Games Workshop released their third quarterly Balance Dataslate yesterday, giving us sweeping changes that nerf some of the game’s top armies and boost some of the underperformers. We put out a hot take yesterday (and would like to thank GW for respecting the important convention of Hot Take Thursday), but today we want to go a bit deeper.
How will these changes affect the meta and the win rates of the game’s top (and bottom) armies? And did they go far enough to correct a struggling meta? We had our panel of top competitive players sit down to discuss the changes and what’s next.
- Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
- James “Boon” Kelling
- Liam “Corrode” Royle
- John Lennon
- James “One_Wing” Grover
- Scott Horras “Heresy”
- The Archon Himself “Skari”
- Don “The Mastodon” Hooson
- Richard Siegler
- Nick Nanavati
- Matt Robertson
Let’s start with the quickfire take: Is the new dataslate good or bad?
Skari: I am personally pleased that Games Workshop is willing to try and balance the game. I am surprised at how heavy the Custodes hit is personally. I am very excited to see some Space Marines and Sisters back in the mix for the meta! And I’m glad that the Harlequins got a bit of a hit. Is this too much? Is it not enough? Well one can’t please everyone ! So we shall see how this impacts the game over the next few weeks. I am very eager to see the impact. Also, yay power armour!
Nick: It’s absolutely awesome! It’s direct in nerfing the real problems to the game, the Void Weavers, indirect fire, and Bodyguard ability. It also buffed a variety of armies in a more elegant way than just reducing points. It’s opened up tons of new build options.
Siegler: It’s excellent, this is the type of scope the previous dataslates should have encompassed. Targeted game-wide changes to the most uninteractive and abusive rules (indirect fire and bodyguard rule), varying degrees of nerfs to the strongest armies in the games, and substantial buffs to some of the worst performers. And while it is unfortunate that the game was in the state it needed this amount of changes, the willingness of the developers to not simply wait for a print book to do them deserves praise. This update was utterly necessary to prevent some of the work game-wide balance we have seen in quite a while between the haves and have-nots. Hopefully, this update sets the precedence for emergency balance changes in the future if needed.
James ‘Boon’ Kelling: It’s always a good thing when a game is actively managed, so yeah, it’s good. I love that the release article included comments from the team as this is a very good thing to develop a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ for the community. So on to the real question of is it good? Hard to say.
I think the mix of boosts and nerfs is a very good approach to the game’s balance, three factions took significant hits while a host of others (including basically any power-armored army) got a significant durability boost. The changes to Bodyguard and Indirect Fire are very good overall and I think the Armor of Contempt rule will give Marines a much-needed boost. However, the first thing I looked for when scanning the document was “Crusher” and saw nothing – admittedly not a great start. Outside of that, I think Custodes probably got binned by these changes and this won’t be successful in bringing Harlequins into line but simply killed one datasheet while shifting the style of play to something that will still push 65% win rates. Overall, it’s a lot of variables and nothing is 100% certain but my initial impression on feeling after reviewing the dataslate is summarized as follows: I’m very glad that GW continues to manage the game actively – I’m not impressed with the lack of nuance with many of the nerfs, happy for the boosts, but I don’t think it fundamentally fixed the game’s imbalance issues – just altered it slightly.
Don: This dataslate is pure gold and will only be good for the game as a whole. The loss of counting as 5/10 models and obsec for Knights is rough for them but I feel that everything else is a healthy move and hopefully knights get that back in their codexes.
TheChirurgeon: It’s good but it’s a lot. Ideally with things like this you can afford to make small changes or adjustments to single armies, but they’ve released half a dozen broken armies in a row here and so the only thing left to do is make massive changes. As such it’s hard to see how this all shakes out – the AP reduction is good but how good? The Custodes nerfs are huge but do they cripple the faction? The T’au and Harlequins nerfs seem minor but will they matter more with other armies being better? There are a ton of moving parts here and while I’m glad they’re making the changes It’s distressing that this is where we’re at so soon after the last dataslate. At the very least it’s a big boost to my Thousand Sons. Well, maybe – I have yet to see how the AP reduction will affect their AP-2 bolters in key matchups. Likewise, Blightlord Terminators are way better, but their bubotic axes aren’t nearly as good and Plagueburst Crawlers are much, much worse.
John Lennon: There’s a ton to process here, but this has to be a win for the game when several of the least enjoyable mechanics (and armies!) took a severe nerf. The buffs were much larger than we’ve previously seen, which makes me a bit nervous, but overall I’m quite optimistic that this is a great change in direction. I’m especially pleased that GW was willing to put a harsh nerf in for overperforming armies, considering what happened when Drukhari took a small nerf and kept on trucking. I’m wondering if Custodes were hit too hard, but I’d rather they swing the hammer hard here, as long as they’re willing to dial it back later if they went too far.
