfterDeltaLists Containing Unit Before FAQLists Containing Unit After FAQ% Lists with Unit Before FAQ% Lists with Unit After FAQDelta
Scout Squad9377-16-9%110292569%58%-11%
Thunderfire Cannon465599%24-2283367%77%10%
Intercessor Squad44763227%321222552%58%6%
Eliminator Squad42581638%431182443%55%12%
Repulsor Executioner3919-20-34%58-3171140%26%-15%
Invictor Tactical Warsuit3421-13-24%660141033%23%-10%
Iron Father Feirros218-13-45%722-1521850%19%-31%
Centurion Assault Squad181800%990121129%26%-3%
Infiltrator Squad181800%99011926%21%-5%
Stormhawk Interceptor1218620%14954710%16%7%
Tactical Squad115-6-38%1532-175312%7%-5%
Captain on Bike103-7-54%1636-209221%5%-17%
Librarian in Phobos Armour97-2-13%1725-89721%16%-5%
Primaris Librarian9900%1719-29921%21%0%
Primaris Lieutenant9231444%1751292321%53%32%
Mortis Dreadnought9900%1719-26614%14%0%
Stormtalon Gunship8181038%22913377%16%9%
Suppressor Squad713630%2513124610%14%4%
Relic Leviathan Dreadnought611529%26161061114%26%11%
Land Speeder6718%26251347%9%2%
Centurion Devastator Squad5500%2832-45512%12%0%
Redemptor Dreadnought58323%28226255%12%7%
Primaris Captain45111%3132-14510%12%2%
Venerable Dreadnought43-1-14%3136-5337%7%0%
Bike Squad40-4-100%3186-55205%0%-5%
Drop Pod41-3-60%3162-31215%2%-2%
Stormraven Gunship41-3-60%3162-31215%2%-2%
Vanguard Veteran Squad43-1-14%3136-5225%5%0%
Infantry Squad40-4-100%3186-55102%0%-2%
Aggressor Squad3141163%4013273117%25%18%
Chapter Master31-2-50%4062-22317%2%-5%
Inceptor Squad36333%402812337%7%0%
Khan on Bike30-3-100%4086-46307%0%-7%
Kor'sarro Khan30-3-100%4086-46307%0%-7%
Reiver Squad31-2-50%4062-22317%2%-5%
Company Veterans30-3-100%4086-46205%0%-5%
Techmarine on Bike32-1-20%4049-9225%5%0%
Heavy Weapons Squad30-3-100%4086-46102%0%-2%
Scout Sentinels30-3-100%4086-46102%0%-2%
Assault Squad20-2-100%5186-35205%0%-5%
Captain in Phobos Armour211969%5116352105%23%18%
Chaplain Cassius21-1-33%5162-11215%2%-2%
Chief Librarian Tigurius2200%51492225%5%0%
Devastator Squad2200%51492225%5%0%
Kayvaan Shrike21-1-33%5162-11215%2%-2%
Lieutenants in Phobos Armour23120%513615235%7%2%
Marneus Calgar2200%51492225%5%0%
Relic Deredeo Dreadnought25343%513219235%7%2%
Sergeant Chronus21-1-33%5162-11215%2%-2%
Attack Bike Squad20-2-100%5186-35102%0%-2%
Company Commander20-2-100%5186-35102%0%-2%
Contemptor Mortis Dreadnought2200%51492122%5%2%
Relic Contemptor Dreadnought26450%512823152%12%9%
Assault Terminators10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Captain in Gravis Armour10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Chaplain Venerable Dreadnought17675%662541162%14%12%
Chapter Master in Gravis Armour10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Chapter Master in Phobos Armour10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Company Ancient1100%66624112%2%0%
Incursor Squad10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Ironclad Dreadnought10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Land Raider Crusader10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Librarian Dreadnought10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Librarian in Terminator Armour13250%663630132%7%5%
Militarum Tempestus Scions10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Platoon Commander10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Primaris Apothecary10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Primaris Chaplain16571%662838162%14%12%
Roboute Guilliman12133%664917122%5%2%
Tank Commander10-1-100%6686-20102%0%-2%
Victrix Honour Guard13250%663630112%2%0%
Aquilon Custodians011100%896227010%2%2%
Astraeus Super-Heavy Tank011100%896227010%2%2%
Captain-General Trajann Valoris011100%896227010%2%2%
Chaplain Ivanus Enkomi011100%896227010%2%2%
Chaplain on Bike033100%893653030%7%7%
Company Ancient on Bike022100%894940020%5%5%
Custodian Guard Squad033100%893653010%2%2%
Hecaton Aiakos011100%896227010%2%2%
Land Speeders022100%894940010%2%2%
Primaris Ancient011100%896227010%2%2%
Primaris Chapter Master033100%893653030%7%7%
Primaris Lieutenants011100%896227010%2%2%
Relic Whirlwind Scorpius033100%893653020%5%5%
Tarantula Sentry Gun011100%896227010%2%2%
Thunderfire Cannnon033100%893653010%2%2%
Venerable Chaplain Dreadnought011100%896227010%2%2%
Vertus Praetors011100%896227010%2%2%
Vexilius Praetor011100%896227010%2%2%
Watch Captain022100%894940020%5%5%

