As you might have heard, our friends over at the Art of War 40K have put together a truly elite showcase of competitive play for your enjoyment, with eight top players taking the helm of eight armies drawn from the most powerful codexes currently available. The games will be kicking off from Wednesday over on the Art of War YouTube channel, and to give a sneak preview of what’s coming up, we thought we’d go through the lists each player is using, and take a look at how they stack up in their first round matchups, using the Showdown format from Competitive Innovations. For those who want to see how the games play out, the schedule is as follows:
The players will be playing on the games workshop terrain layouts, as seen below, and each game has had a different mission randomly rolled for it.
What does it look like when the best players out there unleash their most potent creations on one another? Let’s find out!
Game 1 – Jack Harpster vs. Mark Perry
Jack Harpster – Adeptus Custodes
- Shadowkeepers rather than Emperor’s Chosen.
- Shield Host Fighting Style improves matchups against melee builds.
- Hyper-lethal Lockwarden captain great for carving through drones and Aeldari alike.
- Grim Responsibility in a no-vehicle list provides a lot of power against the S4-6 weaponry that Tau tend to spam.
- Two units of Wardens with three powerful characters allows a large area of the board to be zoned out with Heroic Intervention threat.
Mark Perry – Orks
- Goffs taking advantage the Ork points drops in Nachmund to cram as many goodies as possible onto the table.
- Presents a highly durable initial profile against shooting, as long as the Squighog Boyz can be hidden.
- Absurdly lethal counter-charge turn if the opponent overcommits.
- Weirdboy can hurl Squighog units at the foe to keep them occupied.
- Ghazghkull sends the damage output of Meganobz to the moon, while the Waaagh Banner helps them hit even harder and boosts up the Killa Kanz because it isn’t CORE locked.
Mission: Secure Missing Artefacts
Mark’s list here is a very cool spin on Goffs, and really shows off the savings that are available to Orks with the Nachmund points if they take the right stuff. A Goff Waaagh turn is one of the scariest melee pushes out there, especially when it’s buffed by Ghazgkhull, and this list looks designed to ensure that the Orks suffer fewer losses to opposing shooting than they normally might while buidling up to that, ensuring that they hit in force. Battlewagons are far from indestructible, but each at least demands real commitment to take down, reducing the number of things left to shoot at the more valuable stuff inside, and potentially drawing firepower away from Ghaz or the Kans.
It also has some reasonably durable stuff to hold flanks or throw into weakspots, with Killa Kans being a bargain these days, and Squighog Boyz exceptionally nasty into a broad range of targets. Having a Weirdboy to throw Squighogs around with Da Jump is also good, as many lists are going to have issues keeping all their positions screened off against that while also not overexposing themselves to a big charge.
Unfortunately for the Orks, this Custodes list is a brutal matchup for what they’re trying to do. Shadowkeepers is the big upfront problem, as the Orks are overwhelmingly aiming to deal damage via melee, but it doesn’t stop there. Squads of Bikes have pretty much the ideal weapons for blowing open a Battlewagon, and with the option of using Calistus to line up shots, it’s going to be quite difficult to dodge this. The Orks do have a mobility plan B of using Da Jump to throw a big unit at the Custodes, and can even bypass Tanglefoot Grenade with Tide of Muscle (and very much need to), but that doesn’t help that much if when they hit combat they’re getting bounced. Not having access to any Fight Last means that it’s quite likely the Custodes use defensive stratagems to shrug off whatever charges first, then an interupt to do some massive damage in response, and if they go on the counterattack they do have access to this from the Stasis Oubliette.
The only real big trump card that the Orks do have is Ghazgkhull, who cares not for being interrupted (unless he’s taken salvo shots to the face first, and he’s going to be second priority after the wagons early on). His ability to just pick up a substantial number of Custodes models with impunity is definitely good in the game, and it feels like the best hope for the Orks is to try and hit hard with one big unit and Ghaz at any one time. Throw Goff exploding fives and extra damage from Hit Em Harder onto the big Meganobz squad on a Waaagh turn, preferably with +1 to hit from the banner as well, and they actually can take out a Bike Squad even through Auspice and Alchemy – my maths gives 24 hits including the explosions, 12 wounds and thus the perfect total of six failed invulns for three damage each.
