The 2021 40k Balance Dataslate Hot Take

After what we’ll call… a “rough” couple of months on the competitive scene, Games Workshop released a massive set of updates today to its competitive rules. And unlike past changes we’ve seen with “the Big FAQs” in 8th edition, this new change appears to represent a bold (and welcome) change in direction for Games Workshop – an actual balance patch for competitive play that makes major adjustments to some armies, including multiple changes to datasheets – something the company has previously gone to great lengths to avoid. It looks like taking CORE off of Ironstriders was something of a Rubicon-crossing moment, because this patch is very much something new and very awesome. Even better, the accompanying article says that we’ll now be getting these quarterly, so we should hopefully not have as long to wait next time there are some issues in the competitive world.

So what’s in this balance patch? What does it mean for competitive 40k? And is this the direction Games Workshop should be taking? We’ll answer each of these questions, but let’s start with what changed.

Fundamentally, the new rules nerf three armies (you can probably guess which) and buff four others, and which armies get adjusted has interesting implications in and of itself.

Flyers Are Now Capped at 0-2 in Strike Force Games

One of the big new changes is that now units with the AIRCRAFT keyword have been capped at 2 models per army in Strike Force games, regardless of how many slots you open up from your detachments (you can have up to 1 in Combat Patrol/Incursion and up to 3 in Onslaught games). This has a major impact on the top Adeptus Mechanicus and Ork lists, both of which were regularly fielding four or more flyers. It also likely has future implications for Codex: Craftworlds – whenever that releases – as Craftworld flyer lists were always a danger lurking on the horizon with a new book. Flyer spam has never been good for the game, and this is a welcome change. It’s also overwhelmingly sandboxed to competitive play in terms of its impact – hardly anyone is going to turn up to a casual game with more than two flyers (the only possible exception being some sort of Scion drop force, and it would be cool to see them getting an exemption on this come their codex).

In terms of what it does, this one doesn’t sit in isolation for Adeptus Mechanicus and Orks, as both got some additional changes, so we’ll look at the impacts on them in their sections. The only other planes seen anywhere near the top tables in recent months have been Voidravens (usually taken solo or in pairs), Dark Talons (occasionally seen in threes, but there are plenty of other good units to replace them with) and a solo Stormraven in a major-winning Grey Knights list. T’au players desperately trying to make their faction function do also tend to run Remoras, and this will likely affect those lists trying to run more than two – and the unit sizes go up to four – even if the common build has two units of one (and is still safe).

Drukhari: Points Adjustments Rebalance the Faction

Drukhari get a swathe of points changes as follows:


  • Archon +5ppm
  • Succubus +20ppm
  • Wyches +2ppm
  • Incubi +2ppm
  • Trueborn/Bloodbride Upgrades +1ppm
  • Raider Dark Lances +10ppm
  • Cronos +5ppm


  • Haemoculus  -10ppm
  • Talos  -10ppm
  • Grotesques -5ppm
  • Ravager -10ppm
  • Voidraven -10ppm
  • Razorwing -10ppm

This set of changes is interesting, and while it’s definitely a nerf to quite a few builds out there it’s far from all one way. Drukhari’s strongest builds have tended to be either Raider-heavy goodstuff builds or make use of Cronos, and most of the toys from those get a knock. The other thing heavily targeted are the best melee trade units, namely Incubi, Succubi and Wyches – all of these were seen in massive numbers and the fact it was incredibly hard not to let them trade up into valuable targets was a big part of what made Drukhari so strong. Double/triple Trueborn lists also take a significant hit here.

On the flip side, there are some actual significant buffs here to units that have been underutilised, and most of the things touched were hardly bad – in fact recent signs have been that Talos builds are very strong indeed in the current metagame. It seems very likely that we’ll see a pivot towards even more of these, and Ravagers and Voidravens were also both sometimes seen in the wild at their previous price so should come out more now.

Finally, the surprising units that weren’t touched are Hellions and Courts of the Archon. Hellions have gone down in stock a bit because they’re terrible into Dreadknights, but they’re still an extremely good unit, and using a Court for an additional durable tarpit alongside Talos will be popular.