If we narrow our analysis down to just key units from the top lists, we can see that these observations were largely correct – Feirros went from inclusion in nearly 75% of Iron Hands lists to fewer than 30%. The Repulsor Executioner went from seeing play in 55% of Iron Hands lists to a similar percentage. Invictor Tactical Warsuits also saw a slight drop. On the other hand, Thunderfire Cannons are just as prevelant as they ever were, showing up in more than 75% of Iron Hands lists, and usually in multiples. The big winners appear to be Eliminators, which jumped into more than 40% of Iron Hands armies, and the fliers – Stormhawk Interceptors and Stormtalon Gunships in particular saw a jump in inclusion after lists including them saw a lot of success in the pre-FAQ weeks. While not all of those lists depended on a Bike Captain, they no longer need to depend on one carrying the Ironstone, and so we’ve seen a sharp drop in lists containing Bike Captains in the weeks post-FAQ as well.

If we look at just the number of units per list, we can get an idea of not only which units are being taken in top lists, but also which units are being taken in greater multiples when they show up. Thunderfire Cannons actually increased in frequency post-FAQ, with an average list sporting nearly 1.4 Thunderfire Cannons. Executioners are now more likely to show up as singletons or pairs when they appear, while Stormhawk Interceptors and Stormtalons are more likely to appear in threes. Suppressors have also been increasing in frequency and volume post-FAQ, and may currently be overlooked as a big winner from the changes.


The SoCal Open

James: It’d be impossible to talk about the meta this month without deep-diving on what is ostensibly the final “super-major” tournament before LVO. Hosted by the lads at Frontline Gaming in sunny Del Mar, California, the SoCal open played host to 221 dreamers, hopefuls, and more than a few salty players in the “if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em” mindset. If ever there was a good barometer for the meta post-Marine release, it’s this event.

  • Total New Marine Armies: 51, making up about 23% of the field
    • 18 Adeptus Astartes (Mixed and/or Successor)
    • 15 Iron Hands
    • 10 Ultramarines
    • 6 Raven Guard
    • 2 White Scars
  • Overall Performance
    • Win Rate: 59.72%
    • Average Placing: 38%
    • Median Placing: 26%
    • Average PF: 25.8
    • Average PA: 22.2
    • Spread: 3.5
  • Faction Performance
Faction Players Win % PF PA Spread Placing Median
Iron Hands 15 57.32% 26.3 20.5 5.9 0.41 0.35
Raven Guard 6 60.61% 27.3 22.9 4.4 0.34 0.26
Adeptus Astartes 18 63.37% 25.9 23.3 2.6 0.33 0.23
Ultramarines 10 56.36% 23.8 21.8 2.0 0.47 0.52
White Scars 2 58.33% 25.3 26.3 -0.9 0.37 0.37
  • Loss Analysis
    • Overall SM (105 total)
      • 38.1% of losses (40) came against other Marines
      • 14.3% of losses (15) came against Tau
      • 9.5% of losses (10) came against Knights (Imperial or Chaos)
    • For 1 or 2-loss SM armies (40 total)
      • 48.5% of losses (19) came against other Marines
      • 15% of losses (6) came against Tau
      • 10% of losses (4) came against Knights (Imperial or Chaos)
  • #1 Finisher Brian Pullen (Tau) defeated 4 Space Marine players on his way to winning the SoCal Open