Pull that off and then have Ghaz pick up another squad? That’s suddenly something, given the Custodes are starting with fewer units than the Orks, and the Kans are tough to pick up if the bikes go down, picking up a big swing turn like that could tip things in the Custodes favour. It still feels like Jack is the favourite going into this, especially as the secondaries look to favour him too (Stranglehold is a gimme into the low-ObSec Ork list, and Bring it Down can be maxed), but if anyone can hit so hard at the right place and the right time that it surmounts all the Custodes’ protections, it’s the Goffs. I do also think the mission very slightly improves the matchup for them – this Custodes build hasn’t got much in the way of expendable units to push out onto objectives, whereas the Orks have a bit more flexibility, and might be able to lock in a flank position with a relatively minimal commitment.
Game 2 – Brad Chester vs. Nick Nanavati
Brad Chester – Aeldari
- Leans in to the mobility and skirmishing capabilities of Aspect Warriors to keep the opponent reeling.
- Uses Night Spinners to punish anyone who stays too static.
- Phoenix Lords seed some very nasty models amidst the skirmish line, potentially stalling opposing momentum.
- Howling Banshees provide an extra hammer blow when it comes time to counterattack.
Nick Nanavati – Genestealer Cults
- All-rounder GS build that keeps opponents on the back foot and is durable enough to stay on the table in turn.
- Purestrains provide an early thrust, with a second wave waiting in a Truck.
- Acolytes wait in the wings for a big turn, with it being easy to string a few back into an extra large Iconward aura.
- Rockgrinders loaded with small Acolyte units provide a durable way to sit on an objective.
- Achilles with the missiles techs for smoking Custodes infantry.
Mission: The Scouring
Two builds that are all about wrong-footing the opposition here, setting up what promises to be a game requiring extreme finesse from both sides. Both the Asuryani and the Genestealer Cults are rocking some extremely fragile but highly deadly units, and the match is going to turn on who manages to spring perfect traps on the opponent to wipe away their assets without taking losses in turn.
On Nick’s side we see what’s genuinely a pretty well balanced Genestealer list, using a mixture of the high pressure plays like They Came From Below Purestrains and early redeployment tools alongside inexpensive Goliath Rockgrinders to provide a bit of backbone and some extra shooting. It plays objectives very well, with plenty of inexpensive units to send out on sacrificial missions or to perform Actions, and can line up a brutal counterattack turn thanks to the widenend Iconward Aura and 4AE re-rolls. It also has a pretty strong To The Last plan on two Patriarchs and the easily hidden Ridgerunners.
Brad’s list is loaded with tricky plays too, and is honestly a very Genestealer-y Craftworlds list. Hawks and Spiders both pack spicy movement tricks, able to strike at the enemy and retreat, while the big Banshee unit provides a more serious heavy punch, also doing a pretty good Genestealer impression with their speed and 4+ invulnerable save. This is backed up by some good backline units in the form of Night Spinners, plenty of space control from the Rangers, and the big swings of the Phoenix Lords, who can lurk amidst the skirmish line till the time is right to do huge damange.
So how do they line up? Very interestingly. Brad’s tools are fantastic into the Genestealer Cultists, with Spiders likely to cut an absolute swathe through whatever they shoot with relative impunity, and the Phoenix Lords being a truly terrifying roadblock to cult attempts to overwhelm the Asuryani. Karandras in particular rules in this matchup, as his ability to dump a huge pile of mortal wounds onto whatever he swings at makes him an incredibly vicious counterattacker into the Purestrains, severely reducing their utility. Jain Zar’s big debuff when she charges is definitely good too, and between them these models are a massive challenge for the Stealers to deal with. They’re also specifically good on The Scouring, as if they start the console action on full health and with LoSir screening it’s almost impossible to stop them completing it, which could provide some clutch late game options. Finally, this is definitely a game where Night Spinners are pretty good, though respawning models from the Iconward do mean that Brad will have to be judicious about where to drop it. There’s plausibly a case for moving one a bit up the table with Eldrad too, as the new version of Forewarned is potentially super strong here.
