The 2021 Warhammer 40k End of Year Meta Analysis

Welcome back, Dear Reader, to another (semi) monthly meta analysis! This time we’re taking stock of the final events of the year and closing things out with a quick look at WHERE WE STAND right before a trio of new codex releases and a new mission pack completely overturn everything we know to be true about the competitive environment. We’ll also look at some data around the new Black Templars book and talk about where we ended up on first turn advantage in 2021.


Thanks to the wonderful efforts of tournament organizers and app developers around the world, we have access to what is essentially every meaningful piece of data around competitive games of 40k. The data in this month’s study comes from:

We also frequently check the wonderful site for some results data and to look at lists. It’s as large and complete a dataset as you could ever ask for for 40k. This month’s data specifically comes from the period ending on December 18th, 2021. The data contains tens of thousands of games worth of data from the ITC Battles app and Best Coast Pairings.

On certain occasions we’ll reference “statistical significance.” We often do significance testing between two population means during these analyses, most often with differences in go-first win rates between two samples. When we conduct these, they’re conducted on a 95% confidence interval (p=0.05) unless otherwise specified.

What We’re Covering This Month

We have fewer books to talk about this month – only Codex Supplement: Black Templars is among the new releases, but it’s worth looking at the effects of the competitive balance dataslate, which Games Workshop published on November 9th and went into effect at most events immediately the weekend following. This month we’ll be covering:

  • Faction win rates and results from the last two months
  • A final Tier list for the factions of 9th edition in 2021 (in a separate article coming shortly after this one)
  • Black Templars, Grey Knights, Adeptus Mechanicus, Orks, and (sigh) Drukhari
  • Faction secondary objectives
  • The impact of going first, by faction

Faction Performance

So after two points updates, nine codexes, four campaign supplements, a number of FAQs, and a balance dataslate, where did we end up at the end of 2021? Well, for the most part, the answer shouldn’t really surprise you:

That’s Drukhari in the lead there, tops on both Glicko score and win rate in the ITC battles app data. They’re followed close behind however by Grey Knights, who’ve posted a win rate pretty close to theirs and consistently demonstrate the ability to compete against every other army in the game – we’ll come back to that in a bit when we talk about Grey Knights in greater detail.

If we look at win rate data in Best Coast Pairings and BCP, limiting the latter to GT events of 28+ players and 5+ rounds, we can get a clear picture of where win rates currently sit.

Drukhari and Grey Knights are remarkably stable as 1 and 2 in our dataset, while Craftworld Eldar, T’au, Chaos Space Marines, and Astra Militarum are likewise pretty consistent at the bottom of our standings in both datasets. Let’s talk about a few outliers here, though:

  • Forces of the Hive Mind. This is a very small sample of games in either dataset, in part because it relies on players putting in their faction as “Forces of the Hive Mind” and not “Tyranids” and in part because it represents a very specific build of Tyranids and Genestealer Cults. That 72% winrate as a result is literally the result of 12-14 players over the last two months, and two of those are in the top 5 – John Lennon and Mani Cheema combined at Austin for 16 games with the army, which resulted in a total of 1 loss between them, plus another 13 games at other events in December. And likewise Innes Wilson (28th) accounts for another 5 games on the list.
  • Thousand Sons appear to fare significantly better at the GT level. This may be in part because it’s more likely they’ll dodge bad matchups in larger competitive pools. Specifically, Grey Knights and Drukhari. Wings: From reviewing top builds, it also looks like the players who are taking Thousand Sons to GTs have very quickly consolidated on to the best lists available, whereas I imagine more diverse things are being tried in ITCBA games.
  • Necrons perform significantly worse at the GT level, likely because they’ll quickly run into skilled players with strong lists that can take them out as soon as they step foot in the winners bracket.
  • Although T’au Empire sit near the bottom of our standings in both of our datasets, they tend to perform significantly better at the GT level, likely because of a reduced diversity in lists and some amount of surprise factor.

We’ll talk more about marine chapters in our tiers list, but if you’re interested in how the marine chapters shake out in terms of relative power level, here’s the rundown of all the armies using Codex: Space Marines as a base.

The Impacts of the Balance Dataslate

The reason we’re looking at data after November 9th is because that’s when the Balance Dataslate released, the first in a series of major quarterly balance updates. We’ve talked about this at length – check out our article on all the changes here – but the net impact is that Orks and Admech were nerfed, some Drukhari builds were nerfed (while others improved), and Necrons, Knights, Chaos Knights, Astra Militarum, and Chaos Space Marines got varying degrees of buffs. So how did this change things? Well, let’s take a look at how faction Glicko rates changed in the wake of the updates.

Let’s start with the biggest risers:

Iron Hands, Tyranids, and Black Templars have all risen significantly over the last two months, with Tyranids seeing the largest growth thanks to new rules in Octarius giving them new life via Synaptic Links and the Leviathan Supplement. Iron Hands have also risen on the back of a new build that leans heavily on bodyguarded Contemptor Dreadnoughts – we’ll talk more about them in the tiers list. When it comes to the actual Balance Dataslate, Chaos Knights appear to be the big winners, showing significant upward growth that isn’t so much matched by Chaos Space Marines.