SoCal List and Unit Analysis

Robert: Eleven Space Marine players went 4-1-1 or better at the SoCal Open, running a mix of Imperial Soup (with Space Marines) and every flavor of Space Marine Codex Supplement (plus successors). It’s also worth noting that, on closer examination, it’s clear that a majority of the “Adeptus Astartes” players listed in BCP for the event were playing Iron Hands Successors, further showcasing the faction’s prominence. Of these 11 lists, seven were monofaction, while four featured either a mix of Adeptus Astartes units (2) or a mixture of non-Codex Space Marines Imperial units (2). Five featured either Iron Hands or Iron Hands Successors, while another four featured Raven Guard and three featured White Scars units. Among subfactions, Iron Hands (and Successors) still had the greatest representation, with 61 of the 186 total units featured (that’s 33% of all Space Marines units appearing in lists), and White Scars and Raven Guard Successors as distant second and third options.

Among units, the most common are Scout Squads, of which 33 showed up in the top 11 lists to fill out Troop slots as the army’s cheapest option. They were followed by Eliminators, which continued their trend of being a powerful unit from the army’s pre-codex days, and Thunderfire Cannons, which continue to show up in almost every list and of which 16 showed up in the 11 top lists we looked at. Finally Centurion Assault Squads have been big movers, and showed up in 7 of the top 11 lists. They were in all three White Scars lists, but also showed up in Iron Hands and Raven Guard Successor lists. Centurion Assault Squads are a unit to look out for.

Top 10 Space Marine Units Featured in Top SoCal Marine Lists

Scout Squad33
Eliminator Squad17
Thunderfire Cannon16
Centurion Assault Squad12
Intercessor Squad12
Primaris Lieutenant6
Infiltrator Squad5
Primaris Librarian4
Relic Contemptor Dreadnoughts4


Closing Thoughts

Robert: At this point, Marines still seem strong to me, but things appear to have leveled out for the most part. Iron Hands have gone from being overly dominant to just top-tier and that’s OK. I think we’ll see some powerful results next time around as both the Imperial Fists and Salamanders Codex Supplements have some powerful options and builds that should elevate them to the upper tier of tournament lists. Beyond that, the Tau win at SoCal was interesting to me. Many players had I think written off Tau as unable to handle new Marines and that’s clearly not the case. I think it’s something that may continue as the final supplements are played with, if only because Imperial Fists’ excellent Chapter Doctrine doesn’t do much against Riptides, which aren’t vehicles. Otherwise, I’m largely satisfied with the changes the FAQ has brought, with the exception of Thunderfire Cannons, which are still much too good and could use a significant points increase so they are no longer auto-includes in every single Marine army.

James: I think the most interesting impact of the Iron Hands FAQ is how much it shifted the level of play required with the army. Beyond the unit shifts, prior to the FAQ Iron Hands performed at consistently jaw-droppingly broken rates: A win percentage over 70% with no single player in a competitive 5-round event finishing in the bottom third. However, following the FAQ the army actually saw multiple bottom 10% finishes, meaning the floor had dropped and it was no longer something you could just pick up and expect to win with automatically. Although I think we need a bit of caution here – relatively speaking, they are much more in line with the rest of the meta, and we might consider them traditional gatekeepers. However, I believe to simply write things off as “OK” now would be doing a bit of a disservice to the meta as it’s important to remember that historically they are still performing at around pre-nerf Ynnari levels. One just needs to peruse the average competitive page to get a feel for how people feel about Ynnari, even today.