From the Genestealer side of the table, the big upside is that they just have way more stuff – and the Scouring can reward that pretty sharply. If the Craftworlds go first they’re likely to have to commit onto nearby objectives with Phoenix Lords earlier than they really want to, and one terrible turn risks leaving them very thin on the ground. Nick’s list is also much harder to score secondaries into than many Cult builds, not giving up much on Assassinate and only conceding 12 on No Prisoners in a wholesale slaughter. Given they can also easily screen out RND on a long deployment, that creates some real challenges, though with two Phoenix Lords and the Warp Spiders around going for Wrath of Khaine is plausibly realistic.
This is a pretty tough one to call, but I narrowly come down on the side of Brad taking it – the Phoenixes are such spectacular obstacles to the game that Nick wants to play, and the Craftworlds can do so much damage to the Genestealer’s toys that I think they can pull it off. The margin isn’t huge though, and with the mission feeling like it favours Nick a bit, either player could comfortably take it.
Game 3 – John Lennon vs. Quinton Johnson
John Lennon – Adepta Sororitas
- Novitiates provide the Bloody Rose with an inexpensive source of surprisingly deadly fighters.
- Sacresants in Rhinos provide dangerous early charge potential that the opponent has to play around thanks to Carry Forth the Faithful.
- Warlord Dogmata is set up to Advance and Charge and trigger Suffering and Sacrifice at a key moment to swing a melee.
- Word of the Emperor and Emperor’s Grace provide big power plays for offence and defence.
- Discounted Tanks can be surprisingly effective thanks to Clear the Flanks.
- Good objective support from Zephyrim.
Quinton Johnson – Drukhari
- Huge hammer blows from the Stimm Innovators Hellions and big Incubi squad.
- Great durable position holders from the Court of the Archon and Grotesques.
- Easy to hide counterpunch pressure from smaller Incubi units in Venoms.
- Utterly lethal characters seeded amidst the chaos.
Mission: Tide of Conviction
Both Sisters and Drukhari are in flux right now, adapting to recent changes. For Sisters, points changes on various key units and no longer being able to mix Orders has sent many players back to the drawing board, and what John is playing here is distinctly new. Both Novitiates and the advent of a Codex Supplement have handed the Bloody Rose some new options to build with, and this army leans into that pretty heavily. Novitiate units look very efficient as a way to anchor the line here, as they’re swinging with four attacks each at S4 AP-1 when they charge, which is frankly exceptional for their price tag (especially as they can force a few wounds through against tougher targets with Tear Them Down. They’re fantastic in this matchup in particular, as they can happily take a big chunk out of Drukhari units that pricier than they are, and are ObSec so badly punish any swing and miss at taking them out. You do have to take Battle Sisters to unlock them, but those are pretty efficient squads to sit on a home objective with, and just having plenty of bodies around isn’t bad, especially as you can pop The Emperor’s Grace for a turn of extra durability.
Having lots of units also has the potential to bait the opponent into an attack, which can be badly punished by the Repentia or Sacresants, and thanks to Carry Forth The Faithful, if it looks like the opponent isn’t going to bite you can send a squad to make that their problem. While using this with one of the power units like Sacresants is clearly good, just being able to load up a Rhino with expendable Novitiates and send them out for disruption is also going to excel in some games, though probably isn’t needed here. Finally, the Sororitas tanks coming down in price starts to make them look at least reasonably attractive, and that’s particularly true in Bloody Rose where they can pick up re-roll 1s to hit from Clear the Flanks. Stopping the enemy wrapping around the army is actively what this list wants its firepower to do, so it’s got some good potential, and the Castigator is pretty well statted to try and take down a Raider here.