Wings: It’s very good overall, and I’m happy that GW have pushed it essentially a month early. I have some nitpicks, but in general I think this is going to be a tremendous shot in the arm for the competitive scene, and I’m much, much more excited for the next few weeks of compiling Competitive Innovations because of it. In particular, I think the huge buffs that Sisters, Guard and Marines got are a very good sign of GW learning from what has and hasn’t worked in the previous two iterations, and have a real chance of getting these factions back into the game. It’s vital for people’s enjoyment of the hobby that no faction languishes at the bottom forever, and a willingness to just strap rocket boots to persistently underperforming armies was what we needed.
Liam: I think the dataslate achieves some good ends but I am not a huge fan of the means. Big, impactful buffs to power armour factions and rock-bottom Astra Militarum were much-needed. Armour of Contempt (and, for Death Guard, gaining ObSec Terminators) helps the former a lot, and Guard get the double whammy of other factions’ indirect getting relatively worse while theirs stays the same – plus Hammer of the Emperor giving every Guardsman a radium carbine. The top factions also needed bringing down a peg, and with the notable exception of Crusher Stampede (and to a lesser extent Asuryani, who’ve been flying under the radar thanks to Harlequins being so insanely powerful), they have been.
Who are the big winners?
Skari: Space Marines get a huge boost with the Armour of Contempt. I am eyeing regular Terminators being able to shrug off some of the more basic firepower as a strong contender for the most improved unit in the slate. Grey Knights I think will see some boost with this as well as you can take their Terminators as troops.
Siegler: Sororitas, Space Marines, and Thousand Sons are the biggest winners here. In particular Varlous Heart, Salamanders, and Scarab Occult Terminators received massive boosts to their durability with the former taking on board the Armour of Contempt changes with an updated trait of “no rerolls to wound!” Wow! That is now one of the best traits you can have in the entire game, especially against other recent books where re-roll wound abilities are prevalent.
I expect to see Marines in general have a new lease on life, especially the units with 2+ armor saves using light cover plus Armour of Contempt to dramatically decrease ranged damage. Raven Guard in particular are also major fans of the bodyguard change as sniper rules in general are actually useful once more.
Secretly, Craftworlds are massive winners from this update as they avoided any direct nerfs while their main competitors all received nerfs, and they can now tailor specifically for new Tyranids. The indirect change does reduce the efficiency of support weapons and Night Spinners, but indirect fire was the best tool for dealing with Battle Focus and Fire and Fade Asuryani units that now are very difficult to interact with.
Liam: As mentioned in the intro, agreed with Richard that Craftworlds have done well here – they do take some hits to their indirect like everyone else, but the rest of their very powerful package is untouched, and everything else at the top of the meta is a bit worse. Otherwise Marines of all kinds – Imperial, Chaos, and Girl – have come out well, especially Salamanders, Valorous Heart, and Thousand Sons. The only thing I don’t love about Thousand Sons is that that codex already had rough internal balance, and was reliant on Scarab Occults to do everything – now you’re just pushed that way even more.
Nick: Space Marines and Chaos are the obvious winners since they received some direct love. Thousand Sons and Death Guard have a real shot again, not to mention Sisters. Holy crap sisters. The extra miracle die per turn changes them fundamentally, as they can build for Leap of Faith more, as well as make better plays on the table. Not to mention the indirect nerf did great things for every toughness 3 model out there.
TheChirurgeon: My Thousand Sons look to be a lot better, particularly if Custodes fall off the competitive landscape, though they’ll have to contend with Grey Knights. Death Guard also seem worth revisiting, particularly since a lot of their AP0 guns are completely unaffected by Armour of Contempt. Not looking forward to that particular resurgence with either of my Chaos armies. The Volkite Contemptor is also a massive winner here, as it both benefits from the AP reduction and the fact that its AP0 gun became relatively more efficient.
Lennon: Eldar feel like massive winners here. The Craftworld half of that codex are incredibly strong, but I think suffered from being sold in the same book as the braindead easy Harlequins. Without indirect fire punishing their fragile, evasive shooting units, I think there is a lot of space for elves to move up into S tier. Their competition has been cleared away, and I think more competitive players will invest time into mastering their tricks. Tyranids feel like the only army that actually has tools against a well tuned craftworld list designed to minimize interaction.
Wings: The perils of adding to this last is that most of the smart things have already been said. Agreed on power armour (especially Salamanders) being the big win in terms of what got buffed, and Craftworlds/Tyranids winning by omission. For Marines, as well as anything on a natural 2+ being great, look out for anything that has access to ways to improve its armour save (which do stack with this where other AP reductions don’t). Eliminators in particular are now almost unmoveable from cover, and given they also get to move when charged if you buy an upgrade they should be fantastic. Gravis units having access to Unyielding in the Face of the Foe is also great against many Craftworld lists.