All things considered, given how long Drukhari have been on top this could certainly have gone worse for their players, but there will definitely be some major revisions to the top builds.

Adeptus Mechanicus: Point Adjustments Scale Back the Game’s Best Faction

In addition to the flyer caps, there’s also a number of points changes that affect the Adeptus Mechanicus, making many key units more expensive. 


  • Sicaran Infiltrators +2ppm
  • Sicaran Ruststalkers +2ppm
  • Serberys Raiders +4ppm
    • Data Tether +5ppm
  • Skitarii Vanguard +1ppm
    • Data Tether/Omnispex +5pts
  • Skitarii Rangers +1ppm
    • Data Tether/Omnispex +5pts
  • Techpriest Manipulus +10ppm 
  • Skitarii Marshal +10ppm
  • Ironstrider Balistarii +10ppm
  • Archaeopter Fusilave +20ppm
  • Archaeopter Stratoraptor +20ppm
  • Holy Orders:
    • Artisans +10pts
    • Logi +5pts


  • Kastelan Robots -10ppm

Games Workshop clearly weren’t happy with what they saw from the winning Mechanicus lists over the last few weeks (Rob: same), and took a hatchet almost directly to Richard Siegler’s winning list from the New Orleans Open. In addition to capping the number of flyers the list can take generally, those flyers went up 20 points each per model, and the army gainted points increases on pretty much all of its infantry, raising the cost of the list by more than 250 points.

The one upside to Mechanicus players – in addition to the notion that the army probably still has plenty of play at higher levels – is that Kastelan Robots dropped in costs by 10 points per model. These did actually see some fringe experimentation early on, so maybe give them a whirl if you’re looking at your suddenly overcosted army and wondering where to go next after you put two planes up for sale on ebay.

Orks: Vehicle Restrictions Put Limiters on your SpeedWaaagh

In addition to flyer restrictions, Orks caught some additional restrictions, and are now limited to one unit each of their buggies and trukks – Megatrakk Scrapjets, Shokkjump Dragstas, Rukkatruk Squigbuggies, Boomdakka Snazzwagons, and Kustom Boosta-Blastas are now limited to one unit per army, meaning that if you want to take three Rukkatrukk Squigbuggies, they have to be in the same unit. 

While this won’t prevent 3-Buggy, 3-Scrapjet lists, they’re much more vulnerable and less attractive in 3-model units, and easier to tie up in melee. You also have to pick between taking a Nitro Squig buggy or a full unit, taking away a favourite tool Freebooterz were using to kick off their buff. Without the support of 4-6 jets, the list as a whole just isn’t nearly as deadly, especially on good terrain, and if it goes second it’s liable to lose all its air support off the bat, making Ork lists much less oppressive. There are still plenty of strong units to use, but the cap on stuff that’s shooting turn one regardless of the terrain is now two planes and three Squigbuggies, a far more manageable prospect. 

Expect to see lots of experimentation with the new Speed Mob (where the big boosts for Warbikers and Deffkoptas means this hurts less than you’d think), and more people trying out the mech infantry/hero-hammer lists using Trukk Boyz and/or Beast Snaggas in Kill Rigs. Dakkajets being less common is also good news for players who want to just push big hordes of Boyz around, as the Freebooterz build was a particularly brutal counter to any list relying on infantry hordes.

Knights and Chaos Knights

On the buffs side, Knights and Chaos Knights get some huge help: Armigers/War Dogs have gained Objective Secured (in pure Knight armies), giving the faction a dedicated ObSec unit, and now count as 5 models each, while the larger knights (Questoris and Dominus) don’t gain ObSec, but count as 10 models each, similar to Megagargants in Age of Sigmar. This is a huge improvement for the faction, and will supplement the play style of Armiger-heavy lists immediately. Expect to see more “one big knight and a bunch of armigers” lists running around, but just the standard three big Knights/four Warglaives lists get a massive boost to their effectiveness..