Over on the Drukhari side of the table we’ve got a mix of old and new. The double-whammy of removing CORE and weakening Artists of the Flesh has mostly taken Talos out of lists, but Grotesques with that trait are still pretty good – it renders them very resisitant to mid-tier weaponry, so they become very inexpensive ways to occupy a position and bully opposing melee toys. They’re definitely well set up for that here – the Sisters can probably take a unit out with the halberd sacresants stacking some buffs, but everything else in the list looks a bit dicey into them, and they badly no-sell Repentia in particular. The anchor they provide for the army allows the Hellions to lie in wait till the perfect moment to pop Stimulant Innovators and sweep the field with a bazillion attacks, though in this came the fact that Test of Skill does very little makes them a little weaker than normal (still far from bad though).
The Drukhari also bring some incredibly nasty characters to the table, with the classic of Drazhar leading the way, and a vicious Succubus as well. The Sisters have a little less on that front, though the Beneficence Canoness looks pretty tasty (and matches Ancient Evil with Word of the Emperor) and having the speedy Dogmata able to throw Suffering and Sacrifice at a key moment is an enormous power play in a game where melee is likely to decide things. Both sides have decent objective support too – a Hypex Wych unit is a great way to grab an early tick of RND, and the Sisters can answer in kind with the Zephyrim, who double up as an emergency charge unit.
Both these lists want to scrap in melee, and both have the tools to do so, so who’s going to come out on top? Here I’d tap John to take the win because it feels like slightly more of the dynamics favour him, though honestly my real answer is to close to call. Neither side is massively heavy on guns, but the Sisters have the tools to reliably pop a couple of Raiders, whereas even a single Miracle six held back guarantees the Dark Lances can’t pop either of the tanks, which should quickly ensure Sisters have fire superiority, allowing them to govern the pace of the game a bit. When it comes to melee, the Drukhari have the nastiest hammer units to throw around, but they’re kind of overkill into most of the Sisters squads, whereas the Novitiates will happily take a good chunk out of anything except the Grotesques. Finally, the Sisters are going to have more ObSec at play in the melee, forcing Drukhari to potentially overcommit to ensure kills to avoid falling behind on scoring.
None of this is to say that the Drukhari can’t take a win – some good rolls on Tormentors has the prospect to massively change the maths and result in a complete rout of the Sororitas, and the Grotesques are an obstacle that will need to be carefully worked around. In addition, the Drukhari certainly start the game with a considerable mobility advantage, and Venoms sneaking up on the Sororitas tanks and locking them up with a bully charge can stem the bleeding for the Drukhari. They also end up looking good if an early clash between armies is a massacre on both sides, as what they’ll have left (Court, Grotesques) match up favourably with the likely survivors on the Sisters side. That’s also where the mission really kicks in, because Tide of Conviction having very back-loaded scoring favours the Drukhari if they’re still standing after the dust settles, though it’s plausbly easier for Sisters to push the alternative scoring and deny points early on thanks to more ObSec.
All in all, I think these two lists and the mission provide the closest matchup of any in the opening bracket, and the game should be a blast to watch.
Game 4 – Richard Siegler vs. Blake Law
Richard Siegler – Tau
- Outer Enclaves rack up the damage while bringing an Ethereal to the party.
- Three Crisis units specced for big damage with plasma and CIBs, and a Homing Beacon to bring one down sharpish.
- An AFP/Flamer Crisis unit ready to go absolutely wild with Exemplar of the Mont’ka or Drop Zone Clear for re-rolls.
- Two Commanders using defensive relics to free up gun slots, making them big damage dealers.
- Kroot provide inexpensive screening and objective play.