In fact, overall the Marine codex has fared very well. It hasn’t just been Iron Hands but Adeptus Astartes armies are performing at Ynnari levels. I think what’s most intriguing about this is that, unlike Ynnari, Space Marines are far more prevalent – making up as much as 40% of a given tournament. That’s a staggeringly high proportion of competition which is statistically performing at a very high level. If I may take a risk here, I think it also leads to a blind spot when we talk about these guys. So many players have Space Marines that there is a natural sense of not wanting to see them take a hit. But if the numbers above hold, it’s a bad thing for the meta, choking out other armies that deserve a shot at competing. In that case, Marine will require further adjustment. The question in my mind is, “will it actually happen?” Between now and Adepticon the only major change we can expect is from Chapter Approved 2019, and it’s both late to make changes to a book that has already gone to printers

Robert: While there are going to be many buffs to other non-Eldar armies between now and Adepticon (Eldar got theirs already), I think there are two things we could realistically see between now and the April 2020 FAQ that adjust Marines: The first is that while Chapter Approved won’t be adjusting costs on any Codex: Space Marines units, I do think it will adjust points on Forge World Index: Astartes units. It’s likely we could see Contemptor Dreadnoughts go up in points, and likely that we could see Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Deathwatch, and Blood Angel units come down in points cost to reflect the lack of Combat Doctrines. The other thing is the publication of the Warhammer 40,000 Legends rules, which will shift a large number of older units out of the tournament meta. Among these, I expect Chaplain Venerable Dreadnoughts to be moved to the Legends group, since they haven’t been sold by Forge World in over a year at this point. Chaplain Dreadnoughts create a lot of terrible rules interactions with the current supplements, so it’ll be good to see them go.

James: If that’s the case, then everyone should expect a Marine/counter-Marine meta from now until the Spring and that includes the biggest event of the year, the Las Vegas Open (LVO). Is that going to be a problem? Well at SoCal we saw Space Marine players place at a median of 26% – meaning that fully half of all Marine players finished in the top 58, and they accounted for nearly 44% of the top placings. Even after the Iron Hands changes, that’s still a staggeringly high over-performance from a group that comprised only 23% of the field.

The under-performance of both Ultramarines and Raven Guard is intriguing. While both picked up significantly in SoCal, that might be attributed to a few high-performing players dragging the rest along with them. Steve Pampreen for instance performed very well with Raven Guard, but compared to where the rest of Space Marine armies placed, his Raven Guard peers were lower on average. This begs the question: “Why?” and I’m honestly not sure. It may very well be the impact of the doctrines and how they benefit the army. Iron Hands and White Scars have a lot of options to take advantage of their Chapter Doctrines, and it’s not totally clear to me that Ultramarines and Raven Guard benefit in the same manner.

Robert: True. Ultramarines are more about flexibility than an outright bonus all the time and while the Raven Guard ability is very strong, it’s also very narrow in terms of the units it affects.

James: It may also be that the clear advantages afforded to Iron Hands have led to the army siphoning off some of the better players seeking the competitive edge, leaving Ultras and Raven Guard with a weaker player pool. In either case, this puts both UM and RG at a disadvantage – although given the choice I definitely still wouldn’t want to face Pampreen at a tournament, Raven Guard or no.

Kevin: The next month should be very interesting now that all of the Supplements have been released and we get to see what kind of damage Salamanders and Imperial Fists can do. Things may get even more complicated with the release of the second Psychic Awakening book, which, based on the teaser trailer on Warhammer Community, should have content for a variety of factions including Salamanders, White Scars, and Black Templar. Given that Black Templar don’t even have a dedicated supplement (and also have the ability to drop an extremely powerful Smash Captain) I wouldn’t be surprised if the meta continues to be in turmoil up to Chapter Approved. I agree with Rob that Thunderfire Cannons remain incredibly good and the community knows it; they sold out in less than 4 hours the last time they were in stock on GW’s website.


Got your own ideas about the meta or how things are shaping up? Just want to yell about Iron Hands? Drop us a line in the comments below, or shoot us an email at We’re always looking for interesting new data and angles to take on tournaments and happy to talk 40k.