Who are the big losers?
Skari: I think the Custodes are taking the biggest hit, not only did some of their best strats go to once per game, they also lost ObSec on all non troops (take that Trajan) and their bikes won’t be able to benefit. However, in a sneaky way GW also omitted all the Knight updates, so funnily enough they have nerfed knights until the Chaos Knights and Imperial Knights codexes are released. Also, in a way Ork buggies got hit again! As not only are they only one squad of buggies each, but now the Squigbuggies also suffer from the changes to indirect fire. Double Whammy.
Siegler: Necrons. They retained the CORE changes from the last balance update, but received nothing further. Not only did the armies around them become much more powerful (Space Marines, Sisters, Thousand Sons), but those factions received the type of impactful army-wide rules change that Necrons desperately need to keep up with the most recent codexes.
The fact that Games Workshop are willing to add powerful new army-wide rules onto an older book is a positive, but Necrons have by far the worst 9th edition rules so far and it’s a slap in the face that they did not receive anything similar. The CORE changes were good, but should have been included in the codex. The rules themselves – Reanimation (excepting warriors), Command Protocols, and Living Metal could all do with a tune-up. I expect Necrons, after their brief period of feeling like a competitive army in the late winter, will return to being the worst 9th edition faction with a codex, though Death Guard are still competitors there.
Don: Custodes definitely took it on the chin. I think they are still strong, but now they will have a more difficult time being immune to most damage in the game. Indirect fire was also nerfed appropriately, I feel. This does hurt units like the plagueburst Crawler, but the change is necessary to hinder the problem children like Tau.
Also Knights losing ObSec is insane.
Wings: Technically Knights, but I don’t really count that since we’re so close to a revamp, so realistically Custodes. I also agree that all of Cults, Necrons and honestly at this point maybe Orks could have done with something (probably just lifting the previous nerfs on the latter, or maybe buffing Boyz).
Liam: Custodes definitely get hit hardest here in terms of direct nerfs. The key strats are worse, ObSec on their non-Troops just goes away, and Marines pick up a resilience buff that significantly closes the gap between them. Indirectly, yeah it’s everything that didn’t get changed at all – Orks are probably the biggest ones, since their book really needs an all-over revision to make more of its stuff meaningful on the table.
Harlequins: Fixed? Or are they still too good?
Skari: It is hard to say without seeing the results of the changes that have been posed today. Lets just remember, harlequins have an almost 80% win rate. That is just, not healthy, for the game. So, anything that makes them NOT have that… is a win in my books. Just looking at the lists that have been circulating, simply going up 400 pts… that’s quite a chunk of points, so we shall see how much of an impact it has, fingers crossed.
Kelling: It’s a bunch of nerfs, that’s good, but I think it’s probably the worst way to have done it. Will it achieve the desired result against a specific build? Yeah, probably. It will definitely reduce the number of Voidweavers in the army, but it’ll also completely kill the datasheet outside of the pure Harlequins lists – a faction with a grand-total of four non-character datasheets. In general, massive points increases as a means to fix something that relies on synergies are equivalent to dropping dumb bombs over population centers. Will you get the intended effect? Maybe. Will it cause collateral damage? Yeah, absolutely.
The key problem with the durability of the Harlequins was the ability to selectively reroll saves with Luck of the Laughing God as many times as needed while combining the various stacking datasheet and faction buffs – that’s not really changed here and I expect Voidweaver heavy armies to simply shift to Skyweaver heavy armies and the game will be right back where it was, though perhaps slightly neutered and Dark’er. The change to the Favor of Cegorach, however, is aces.
Siegler: I think Harlequins received an Ad Mech style nerf, where it will have a massive impact on the ability of most people to successfully play the army. Specifically because the “my boats don’t die and I table you with shooting” of 9 Voidweavers is now dead. Dark Harlequins are still exceptionally strong in the context of 9th edition rules, but they are more difficult to play and are more interactive, requiring the combat phase to make the most of their rules and synergies. Similar to Ad Mech, I expect the absolute top tier players to still be able to win with them, but the bandwagon will be largely empty.
Don: I think Harlequins went from a brain dead faction to being merely a very strong faction. I am sure they will still do very well, but will require more than 9 void weavers with 1200 points of point collectors.