This is also huge news for one of the best performing Knight lists out there, which is the Freeblade Lance. One of their biggest draws is the ability to put ObSec on all three of their big Knights, through a combination of aligning Qualities and Burdens to take multiple picks of Sworn to a Quest and using the Banner of Macharius Triumphant (though you can straight up work without this now with three big/four Armigers, as you don’t need the ten models effect from it). Three big Knights that count as ten models and have ObSec is just a completely different prospect in terms of scoring the Primary compared to anything that the army has had access to up till now, and has the potential to be incredibly strong.

TheChirurgeon: GW, if you’re reading this, give Knights the ability to kick an objective. That rule is funny as hell.


Add ‘Core’ to the following datasheets’ list of keywords: 

  • Flayed Ones
  • Canoptek Reanimator
  • Triarch Praetorians
  • Ophydian Destroyers
  • Lokhust Destroyers
  • Lokhust Heavy Destroyers
  • Skorpekh Destroyers
  • Canoptek Wraiths
  • Canoptek Acanthrites (see Imperial Armour Compendium).

We shall now snap-cut to Overlord Wings’ reaction here.


Right then. All of the buffs here are good, but this might be the most exciting of the lot, and is also a massive relief for Necron players in general. Unlike the other books getting an uplift here, Necrons do have a 9th Edition Codex, but it was released early on, doesn’t have eleven Supplements to lean on like Marines, and hasn’t really survived contact with the evolving trends of the game. It has a few general issues with anemic datasheets, but one of the key problems with it is that it’s way too cautious about what combos it lets you pull off, mostly thanks to a lot of effects being locked to CORE, but CORE models peaking in power at Lychguard or Tomb Blades. 

Even at the time it looked a bit ridiculous that Chief Apothecaries could bring back a whole Attack Bike for free each turn, while Technomancers had to pay nearly as many points to get the ability to revive a hefty model once, and as the edition has gone on the scope of what CORE is allowed to get away with has just increased more and more. This has not only left the Codex at the bottom of the pile power-level wise, held aloft largely by a single build that’s decent at best, but has built a sinking sense of dread that players of the faction were stuck for the rest of the edition, because the problems were too fundamental to be fixed by point changes alone.

Well Phaerons everywhere can rejoice, because justice is finally served, and it’s combo time. Clearly the return of Szarekh has awoken some deeply embedded protocols within more specialised elements of the Necron legions, and the generosity with which CORE is applied is now competitive with other factions, honestly probably landing towards the higher end. 

Boy does this unlock some cool stuff too. There’s plenty of stuff in the Necron book that uses the keyword, but the most important implications are probably:

  • All the units in the list (except Triarch Praetorians) are now compatible with the Veil of Darkness. Teleporting Skorpekh for all!
  • All the multi-model units in the list are eligible for reanimation by a Technomancer or Illuminor Szeras. This gives you far more scope to punish the opponent for any chip damage they apply, and helps make up for these units tending to feel like they’re slightly overpaying for Reanimation Protocols.
  • All the Command Phase buffs from your various HQ choices can be dropped onto these units, letting Destroyers become even deadlier and turning Wraiths into very effective melee missiles, especially if combined with a Fail-Safe Overcharger. You also get Relentless March for that extra early reach.
  • Implacable Conqueror (re-roll charges for CORE) now works for all these units, which makes deep strike options like Flayed Ones and Ophydian Destroyers look particularly interesting in Novokh.
  • Anrakyr and Szeras’ buffs now affect all these things, allowing Szeras to gamble on creating some extremely superior creations, and turning Anrakyr into a truly exceptional buff character (his aura is +1A for NECRONS CORE).
  • All these units get access to Disruption Fields for +1S, which takes many of them over important break points. 

