Road to the LVO: Top of the Mornin’ from the Top of the Curve

It’s your bird, the Falcon, coming to you live and in color from the Frozen North to bring you the coverage you’ve been waiting for in these twilight days. The 2022 ITC season is coming to an end in less than a week’s time and it has been one wild ride. Really, the entirety of 9th edition has been a roller coaster of emotion as we saw codex after codex come out and drastically change the landscape of the game for better or for worse, but we made it folks. We vaulted field manuals, dataslates, and FAQs and stuck the landing once again. Sure there were some hiccups along the way. Leaks, sneak peaks, and weeks of uncertainty, but the LVO, the capstone event to every ITC season, is upon us and it really is positioning itself as a denouement to the year. A final act before the game is once again upended by the massive shift we all expect to come from Ark of Omens and the latest MFM/Balance update.

More than 1,200 people have registered for the LVO, making it the largest singles event yet in 40k history. With that many participants, as always tends to be the case, the overall winner of the ITC is truly up for grabs. As a commentator for the event again this year, I’ve spent the last weeks prepping for coverage on a who’s who of the top players in the game from around the world. As part of my preparations, I reached out to a number of the players currently sitting in the top 25 to get their thoughts on the season that was, the game, and the LVO itself. Vik Vijay (#1), Jack Harpster (#2), David Gaylard (#4), John Lennon (#5), Nassim Fouchane (#8), Innes Wilson (#9), Ben Cherwien (#11) and Anthony Vanella (#14) all took time out of their days for this round table, and absolutely 0 of them agreed to take me to dinner in Vegas. Given that 40k players love to talk about 40k we’ve split the responses into 2 parts. Part 1 featuring the travelers from across the pond, and the Part 2, the ‘hometown’ heroes.

So let’s get into it.

Falcon: You’re all currently sitting at or near the top of the ITC heading into the LVO. First off, congratulations on an incredible season so far. Combined, the eight of you have had 39 first place spots and a further 43 top 5 finishes at GTs and Majors this year. In what has had to be a year of highlights for you, what’s been the pinnacle moment of 40k for you in the last 12 months?

Vik: Thanks! I’ve put so much of my time and energy into developing as a competitive 40K player, and this season feels like the culmination of all the incremental improvements I’ve made over the past 5 years.

When I first started playing 40K, I remember attending my first competitive event, which was a moderately sized GT and I heard the hushed whispers that there was a “Team England” player in attendance. Competitive 40K has come a long way since then, with the general player skill of the community significantly improving and being on a WTC team isn’t quite so awe-inspiring anymore, but for me, it’s my biggest achievement this season to be selected as one of the 8 players on Team England.

Beyond that, this season saw me win my 1st (and 2nd) super-major event, another thing I never thought I’d be able to do!

David: For me, probably winning my first super major, it felt like a hurdle and once I got over it things really started to flow a lot easier 🙂 But the most fun and excitement I’ve had has got to be playing the top 8 at LVO last year, it was almost a trance, I didn’t mind losing at all and I was just purely in it for the joy of the game!

Nassim: It’s honestly been an incredible year so far and I’m thankful for everyone, especially my team and how far we’ve come this year! I’ve had so many great moments and experiences this year so far for sure, but I’d have to say my finals at LGT was a cut above the rest and the pinnacle moment of 40k for me.

Innes: Thank you for the kind words, it’s been a great season and I’ve had the great Scottish Community supporting me all the way traveling to big events and helping prep which has made it all so much easier to commit to once I had a great start. I think winning the Manchester GT with the old Tyranids Codex and the new Crusher coat of paint was the best send off I could have had for that book and it was the biggest Scottish event win ever. Hard to argue with it as a motivator for the season I’ve had.

Falcon: There was a period of time there where the competitive community was a bit on edge as to what ruleset the LVO would be using; with Ark of Omens, a Munitorum Field Manual, and Balance Dataslate all being released right under the rules deadline wire. FLG has since announced we’ll be using the older ruleset for the event and adjusted the rules deadline to compensate. Do you think that was the right move? What would have been your preference?