Nick: Harlequins now function like they’re supposed to. I’ve actually played a game with the new Harlequins into new Space Marines and it was super back and forth and bloody. The army requires finesse, precision, and timing. It needs to play the mission and surgically kill the enemy. It can still compete, and it is not herp-derp Voidweavers first points later
Wings: Clearly not dead but definitely more manageable, and I expect Harlequin players are shortly going to have the novel experience of encountering bad matchups. Notably, Voidweavers were the main way Harlequins got “reach” in the shooting phase, so with them being massively nerfed the faction picks up a much more significant weakness to anything that can stay distant and do damage, or isn’t safe to charge. That said, while Voidweavers have been taking all the energy in the conversation, lists using bikes have seen some success as well, and the change to indirect fire means that Mirror Architect getting slammed matters a bit less into some armies like Tau. I do think that Nick raises a good point that some Marine lists now exist that feel like they can really stifle the clowns – with fewer Voidweavers, they’re relying on a lot of mid-AP stuff to push damage through. I expect to see more people trying Dark and more star bolas bike squads experimented with, as the latter feels like good tech for a Marine matchup.
Liam: It’s hard to say they’re going to be fine now – when a faction has win rates as high as Harlequins did, your question is whether this drops them from 78% to “just” 60% or something – but they won’t be as completely out of control as they were, which is positive. I’d have preferred to see something like 30pts rather than 40pts on the Voidweavers, and 2ppm on Troupes, reducing the overall amount of stuff on the table, whereas it feels like this might just be an early Drukhari-style nerf where players just pivot to the next strong build. At least there’s fewer datasheets in Harlequins to play whack-a-mole with.
Custodes: Fixed? Or did they go too far?
Robertson: I feel that with all of the other buffs going on bringing them up, this may be a little too much to Custodes, taking them to the middle of the pack. They definitely needed a slap on the wrist to bring them down a level whilst remaining strong to promote close games, but now there may be a lot more struggle vs books like Tau and Aeldari, whilst keeping things tight vs the older books which is a huge step down from current.
Skari: I was not expecting such heavy-handed changes to Custodes. I don’t think that this will change the composition of the traditional lists, however it definitely will affect their win rate. There are a lot of things that custodes players relied on, that got changed… and hard. I personally like the changes, and I think it will bring the custodes more in line with the middle of the pack.
Siegler: I believe this is probably a bit too harsh, specifically making the key stratagems once per game. I think the added command point cost for certain units or simply making it infantry only and once per battle round would have been enough on that front when combined with the bodyguard change, which Custodes were masters at abusing. If they raise Custodes points in the next Chapter Approved update, I expect them to tone some of these back.
TheChirurgeon: I’ll second the “Custodians still have play” notion. You have to be more cagey with them and thoughtful in your matchups, and some units like the Allarus just won’t see play now, but Sagittarum are still great and the individual datasheets are still strong enough that even with once-per-game riders on some of the strats they can compete. Trajann is still an auto-include without ObSec, and Vertus Prateors are still amazing. Though for the record, I’d have probably made it non-CHARACTER INFANTRY rather than Troops only getting ObSec and increased the Stratagem cost.
Lennon: I’m in the opposite camp, where I believe Custodes were hit too hard here. I expect their numbers (both representation and wins) to plummet, because Custodes are a popular secondary army for people with several collections, so I think they will go back to being rarely seen. I don’t think the datasheets are strong enough to just win games anymore, and I think the hard hitting armies will have no problem cleaning out bikes or dreads without their defensive stratagems. Still, better to swing too hard than not enough, but if Custodes drop too far I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of these stratagems revisited.
Wings: Too much. Custodes needed a big change, but this is quite a bit harsher than what I personally wanted to see, particularly in the context of Marines getting a big boost – one of the issues with Custodes for my money was how brutally they oppressed melee Marines. This feels like an attempt to find a way not to just take a mulligan on the pre-release points buffs, which was one of the main things needed here, and as I said when we looked at this in our Roundtable changing Auspice and Alchemy at the same time creates a compounding effect that’s hard to fully gauge the impact of. The bit I really don’t like is the ObSec change though, as it hits the same issue that some of the CORE removals have in the past – the Custodes book is designed on the assumption that this ability exists, so is missing some of the effects you’d normally expect from a 9th Edition book to hand it out at a price. That leaves non-Troops infantry in a weird and non-ideal spot, and I feel like this is the thing that’s most likely to get rolled back (or dialed back to non-CHARACTER at least) in the next Dataslate. All that being said, there are still some things that Custodes players can try. Solar Watch Shieldguard spam looked pretty close to getting there early on, and takes the least impact from these changes, so expect to see that pop back up. Loads of Sagittarum around a Vexilla with the Fulminaris Aggressor upgrade also seems very plausible. Finally, given you’re probably not seeing nine bikes in every list now, expect Caladius tanks to come off shelves to provide a bit of long-ranged anti-tank with the blaze cannon build.