And let’s talk about the biggest losers:

The precipitous fall of the Adeptus Mechanicus should come as no surprise here – the Balance Dataslate was much-needed, but took a heavy hatchet to the faction, leaving them merely average in a world where Drukhari continue to exist. They dropped nearly 20 points following the dataslate, and will likely continue to fall until their glicko scores are more in-line with their win rate. Deathwatch have also fallen despite some new rules in the form of an Army of Renown.

The net impact of this is that Admech armies are quickly vanishing, while Drukhari armies have held constant. Death Guard play has declined as the faction has continued to fall off, and Grey Knights are holding fairly steady as a top option now. Iron Hands are now also on the rise, though expect Tyranids (or at least Forces of the Hive Mind) to make a play at cracking this soon, and expect Custodes to double in size after their book releases in January.

Now let’s focus on a few of the major factions and how they fare in terms of matchups before we jump into building our faction tier ranking.


The Drukhari remain the game’s top faction and have very few negative matchups, and even those are ones they’re expected to win. Recently they’ve struggled with Chaos Knights and mixed Aeldari, with the former being heavily terrain-dependent and the latter being tooled to essentially beat Drukhari.

Grey Knights

Grey Knights are likewise sitting very pretty in the standings in terms of win rates and Glicko scores, and do particularly well against marines of most flavors – only Iron Hands seem to match up well against them. In that regard, they’ve only got one fewer positive matchups than Drukhari, but it’s worth noting that one of the Grey Knights’ negative matchups is against Drukhari, which is why they’re still sitting at #2. Wings: in particular, Talos are a nightmare for the best Grey Knight lists.


OK time for the big caveat: We do not have enough data on Forces of the Hive Mind games in either dataset to look at how they’ve performed against each faction in the last 90 days. The best we can do here is look at the performance of the Tyranids faction – the benefactor of the buffs in Octarius – and use that as a kind of proxy. Expect these numbers to improve for superior builds, but note that those Forces of the Hive Mind results are driven by some pretty exceptional players at the moment and that particular army will likely change when the new Codex for Genestealer Cults drops.

With that out of the way, the good news is that Tyranids have more positive matchups than before, reflected in their rising Glicko scores and where they’ve outperformed expectation, particularly against Necrons, Dark Angels, Marines of most flavors, Knights, Custodes, Sororitas, Orks, and Death Guard. That’s some impressive improvement against a large number of armies. The bad news is they appear to still have negative matchups against several top armies, including Drukhari, Iron Hands, and Grey Knights, and those have been in-line with their projected performance.

Adeptus Mechanicus

For our final faction look, we’ll kick Admech one more time while it’s down. Here expected vs. actual scores pretty much tell the whole story – the Admech underperformed their expected performance against 17 of the game’s factions following the balance dataslate, and against the game’s best factions. They have pretty even win rates against a large number still, but having major negative matchups against Custodes, Drukhari, and Grey Knights takes them out of the game.

The Impact of First Turn

It wouldn’t be a 2021 Meta Analysis without an examination of first turn win rates. There isn’t a ton to say here – first turn win rates since the balance dataslate were just under 55% – 54.6%, to be more accurate – and while that’s still higher than we’d like it’s much closer to the threshold we’re looking for, particularly when compared to the rates we were looking at early in 9th edition. GT Tournament results in BCP in the second half of the year give us a much more balanced 49.5% go first win rate, but that comes with the caveat that the majority of those games are from GW’s data sample, which uses a particular terrain layout and only uses certain missions. Which isn’t to take anything away from that setup – we’re certainly big fans of the GW terrain layout and many of us use it – it’s more that the lack of go first data from say, events with player-placed terrain or other layouts makes it difficult to compare those and determine whether the terrain or missions or GW’s unique way of pairing players in rounds 5-8 are having a bigger impact. Our current ITC Battles App data suggests that missions have a marginal impact on go-first win rates at most, but that’s not accounting for uniform terrain layouts.

Something we see bandied about from time to time is that “the best players prefer to go second.” And to some extent, that’s true – but as with most things, it’s more complicated than that. There are times when the best players want to go first, depending on the matchup, mission, and terrain, and times when going second gives them an advantage. And other times it’s less about how important it is for your army to go first than your opponent’s – if your opponent desperately needs to go first then it doesn’t matter what you prefer.

We’ve talked about faction go-first win rates in the past but generally speaking, they’re still higher when going first. In the vein of our current train of thought, the more interesting question is: Which factions depend the most on going first for their wins? We can find this by looking at the percentage of a faction’s wins that came in games where they had the first turn, and then index that against the average for all factions (note that here a score of 100 is average).

The net result is something that shouldn’t shock us: While many 9th edition books do better with first turn, 8th edition armies, particularly Chaos Space Marines, Harlequins, T’au, and Knights, depend much more on having the first turn in order to compete. Of interesting note here is Blood Angels, who appear to depend on having the first turn much less. These factions also have some of the greatest gaps between their go-first win rates and go-second win rates. Note that Drukhari and Grey Knights have among the lowest gaps, because their win rates going first or second are very high.

Next: The Final Tier List of 2021

…or is it the first faction Tiers list of 2022? Either way, I’m going to hand those duties over to One_Wing to finish things off there, though he’s built his Tier list using data from this analysis and a few other notes we’ve compiled in our discussions. Then we’ll be back in another month or two to look at the impacts of the Genestealer Cults and Custodes Codexes and talk more about the results of LVO. And hopefully by then we’ll also have the new season missions pack to talk about. Exciting times.

In the meantime if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at