There’s more stuff to look at, but just the list above is huge. In terms of how it affects lists, you’re probably looking at the following:

  • Eternal Expansionists can continue to lean towards the murderous versions with lots of Skorpekh and Wraiths, and probably give Anrakyr a try to boost up their killing power. The use of backline Lokhust Heavy Destroyer units also probably increases, and builds will try and find a slot for a Technomancer.
  • Novokh, who probably have the most raw power of the mainline Dynasties, get significantly better, and can make great use of various deep striking units/the Veil of Darkness thanks to Implacable Conqueror affecting more things.
  • Everyone has a much higher chance of making Lokhust Destroyers feel worthwhile, and you probably see units of four plus a Heavy (first to die, first to get rezzed) seriously experimented with. This unit being good kind of feels like the main thing the army is missing, and if this manages to get them over the line it’ll be extremely good news.

This update doesn’t fix all of Necrons’ problems (Command Protocols still need a fix, the big guns still ideally need the dark lance treatment), but I honestly wasn’t super expecting GW to try, and if you’d told me they were going to my expectations would have been calibrated lower than this. This change rules, and I will be getting my Necron army off the shelf for the next UKTC major in a month’s time, which is about the best vote of confidence I can possibly give it.

Chaos Space Marines

Chaos Space Marine received an unexpected adjustment, and it’s mostly a buff. Death to the False Emperor has been changed: It still activates on modified hit rolls of 6+, but will activate against any faction, is no longer gated to IMPERIUM units. Additionally, the effect now gives you an extra Hit instead of an extra Attack. This helps significantly improve the ability even against Imperium units without a buff, even if, truth be told, 9th edition had curtailed most of the strategies focused on stacking modifiers to proc DttFE on a 4+ by capping hit modifiers at +1. The new rule makes Chaos Space Marines more effective immediately against Drukhari, Orks, Necrons, and other Chaos armies and also gives them slight improvements in most Imperium matchups. It’s particularly good on lightning claw terminators and other models who were already throwing out buckets of attacks.

Credit: Robert “theChirurgeon” Jones

Astra Militarum

The Astra Militarum are fresh off getting a modest boost from the Cadian supplement in Warzone Octarius, but they were in a far worse place than Tyranids going in and definitely needed a bit more. Luckily that’s just what this update is here to give, providing the following boosts:

  • All LEMAN RUSS units have their armour save improved to 2+.
  • Tank Commanders can now issue orders to any REGIMENT vehicle (excluding TITANIC).
  • With the exception of Move! Move! Move!,  non-Regiment specific orders issued to REGIMENT infantry units can also affect other non-Officer infantry units within 6”.

All of this is nice, but the first two definitely stand out. Russes now get at least some chance to spike their way out of the AP-4 shooting that’s currently rife in the metagame, and buffing one you need in the open with Psychic Barrier then sending it forward for glory is somewhat plausible (especially if you’re running it in a Spearhead for ObSec). It’s particularly good into Grey Knights, who rely on AP-1 and AP-2 firepower to get most of their ranged damage done, and with them as the strongest faction untouched by these changes that’s a nice place to be.

Tank orders for Vehicles is also an appreciable bonus. Two Full Payload Manticores are a lock for pretty much any Guard list trying to compete, and being able to make these consistently better is excellent. Expect to see Inspired Command used a lot so a Tank Commander can double dip, and maybe more wearing a stylish Laurels of Command. It should also be pointed out that, despite what evidence from the competitive scene might suggest, vehicles other than Manticores do exist. This is the kind of change that does make one take a curious glance across the list of Forge World units just to see if anything is newly busted in the wake of it, but honestly outside of the Malcador Defender there isn’t that much, especially when lined up against 2+ save Russes. Back in the codex, there may be some game in a unit of Sentinels to deploy Strike First, Strike Hard with RR1s. This mostly sticks as a direct and concrete boost to Manticores, but no serious Guard player will be complaining even slightly about that.

Finally, orders, now splashier. The heyday of massed ranks of burly Catachans brawling their way across tournament tables are past us, but you do still see the odd infantry spam list doing OK and mildly boosting that plan isn’t something to be sniffed at. If this unlocks anything particularly clever, it will likely be with the new Cadians, where the sheer size of a Whiteshields squad can be used to bounce the buff all over the place.