Liam: Way too much, I think. This is probably the GW pecadillo I’m most annoyed with in these balance dataslates – so many fixes that could be “change the points” are instead made by slapping on new special rules or fundamental changes to how the rules work. Custodes needed to revert to their Codex points, get a couple of tweaks to Trajann and bike salvo launchers, and probably have the two defensive strats bumped up by a CP each. Instead their points are the same, but they’re a lot less resilient on the table and lose the ObSec gimmick that was part of their thing. As a side note, since the slates are entirely self-contained, we now have fundamental errata to stratagems – “use once” in particular – which are not included in the documents that are meant to contain FAQ & errata. We’ve talked about mental load a few times in recent weeks, and the way that information is dispersed in a way that makes it hard for casual players in particular to keep up with what’s changed – having errata to rules that aren’t in the errata documents is bad practice and at minimum the changes should be replicated across both.
T’au: Fixed? Or not enough?
Robertson: I actually feel like Tau came out of this dataslate in a really strong position. The indirect nerfs will hurt and losing the AP from Montka, combined with armour of contempt will bring their output down from oppressive to strong. But I feel like they will still have a solid weight of fire or enough bigger weapons to really pose a threat in the shooting phase. Weighing up the Tau changes compared to similar power books like Custodes they seem to be a step above them now. If they have enough punch left to deal with Aeldari now or new Nids once they hit the tables will be interesting to see as borth books will require a different flex so may struggle to effectively counter both.
Skari: Nothing can fix Tau enough for me. The indirect fire change was good to prevent the SMS spam or the Airburst spam from being prevalent However, I feel the biggest killers in the codex, crisis teams with flamers, for example, did not get touched. Broadsides losing CORE makes sense but now they are just going to be replaced by Crisis suits. Tau can still take a lot of shield drones on their suit squads making them very hard to take down. So, I say Tau did not get hit enough.
Siegler: This is a very interesting update for T’au in the fact that they were singled out for nerfs, both game-wide changes have a massive impact on their playstyles, and yet their main competition (pre-Tyranids) were also nerfed. I think T’au are still in an excellent spot and one of the better armies in the game, though that is almost entirely held up by the Crisis and Commander datasheets at this point.
Broadsides losing CORE is such an inelegant change precisely because in the Codex fluff itself they show a graphic of what every T’au Cadre includes and guess what? There are Broadsides – they are core to the army in the lore. I think increasing the cost of the heavy rail rifle by 15 to 20 points would have been enough combined with the indirect nerf toning down Smart Missile Systems. Completely removing AP from Mont’ka instead of decreasing the range bracket or making it a flat distance like only 6 inches for extra AP would have been fine, but this was the strongest part of Mont’ka and it would have been even more useful now with the Armour of Contempt rule coming into existence. Armies that do not have an abundance of good invulnerable saves will be delighted. Realistically what this changes is the type of weapons you arm crisis suits with as flamers and burst cannons will see reduced usage (also airbursts) in favor of plasma, missile pods, and cyclic. Additionally, the coordinated engagement stratagem will see increased usage and require command points saved for that purpose instead of other tools, and depending on how mobile you want to be early game it gives more consideration to Kauyon.
Instead of shooting armies out of line of sight, T’au will simply bring more guns and hit you harder in line of sight, which is a better change overall when playing on denser terrain formats like WTC or GW.
Lennon: Tau feel like they got the most gentle of nerfs to me. The AP loss may be enough for Marines to hang here now, but I believe they will stay competitive and continue to win tournaments. I do expect to see almost every list now be Bor’kan or T’au sept, and a decrease in variety from Tau players. Long live the Crisis suit! I worry that Tau may still be a bit too good, but I think the variety of buffs other armies received are enough to keep them reigned in. I’m going to say that Tau got hurt enough, but they are absolutely still lethal in the right hands.
Wings: Once again I’ve been beaten to the punch here – Tau got a relatively softer touch (though I agree with Richard that Broadsides losing CORE wasn’t the right choice) but Armour of Contempt is probably the biggest challenge for them of any of the top factions, especially with the Mont’ka nerf. Tau need to get their damage done in the shooting phase to stop their lack of melee biting them hard, and especially against Salamanders I now think they have a chance of bouncing and getting owned by the counterpunch. They can build to minimise that, sure, but it’s a real threat and I think Salamanders are real contenders after this, so it should have an impact. Tau do, however, have the option of pivoting to the largely untouched (bar the Indirect nerf) triple Stormsurge option, and that feels like it could do some serious work. Both Custodes and Harlequins are suddenly going to be much less capable of dropping one at a distance, they can put the pain on big Tyranid bugs, and they’re very hard for everything else to kill – so keep an eye on these.
Liam: The Tau nerfs were overall sensible and relatively a lot lighter than Custodes got, but yeah, we’re just gonna see more Crisis spam. The win rates should come down – they’re a lot less capable of just nuking you from all over the table without exposing themselves to danger – but we’ll likely see some consolidation in builds. Again, some of this stuff feels like it could have been points rather than rules changes – even a small bump to Crisis at the same time as Broadsides losing CORE would have helped keep the two things more even.