Vik: The uncertainty on the ruleset being used at LVO was a serious source of concern for me whilst preparing for this event. In the end, I’m extremely glad they went with sticking to the older Nephilim rules. If we were to use the new rules I think there would’ve been much more of an emphasis on list advantage rather than player skill in determining the winning players of the event. With a very close race to the finish in the ITC rankings this year, that would’ve been a shame for it to be decided that way.

David: Yes, I think FLG made the right move, and certainly it was my preference to play the Nephilim pack. I think ending the season on which I think is a pretty stable meta is a wise choice and otherwise may have left the event surrounded in controversy we didn’t really need.

Nassim: The moment of uncertainty before LVO was definitely worrying, however, I believe that the FLG team handled it to the best of their abilities, and it was the right move to give everyone a good chance at LVO and give one last send-off for the meta. I personally didn’t have much of a preference for which ruleset that they used, as at the end of the day the TOs are the ones hosting this event for us and its only fair for us as players to abide by their rules that they decide to use.

Innes: I’m glad we stuck with the old rules, I wouldn’t have had as much time as I wanted to prepare and for me it’s better to treat LVO as the send off to this year with warts and all. I’m sure we would have all splintered into playtest groups and found “our” meta breaking list, and it would have been more about that than the players on the day. With Nephilim everyone knows what to expect going in and you can choose to be the meta or counter the meta. Seeing who comes out on top of that when there won’t really be any surprises is a lot more interesting for me than which group of the top 20 players found the best list.

Hive Tyrant. Credit: Rockfish
Hive Tyrant. Credit: Rockfish

Falcon: Many of you are faction wanderers, having achieved great success with a myriad of codexes this edition, while others have run the gauntlet with just 1-2 codexes. What do you plan on bringing to the LVO now that you know we’re finishing the season with Nephilim? I understand some people wish to keep that info close to chest for as long as possible so feel free to keep your secrets, just understand I will be very disappointed in you and will judge you until the end of days.

Vik: Thousand Sons with a Vanguard of Tzeentch Flamers for me! I’ve been playing this list over the last 2 super-majors in the UK (Nottingham and Leicester) and they’ve been unbelievably fun to use, strong, with loads of room for skill expression and bang on my playstyle. I’ve ended up on a list variation I’m really happy with, and while I don’t think they’re necessarily the very strongest army for this terrain format, I do think that I’ll have a game into anyone and anything!

David: I’m bringing Thousand Sons and Flamers! It’s just such a fun and powerful army to play. It is probably the most singular army that I’ve ever played which *truly* rewards player skill. It feels like Tsons and Flamers can almost win any game if you just play well enough – and that’s a great position to be in for an army. It’s why I like it, but it’s hard work to pilot over a long event.

Nassim: I honestly don’t mind sharing what I’m planning to take for LVO, I’ve never really been much for the secretive type as much as a detriment that may be to me, ha-ha. I plan on ending the season with T’au as they have served me well for the last few months and it only feels right to end the ITC season with them before going back to my Marines for Arks of Omen.

Innes: I’m taking Tyranids to LVO. I don’t think Genestealer Cults (which are the other faction I’ve had real success with this year) is a great option into the Thousand Sons lists that are doing well right now so I’m defaulting to what I know better than most people in the game which is Kraken. I like Kraken, rather than loving it like I did Leviathan, but as long as I can dodge the Grey Knights match up I think I’ll be gangbusters.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Falcon: What factions do you expect to rise to the top LVO weekend? Are there any dark horse factions or players you think we should be paying closer attention to?

Vik: The 4 strongest armies in the game in my opinion are, Tyranids, Tau, Thousand Sons (with Daemons) and Harlequins. I think all of those factions are going to put up strong results at LVO.