Realistically, Guard probably needed a bit more than this to really compete, but it’s also all welcome stuff, and might just about combine with the Cadian Supplement or one of the better Scion/Tank Commander builds to finally get some lists into top placings.

What’s Not Here

As important as what did change is what hasn’t changed. As we write this, it’s important to note that we may still see more changes if there’s another release of the Munitorum Field Manual to update points across the 40k landscape in January similar to the one we got last year. So just because something hasn’t changed with this update doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.

  • Grey Knights, an up-and-coming faction that has seen some strong GT wins recently, haven’t changed at all. This seems to be a wait-and-see approach to the faction that isn’t necessarily unwarranted, but may be something we all regret in a few months’ time – there is a decent chance that Dreadknights and Interceptors is now the game’s best build. 
  • Adepta Sororitas, Death Guard, and Deathwatch all went untouched. These factions are, for the most part, fine from a balance standpoint, and so the likely feeling is that they don’t need adjustments right now.
  • Tyranids also went untouched, probably because they just got a major boost from Octarius Book 1: Rising Tide. The army has some nasty tricks now, and they’ll only get more viable as other factions have been nerfed.
  • Genestealer Cults and Custodes. While both factions – particularly GSC – need help, we know that they have new books right around the corner, which would have made making updates here a waste.
  • Craftworlds Eldar and T’au Empire. Both of these factions are terrible, and by all accounts should have had something here. Instead neither one gets so much as a mention, while Knights see a major update. Warhammer Community already explicitly said that Tau are one of the first books coming in 2022 in their Kill Team: Chalnath coverage, so maybe the Asuryani are joining them?

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

What Does This Mean?

We’re going to be putting together a full roundtable from our competitive team as quickly as possible, but our initial impressions coming out of this are roughly as follows

Big Winners

  • Grey Knights
  • Adepta Sororitas
  • Redemptor/Contemptor Dreadnought lists
  • Harlequin-based mixed Aeldari
  • Knights (especially the Freeblade Lance)
  • Necrons

Grey Knights and Sisters were pretty definitively the next best factions after the top three, so coming through this update untouched is a huge deal for them. This is especially Grey Knights who may turn out to be a bit overtuned with the top predators de-fanged. Also putting up credible performances right now are Space Marine lists that go big on Dreadnoughts and mixed Aeldari, and they’re also going to be operating on much more even footing with the top tier. Over in buff land, the Freeblade Lance and Necrons in general are by far the biggest beneficiaries of the largesse on show, and should see far more success (with other Knights also getting a big boost). Necrons probably still end up weaker than the other things here, but the magnitude of improvement this represents for them is massive.

Big Losers

  • Adeptus Mechanicus
  • Orks

Realistically we barely need to spell this out, but these are real nerfs that should significantly weaken all three factions. Adeptus Mechanicus are (arguably justifiably) the hardest hit, because they can’t really swerve around the changes at all, with the vast majority of their best units (including Troops) going up in price, and planes catching a double tap of limited numbers and higher costs. The faction is still going to be perfectly playable, and there are some things that have been used successfully that evaded a nerf, so expect to see more Pteraxii, more lists using Skorpii again, a return to 3×2 Ironstriders in most Mars builds and maybe some experimentation with Kataphron Breachers.

Over in Drukhari land, typical lists will be down a few units, but everyone’s least-favorite army of perverts seem to have gotten off pretty easy (phrasing).

Finally, the full Freebooterz and Blood Axe lists get punted hard, but Orks get a lighter touch elsewhere and have a couple of ways they can pivot. Mechanised infantry builds have been doing OK, and now they’re competing with weaker builds on the top table they might come to the fore. Alternatively, the new Speed Mob could excel in a Warbiker-heavy build. Getting their two best builds shot down is obviously a knock to the codex’s immediate performance, but there’s a reasonable chance that the Ork lists the majority of the faction’s players want to use actually come out of this ahead, so keep an eye on them.