Do the changes to Astra Militarum make them competitive, or just get them back to treading water in the deep end?
Horras: Bottom line up front: This balance dataslate might be able to get Astra Militarum over the 40% raw winrate, but I don’t see this bringing Astra Militarum back into the competitive Overton window.
Indirect Fire: Astra Militarum being exempt from the new indirect fire penalties gives a unique tool to the army relative to the rest of the field. Guard is going to outshoot every other army in the game if it tries to get in an artillery duel; putting your opponent on the clock for making moves and scoring their points early in the game. With the new Nachmund missions, I assess that it’s a bit easier to come back later in the game, meaning you’ll have a better chance of digging yourself out of your inevitable scoring deficit on turns 4 and 5.
Free Equipment: Free equipment on Infantry Squads is nice, but not game changing. The Infantry Squad has been struggling since its 15 point hike from 8e to 9e. An additional 5 points and free equipment is pushing this unit into something that was used as a pure objective holder to something that may be able to fight on par with other troops choices in the game. Over your typical Astra Militarum army, this is adding between 12 and 18 high quality shots (Melta/Lascannon/Missile Launcher/Plasma Gun) across the army, with between 6 and 9 Plasma Pistols and Power Swords for a sum total of 30 to 45 points. This is really great value and combined with Hammer of the Emperor and the orders mechanic from last dataslate; this may open up some legitimate infantry focused builds, namely Cadians and Catachan.
Hammer of the Emperor: A small, but overall negligible benefit. The impact of this rule drastically increases as the strength of the firing weapon decreases. As of now, most <Regiment> units that are doing the heavy lifting are s8+ weapons. I don’t think this rule is enough to shift the Astra Militarum shooting paradigm to lean into low strength weapons, so we have to evaluate this rule’s usefulness in terms of the current shooting Astra Militarum puts out and the additional weapons Infantry Squad will be toting going forward. This opens up the possibility for Astra Militarum to spike some spicy hit rolls, but for the most part this army’s shooting is wounding on 3+ anyways.
Skari: My good old imperial guard loves this change. I don’t think it is enough to fully bring the Guard back into the competitive mainstream but anything is nice for them at this point. The larger issues remain, they have almost no survivability, no invuls to save tanks against some of the tougher weapons in the game means that they usually just die with no chance of survival, and the infantry although numerous (and more dangerous now) are still t3 with a 5+ save and most things will just kill… a lot of them… very… very fast. It will improve them, but they won’t be winning a GT any time soon.
Don: Coming from a Death Guard player, IG was our hard counter and their buffs made them so much stronger. I believe they will be oppressive to most Chaos armies, but I don’t think they will compete with the upper echelon of codexes like Tau and Aeldari.
TheChirurgeon: I didn’t have an issue with them as Death Guard – though they were very annoying – but they were a heavy counter to Chaos Space Marines and annoying as hell with Thousand Sons. This buff helps but I don’t think it’s enough to get them to compete, even against the good Chaos Legions. That said, I’ll be interested to see how players build around this. Scott’s Taurox Prime-heavy army can certainly throw out an insane number of shots to take advantage of the auto-wounds and those are AP0. The points changes on infantry squads mirror what I want to see on more units – do this for Plague Marines, thanks. Dropping the point cost of a plague marine doesn’t make people take more plague marines, it just lets them take more non-plague marine stuff. Doing free upgrades like this is the way to make units more competitive because it incentivizes actually taking them.
Lennon: I love to see Guard get a face lift, but I don’t think this is saving them from being a bottom half army. Guard already shot respectably hard, now they’re better at it. Nothing has solved the problem of combat trapping plays and touching their tanks. Unfortunately it appears that mixing Scions and Guard shuts off the better half of this buff, so I expect to see pure Cadian be the way forward. Pure Scions are amazing looking, but I fear the datasheets are too limiting. My guess is that Guard will fluctuate between 40 and 45% WR, which is the lowest acceptable for an army waiting on its codex. At least these changes will help the die hard loyalists who always show up on the faction!
Liam: Are they gonna win a major? Probably not. Are they gonna have fewer weekends where they sink to 20% win rate? Probably yes. The Guard book is still just really old and full of crap datasheets and rules, but Hammer of the Emperor and dodging the indirect nerf will at least help them to match up a bit more evenly with the books released this decade.
How do Sisters fare with these changes? Are they competitive again?