Blake Law – Tyranids
- A heavy-duty version of Crusher Stampede using durable Hierodules and a defensive-specced Flyrant for staying power.
- Multiple Harpies can run interference across the board, and ensure opponents can’t afford to drop their screening in case of Crashing Through.
- Buffed-up Hive Guard can lay down absolutely withering firepower into most targets.
- Murderous Sized Tyrant with the Hive Blades is a big threat to key targets.
Mission: Tear Down Their Icons
Crusher Stampede into Tau is pretty quickly proving to be a challenging matchup from the bug side of the table. Tau have many strengths, and being able to utterly detonate big targets is absolutely one of them. In addition, ablative Shield Drones in their key units ensure that they can absorb the first big swing that goes into each, and they can take down Crusher’s big models quickly enough that they’re very unlikely to get a second go at it. Hive Guard also don’t do nearly as well into Shield Droned units as they do into almost anything else, especially without a Maleceptor to smooth out the damage rolls – you basically need a volley to strip the drones, then the second volley maybe does some real damage unless it bounces off a Stimm Injector.
The upside for Crusher here is that there could certainly be worse Tau configurations facing them down. Even with full wound re-rolls, the damage from any of the S4 stuff (so airbursts and flamers) into the T8 Hierodules or the Biomorphic Carapace is going to be reasonably muted, and at least there aren’t any Broadsides to just smoke out a whole monster each time they fire. In addition, the fact that some of the Crisis units don’t have large drone complements or generators constrains Siegler’s play a little – they’re an easy place for Hive Guard to rack up big damage, and Breaking Through can pick up a suit while stopping the rest shooting.
That seems very unlikely to be enough to overcome how brutal this matchup is. The dark secret of the Tau codex appears to be that Crisis Teams can just do everything – loaded up with a pile of buffs from Commanders and good re-rolls from Exemplar of the Mont’ka or Drop Zone Clear (one of the big draws to Outer Enclaves or actual Farsight) they just annihilate anything in their path, and can roll with punches well enough to survive the counterattack. When you seed incredibly deadly characters alongside them in the form of Commanders (big fan of seeing the brawler Be’gel Plate Enforcer here, as that was one of my favourite builds from the book), and can support them with extremely cheap objective play from Kroot, they become an army all by themselves, which this list fully buys into. In this matchup, their presence also turns the Stealth Suits into tremendous bait for the Hive Guard – if the nids go first then at least the first volley pretty much has to go into the Stealths, as getting to Homing Beacon and Drop Zone with a unit turn one on top of everything else the army can do is just going to be nightmarish. Finally, when carefully set up as here they become exceptional To The Last targets – killing the big squads is hard, and the third slot here can go on the Be’gel Commander, one of the most durable character builds full stop, really forcing the opponent to go all out to prevent the points.
I fear this game is pretty likely to go the way of Richard’s Tau pretty hard and fast – while Crusher’s units here are built durable, airbursts are still going to quickly remove the Hive Guard, and brutal volleys of plasma will take down the Hierodules pretty sharply. The Mission here only makes things worse – the Tyranids are horrible at interacting with the mission Secondary, while some very clever Kroot Hounds hiding behind a wall can lock in four Primary points unless the Hive Guard or a Harpy take the time to shoot them out, and one Kroot unit can also easily plant a bomb turn one. The corner deployment also means the Tau can fan out and demand answers be sent in lots of directions.
A truly absurd overperformance from the Hive Guard and the Synaptic Blades Flyrant somehow being allowed to carve up an entire Crisis Team look like the routes to an upset, but I wouldn’t put money on either.
Next Time: Round 1 Results
That’s it for the Preview, but check back on Saturday when we review the results from games 1 and 2 and talk about the round 2 match-ups. And if you’re interested in signing up for the Art of War’s exclusive War Room service, they’re currently offering a discount – just sign up using the code Streamhousertt22 to get 20% off your first month of either the War Room or the War Room + Podcast bundle.
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