Votann and Imperial Knights are out in force at LVO, but in keeping with the trends seen in the UK meta, I don’t tend to rate low-model count, brute force, armies like those very highly – It’ll be very interesting to see if the LVO results show a different trend and these factions actually rise towards the top.

David: Just the usual top predators for me. Tau, Tyranids, Harlies, Tsons are probably all up there for me. Dark horses I think definitely are both the necron builds – Orks and… well necrons, however there are a large number of Votann people playing too, so perhaps we could see a Votann player breaking into the top 8 there too!

Nassim: My current understanding of the meta game right now is that any army can compete at a high level if piloted well enough, however, I do think the following armies are a cut above the rest when piloted well. T’au, Chaos Soup, CSM, Orks, Tyranids, GSC and Votann are my main standout armies, which I know some people may take some of those picks as dark horses.

Innes: Thousand Sons and Flamers, Tyranids, Harlequins and Tau I expect to see 1-2 of each in the top cut. Orks, Votann are my 0-1 of, and after that it’ll be down to players on the day and what runs they fade.

There are a few factions that will have a couple of great dedicated players, like Sisters, Necrons and Chaos Space Marines also, and they’re perfectly capable of a deep run.

Lord Solar. Credit: Rockfish
Lord Solar. Credit: Rockfish

Falcon: Let’s go back a step, had FLG elected to choose chaos and take on all the new rule changes to 40k. What kind of list do you think you would have pivoted to in the ark of omens, free gear for everyone (except you, Tyranids) kind of world? What do you think rises to the top in this new world order and why?

Vik: Gosh, that would’ve been a nightmare. I’d probably have just swung to my favourite faction, Eldar – taken hail of doom (to take advantage of AoC disappearing) and a patrol of Harlequins, and hoped for the best. I don’t think it would’ve gone very well! My immediate take is that Astra Militarum and Iron Hands come out extremely strong from the changes and with the Imperial Guard not in action yet, Iron Hands would’ve been my pick for the LVO winning faction.

David: Honestly, I was going to play Deathwatch, they’re incredibly flexible, hit hard, and have speed. They would have been able to perform well on rounds 5 and 6 mission too.

Nassim: Ooh, thats a spicy question! Honestly if FLG decided to bring out Arks of Omen for LVO, I’d be torn on what to take between my Marines and T’au. I think I’d more than likely go with my Marines, however, I also would like to end the season with T’au. Wouldn’t be exactly sure on what type of list I would want to run exactly for either army – it would more than likely be a variation of something I have ran in the past. However, I do think Marines would rise to the top of the meta game as a 20-50% army decrease is a substantial change that shouldn’t be easily overlooked, especially with the change to how doctrines currently work alongside improved secondaries.

Innes: If LVO had chosen chaos I’d be painting Guard right now rather than answering questions. I think there’s one best army in Arks and everyone else either builds to beat them and has a chance but suffers Vs the field, or just loses assuming equal skill. Iron Hands and Genestealer Cults are two armies I love and think come out very well from the changes, but I’d have needed to find the perfect list on not enough time which hurts their chances when the alternative is to just diagnose my opponents with Mortal Wounds.

Falcon: Is this your first FLG event? What thoughts, if any, go through your brain when building or playing a list on PPT? What changes do you make over lists that you would run on more static placements like the UKTC or GW?

Vik: First time playing 40K in USA for me and my first FLG event. I’m hoping the rumours are true and American players are way worse than UK players and I won’t have to try too hard. On the off chance, that my suspicions are true and they are in fact, just as good as the UK players, I’ve been practicing a fair amount of Tabletop Simulator with deployment and terrain set-up. The army I’m bringing is already pretty versatile, so not much in the way of specific changes on that front. However, the terrain set does generally seem to be quite a bit more open than either the UKTC or WTC format, in my opinion, this tends to favour an aggressive playstyle rather than a passive playstyle that can be used on higher quality terrain sets.