Robertson: Sisters take a huge leap forwards as a result of this dataslate. A lot of the armies or mechanics that were a real barrier to Sisters hitting the top tables, such as Custodes & indirect fire have taken huge hits. This gives the army a lot more survivability in its general playstyle. In addition armour of contempt is a huge buff to the resilience against small arms fire, especially with Aeldari having a lot of S6 AP-1 right now. Losing the bodyguard tricks for Vahl and especially Celestine do hurt, but these are good for the game’s greater picture. The addition of extra miracle dice is just amazing to top it all off too, it’s a real buff to your secondary plays and opens up a lot more in-game opportunities too as you will have more dice to spare on some great plays.
Skari: More miracle dice? That is always a good thing. I am conflicted with the changes to Sisters. Once again, I think it’s more of a side grade then a down or up grade. The change to bodyguard means that you can no longer get fancy with Celestine or Vaul and a lot of the power in tight competitive games came from being able to leverage this. I am curious to see what dedicated Sisters of Battle players cook up with the changes. Armour of Contempt is going to give them a little boost for sure, and I look forward to seeing what you all come up with!
Don: I think this is a sidegrade for sisters mostly. They can’t abuse Bodyguard like they used to, but are more durable as a whole. I think the Valorous Heart is the best by far now. No re-rolls to wound? We just made Custodians get that once per game on infantry only. And now sisters get that army wide.
Siegler: Sisters were already competitive with the game, minus the S tier armies. With those armies receiving significant nerfs and Sisters receiving one of the strongest army-wide rules in the game, I expect them to make a major resurgence at the top tables. Recent lists were already leaning towards Valorous Heart over Bloody Rose, and with turning off re-roll wounds as their updated trait, I expect to see VH continue to perform well especially with added miracle dice.
TheChirurgeon: The only reason I’m not higher on Valorous Heart is that I think turning off re-rolls to wound when you don’t have Transhuman and are already being wounded on a 3+ or 2+ isn’t nearly as impactful, and so there may be more value elsewhere. The extra Miracle Dice is huge, but losing Bodyguard protection from Sacresants hurts their strategies a lot.
Lennon: Go Sisters! This is an amazing buff, where it felt like Sisters had to barely slide into wins while getting tabled before, they just may be durable enough to matter here. I do believe that Sisters will be launched up into AdMech tier with this. Don’t expect to see a top 3 with multiple Sororitas anytime soon, but the faction loyalists will succeed and be quite challenging for top level armies once more. Valorous Heart still strikes me as the best option, but Bloody Rose is really making a comeback. I think that the style of list will have to change a lot; I like vehicles in VH quite a bit. The Exorcist, Castigator and Rhinos should all continue to be staples. I may even be tempted to paint some Paragons…
Wings: This feels pretty huge to me – Sisters play a pretty effective all-rounder game, so just making them more efficient across the board helps quite a bit. Valorous Heart seems excellent, and some of the crunchier units like Paragons and Mortifiers pick up a lot here. Lists running loads of Mortifiers have already occasionally made a splash, so keep an eye on those in particular (probably alongside Paragons rather than Penitent Engines, as the latter don’t have the keywords needed for Armour of Contempt). Also, Valorous Heart with Aegis of the Emperor up are one of the armies better equipped to keep some of Tyranids worst Psychic Phase nonsense in check, which may well prove vital.
Liam: They get a big lift, yeah. Sisters felt like a really good army until fairly recently, and were just getting done in by a combination of their points changes and the insanity of the 2022 books. Now they’re tougher, especially in Valorous Heart, and they lose very little in return.
With Tyranids on the horizon, are things looking up or are we poised for them to just replace Harlequins? Who are the big threats four weeks from now?
Kelling: What I can say with absolute certainty is that Crusher Stampede and the Leviathan Supplement as of this moment are still legal – so long as that continues to be the case we’ve only succeeded in shifting around the deck chairs upon the release of that codex. Hopefully GW will address it at the point of release.
Harlequins will still be very good but the age of the Voidweaver is over. Meanwhile, Dark Harlequin lists are about to come into their own. The big threats four weeks from now will be Tyranids, with or without Crusher, but the inclusion of Crusher puts them into a game of their own. Then distantly we’ll see Dark Harlequins, Craftworlds, Tau, and then, speculatively, I think Grey Knights. That latter having received a very significant boost to its durability of key infantry units.
Skari: I played against the new Tyranids yesterday and had one of the worst beat downs that I have had in a very, very long time. Granted I played guard, but still. I can see that book dominating the meta for the next little while. I think the top lists will have some great play into the nid book but as in most cases, I want to let the numbers speak for themselves. Ask me this question again in 2 weeks once we have some GT numbers added to the stats.
Siegler: Tyranids are even stronger than release Harlequins – even if we do not include the Leviathan supplement and Crusher Stampede Army of Renown. I expect them to dominate for the foreseeable future, but this dataslate gives me hope that Games Workshop will be quicker to tone down their worst excesses sooner rather than later.