  • Thousand Sons
  • Death Guard
  • Astra Militarum
  • Chaos Space Marines
  • General Marine lists
  • Be’lakor lists
  • Tyranids

Thousand Sons and Death Guard are also both well poised to benefit from the big three being brought down to earth, though Thousand Sons’ weak matchup into Grey Knights is potentially a spoiler on that front. Marine builds on more balanced plans can also probably make more of a game of things now that Drukhari trade pieces (in particular) are less oppressive, but may also struggle with Grey Knights. Finally here, Chaos Space Marines and Astra Militarum are both going to enjoy their buffs, but probably not as much as the big winners. Over in Chaos, Be’lakor has been single handedly uplifting various Daemon monster mash and soup builds to reasonable competitiveness recently, and those are definitely going to benefit from having fewer nightmare shooting builds to work around. Finally, Leviathan builds have shown some immediate promise at the GT level, so a bunch of their prey getting easier is great for them.


  • Drukhari
  • T’au Empire
  • Craftworlds

Unlike AdMech and Orks, Drukhari’s nerfs (which are real and significant) are offset by some buffs to already decent units, so while they end up as losers overall, this could have been far worse for them. Expect to see more Covens and more of the heavier vehicles providing Dark Lance cover now they’re pricier on Raiders.

For the others, we have to assume that these books are getting announced soon, because there’s no other reason to leave them completely untouched at this point. That still leaves these books in a very rough spot for at least two months, which is a shame, though assuming they are coming in early 2022 it’s at least an understandable prioritisation of rules writing.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Is This a Good Thing? 

Yes, this absolutely rules and we’re thrilled that Games Workshop have done this and hope to see more of it in the future. The metagame has been demonstrably dominated by a few overpowered armies for far too long, but we’d passed the “bargaining” phase and hit “acceptance” that things weren’t going to change till January, so having Games Workshop step in and do something now is a huge relief and massively positive for the big events remaining this year. Wings is delighted that there’s actually going to be some innovation on show in Competitive Innovations, and there should be some genuine hype going into the Austin Roadshow and the Leicester UKTC Supermajor as we wait to see if new challengers are going to dethrone the old guard.

Just dropping the hammer on the top builds would honestly have been enough, but what’s arguably most exciting about this update is the buffs. We’ve never really seen anything like this before – all through 8th and 9th thus far we’ve seen busted stuff get cut down to size by errata and rules changes, but the movement has all been one way, which has two issues. First, if your codex came out and was structurally underpowered (Necrons in 8th being the prime example) then it was kind of tough luck – occasionally a later release would bring substantial improvements, but you couldn’t rely on it, and were generally stuck. It also tinged your faction being too good with a level of dread – what if when the nerf came down the line, it went too far and left you stuck, as happened to Genestealer Cults over a few rounds of changes.

Knowing that big, structural buffs are on the table is a game changer in that regard. It’s an immediate delight for Necron players this time around, and should help tide the other recipients over until their 9th books land (especially for Knights). It’s a shame not to see these spread to T’au and Craftworlds too, and hopefully that genuinely is because they’re not far from an update, but we’re hoping that if they do more of these in future they’re more comprehensive. Hopefully the boldness of the Necron update here sets a precedent on how far they’re willing to go – acknowledging that the game has changed enough in a year for a 9th book to need this kind of update is a big step, but one we’re 100% behind.

The other reason we’re so pleased about this is that it shows that GW are paying attention to the competitive scene, and do want it to succeed. There are definite risks to making this kind of change, as the tournament world is only a small part of the 40K community and there’s far more ambivalence about rules updates outside it. However, in our (obviously slightly biased) opinion, a healthy tournament scene can have an outsized impact on the general level of positivity and energy in the hobby, and it’s no accident that it has exploded during the game’s most successful editions. Plenty of players who don’t attend events still want to hear about the hottest new armies that are winning big, and competitive play drives a disproportionate amount of content creation (including plenty of our own). We’re obviously delighted to see this kind of change as competitive players, but we also genuinely expect to see it have positive impacts on the hobby as a whole. More of this sort of thing!

If you have any questions or feedback – and we suspect you will – drop us a note in the comments below or email us at