David: Nope, I’ve been to LVO before, and the PPT system they have certainly adds a unique flavor to the event (I’m actually a fan of PPT). Funnily enough, I’m playing the exact same list that I played at Nottingham as I am at LVO, so for me it’s more about learning how my army can benefit from the terrain more than anything else.  I think initially a lot of people thought that PPT was going to create very open firing lanes, however over time and practice I think it’s really well balanced in a skillful players hand.

Nassim: Yes! This is my first ever FLG event that I will be attending and it’s all very overwhelming, mainly due to the fact it will be my first time in Vegas and the USA overall. I’ve taken PPT a little bit into consideration when building my list, however, it doesn’t change the fundamental design of the list as the core concepts of what makes a list strong is largely still the same regardless of the terrain format I find, unless the terrain is wildly different like GW and UKTC.

Innes: This is the first FLG event I’ve had the pleasure of attending and I’ve never really used player placed unless you count “we have 3 woods, these two ruins and a Fortress of Redemption on this local GT board where the pairings are done on excel, how do we make it work?” So I’m expecting to make a few mistakes early. I’ve got a good support group around me though so I expect my practice level on it will go up a lot between now and the event. I’ve not really made any changes to my list, I added some safe backfield scoring to allow me to use my ruins out of my Deployment Zone a little more aggressively as I won’t need as good terrain to lock down the home field. We’ll see if the gain in positioning makes up for the loss in raw punch.

Credit: Kevin Stillman

Falcon: I know you’re no doubt gunning for the top spot at the event, but what is your minimum goal going in? What do you want to accomplish at the very least in Vegas? Will you take me to the Bacchanal to celebrate your LVO victory?

Vik: I’m going to try my best to compete for ITC #1, I’ve got a little bit of a buffer over the other players in the Top 5, so I’m confident I can put up a good fight!

Realistically though, a tournament like this played over a large number of rounds with a large number of players with extremely variable terrain sets between rounds, is going to be unpredictable and a lot of luck is required to reach the Top 8. I’m really happy with my achievements this season and I don’t want to tie my enjoyment of this hobby too closely to the results of a single event like this – I’m going to try my best, be a good sportsman throughout, and accept the outcome whatever it may be! I do hope one of the UK guys takes the event though, there’s so many of us in attendance surely we can do it!

David: Hah, honestly having fun is a big priority for me. I’d love to go 6-0, play the shadow round, but I’ve got a tonne of good friends at the event I’ll be equally as happy to see them do well even if I don’t make top 8, so I’m likely to be happy based on the number of great players we’re sending over anyway!

Nassim: My goal is of course the top spot but it won’t be easy with so many good players attending this year that I can’t wait to meet! However, I would have to say that as a minimum I would love to go 5-1 for my first LVO event in a wildly different meta and environment. I think I’m a bit too far behind to win the ITC, but hopefully I’ll be able to celebrate with all my friends and the people I’m going to meet in the USA regardless of the result.

Innes: I’m here to win the season and the event. I wasn’t until my Nottingham result came in off a last minute ticket. Now having run the numbers there’s a Path to Victory that only relies on all the other top players I presume are also in this article dropping the ball a little bit (Nas, Lennon etc.) or a lot (looking at you Vik). But a chance is a chance.

As far as “satisfaction” I’m going to kick myself wherever I lose (if I lose), so this is difficult. I’ll be proud of myself making the Top Cut whatever happens, and I think making the Shadow Round is what I should expect for myself. The draw and the dice always get a say though, so I’ll focus on representing myself and Scotland well and worry about the rest on the day.

I don’t know what the Bacchanal is. If I win the ITC I’ll be eating well for sure though.

What’s next?

As we get closer to the LVO, expect a few more articles to go up, including the second part of this one. As 1 of the main commentators for the event, your bird has gotten some exclusive insights into the updated and upgraded plans for the LVO stream this year, as well as breakdowns of the lists in attendance and maybe an innovation or 2 that we’d love to show you. So stay awhile and listen.

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