Nick: Tyranids are something else. I think they can be beaten, though what kind of bar is that to set and what kind of statement is that to make. They’re certainly not going to waltz in with a 40-60% win rate in a few weeks. Our best hope is that GW continues to improve the game and responds rapidly and effectively to our soon to be new Tyranid overlords.
TheChirurgeon: Oh cool. I can’t wait for our new Tyranids-dominated meta to replace the old, Harlequins-dominated one. Hopefully if it’s really bad we won’t have to wait until the next dataslate for an adjustment but I’m already baffled that Crusher Stampede is still legal. I also fully expect Sisters and Grey Knights to make strong showings.
Lennon: Tyranids are gross. I’ve been on the bugwagon for over half my life at this point, and this is by far the strongest they have ever been. It’s unfortunate, but not unsurprising, that they weren’t addressed here. At a bare minimum I hope to see the supplements blanked out, but even then I expect Tyranids are going to hit a 70% win rate quickly and receive their own balance sheet by the end of May. The current balance patch is wonderful until the Tyranid codex is legal, but if every new book is this level, the cycle will continue. Hopefully this is a last gasp from a playtester weekend where everyone was asleep at the wheel, and future releases of Knights will come back down to Earth. But, at least GW is increasingly willing to step in and fix things. If Nids get toned down, the rest of the game is looking like the most wide-open it has been in a year.
Wings: Please GW, please send Crusher off to the big farm in the country where old rules get to frolic forever more. I think it’s called Open Play. Even beyond that, yeah, I suspect Maleceptor and Harpy driven lists may well now be the best army available, and the fact that Maleceptor mortal wound nonsense completely bypasses Armour of Contempt is an issue. I think there’s almost zero chance, as others have said, that Tyranids don’t end up getting an out-of-band change to address this.
Liam: Yeah, not much else to say here. Tyranids are stupid strong, and I suspect we’ll be here again in a few months’ time. My main hope is that GW quietly accepts that they need to just fix them, as with Harlequins, and doesn’t hang on until August because that’s when the next “quarterly” dataslate should be (bearing in mind that this one is a month early already).
Skari: Well fellow readers! I hope you took in some knowledge from all of the hot takes today. I am happy that GW has taken a step to release this Balance Update. Personally I think it is more of a “shake up” update then “balance” and time will tell what the impact will be. Thanks for reading and have an awesome week!
Kelling: None of this will matter in two weeks if Crusher and the Levi supplement lives. We’ll still be in for a lot of bad games at the tournament level. More manageable if it’s just Levi – if neither lives I think we’re okay for a few months where there’s still some imbalance but it’s at least a bit more managed and players feel like they have options. We’ll have cut down a bit on the games where there was simply nothing a player could do – but I think we’re still in a world where win rates exceed the worst excesses of most of 8th and 9th edition for a few factions and everyone else kind of sits in mediocrity. With Tyranids about to be released it’ll be a long time before we see any adjustments to what is expected to be a very dominant faction.
Siegler: I will be very excited to play this game once more when Tyranids are brought back to a reasonable level and Chapter Approved hits this summer and hopefully fine-tunes a lot of these changes and continues bringing many of the obsolete units of the game back into the fold.
TheChirurgeon: Even if Tyranids dominate, I’m at least much more excited about playing my Thousand Sons and potentially revisiting my Death Guard than I was before. Those last couple of RTTs have just been a slog trying to push through better armies, one after the other. There are still a lot of headwinds for both armies – Grey Knights in particular are a real uphill battle – but I’m at least interested in giving things another go.
Lennon: The current balance patch is wonderful until the Tyranid codex is legal, but if every new book is this level, the cycle will continue. Hopefully this is a last gasp from a playtester weekend where everyone was asleep at the wheel, and future releases of Knights will come back down to Earth. But, at least GW is increasingly willing to step in and fix things. If Nids get toned down, the rest of the game is looking like the most wide-open it has been in a year. The ride has been bumpy, but I am seeing real progress from where the rest of 2022 has been!
TheChirurgeon: If you told me this most recent set of books were all balanced against an unnerfed Drukhari/Admech/Orks environment in playtesting, I’d believe you. That said, the environment that creates sounds so painfully unfun that I’m still amazed these books made it to printers. Hopefully everything will swing back into place just in time for the books I care about to be released, and we can all go back to hooting and hollering about how GW hates Chaos.
Wings: Very excited to see what players make with this, and most importantly I’m really happy to see the deployment of a rule as sweeping as Armour of Contempt in an attempt to get some of the perpetually struggling 9th Edition books back into the game. There’s really no getting around Tyranids having a clear run at the top right now, but I think the field for every other faction is wider open than it’s been for a while.
Liam: I’m looking forward to the brief window in which this dataslate is legal and Tyranids are not, in which I will get to play checks notes zero tournament games.
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