The August 2021 40k Meta Review

Welcome back, dear reader! We’re back after another month that saw the (semi) release of Codex: Orks and a large number of big tournaments, and we’ve got a ton of data to look at as we head into September. We’ve got fewer questions to ask than we thought we might, as we’ve only had one partial codex release since our last update. However, we will revisit some previously-released armies to see how they’re doing, as we’ve had some key nerfs to Ad Mech as well as a Drukhari resurgence.

Methodology

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 40kstats.com 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 August 18th, 2021, and contains a sample of more than 51,000 games of 9th edition 40k in the ITC battles app and more than 6,300 from tournaments submitted to Best Coast Pairings or DownUnder 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

After a blazing hot start, 40k releases cooled mid-summer and now we’re mostly waiting on the second, full release of Codex: Orks, along with the models that will actually (presumably) help elevate the faction to its true potential. We still have a few topics to cover however, and as with past updates, we’ll be talking about Go-First Win Rates and whether they’ve changed. Specifically, we’ll be covering:

  • Faction win rates and results
  • The impact of the Adeptus Mechanicus FAQ
  • Drukhari, Admech, Sisters, and Orks
  • Go First Win Rates and Orlando Terrain
  • Secondary Objectives and the Impact of the GT 2021 adjustments

Faction Win Rates and Glicko Scores

We’ve covered faction win rates and Glicko scores more recently as we’ve had several factions with new books that were just wildly unbalanced compared to the rest of the field. Since Codex: Drukhari dropped back in April we’ve had two rounds of adjustments for it and the also-overpowered Codex: Adeptus Mechanicus. But what impact did those changes have on those factions’ ability to win games and larger events? Currently, these two factions are averaging higher win rates than any other faction, though it’s difficult to tell if they’re on even footing – the Mechanicus haven slightly better overall win rates and better tournament performance through July but Drukhari pulled ahead in August.

Glicko ratings – shown there as the black line – can be thought of as a type of ELO rating. That is, a faction’s score improves as it beats other factions, and improves by more when it beats factions with higher scores. Drukhari still top the faction Glicko scores but have been joined by the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Adepta Sororitas; we’ve had a few other moves in the last two months, but it’s those two which are big upwards movers.

On the downswing are Harlequins, Death Guard, Dark Angels, and White Scars, showing slight downward movement as new ascendant factions make their lives more difficult. As we’ll discuss later, the impact of the Ork codex doesn’t appear to be strongly reflected in our sample yet – some events are not allowing the new book and several powerful units like the Kill Rig have not yet been released. They currently hold a sub-1500 Glicko score as a result.  

We’ve also talked about shifts in play as a result of rules and codexes and it’s worth revisiting those in light of recent developments. In the chart below we can see that Death Guard remain incredibly popular despite having been relegated to a gatekeeper army along with Custodes – this popularity is likely a result of being the first updated Chaos codex in 9th edition and the faction having been half of the 8th edition boxed set forces, meaning many players just already have an army. It’s worth noting that we’ve previously seen a faction’s representation double when a new codex releases – Death Guard and Drukhari being the extreme exceptions here.

Drukhari have waned slightly in terms of representation from their peak, offset by an increase in Adeptus Mechanicus players – you can literally see where the drop in Drukhari is compensated for by players switching to Ad Mech to chase winning lists in the chart above. Sisters have also enjoyed a doubling in size since the release of their book. Meanwhile Orks, having only had a limited release of their book, are only just starting to see marginal increases in player representation.

Factions to Watch

While there are a number of factions capable of competing in the current meta, four stand out as particularly noteworthy – Drukhari, Adeptus Mechanicus, Adepta Sororitas, and Orks. In this section we’ll take a look at each and talk about where they’re currently at and how we expect that to change in the next month.

Drukhari

The original 9th edition bogeymen (and women) haven’t gone anywhere, despite multiple adjustments to bring them back in line. While they aren’t still putting up 70%+ win rates at either the GT or practice game level, they’ve settled comfortably into mid-60% win rates over the last month and a half, and depending on the time period you look at are either dead even with the Adeptus Mechanicus around 63% or are pulling ahead following the late July adjustments to Ad Mech. Whether Ad Mech players can adjust and the faction will be able to make up some of that ground will be interesting to see over the next month.

As we’ve seen week after week in Competitive Innovations, Drukhari remain a top army with multiple ways to create winning lists, both as a standalone faction and when paired with Craftworld Eldar or Harlequins. After a brief lull thanks to a July that was dominated by Mechanicus armies, the Dark Eldar came roaring back in August, with more top 4 appearances than any other faction. 

Drukhari Top 4 GT finishes by Month in 9th edition

Can you spot when the new Codex launched? Source: 40kstats.com

Still, the Drukhari are a far cry from where they were, if you can believe it. The faction’s win percentages in both the ITC Battles app and at GT events in BCP have dropped substantially – though they’re still the highest in the game, and the faction’s Glicko score has likewise fallen nearly one hundred points while multiple other factions are now much closer. Drukhari are still the game’s strongest army, but they now appear to have at least reasonable company. As we’ll see later in our examination of secondary objectives, there are a few non-unit reasons for their continued high performance.

Wings: My impression from compiling Competitive Innovations had been that Drukhari were pulling back ahead, and that seems to be borne out in the numbers. With that in mind, I’m pretty confident in saying that Drukhari need another round of nerfs, mostly in line with what I suggested when talking about what needed to change in AdMech. Nerfing AdMech hard always came with a risk of Drukhari resurgence, and in particular Ironstriders getting hit way harder than I anticipated (with the loss of CORE) really helps Raider-based lists stay on top. Right now, I’d go with:

  • Succubi +10pts
  • Hellions +1pts
  • Incubi +1pts
  • Ssylth/Ur-ghuls +2pts
  • Raider +5pts
  • Cronos +5pts

Rob: I have another, more radical idea, which I’ll present later on in the secondary objectives section.

Adeptus Mechanicus

The other top faction in the meta, the Adeptus Mechanicus were hit with a series of major nerfs at the end of July designed to bring the faction back down to earth from the stratospheric heights it had achieved throughout the month. In that sense, it seems as though the desired effect may have been achieved, as now the two factions appear to be relatively even from a win percentage standpoint in our ITC Battles dataset, though tournament results show them slipping in August. 

Note that the final share of wins for Admech and Drukhari are not too far off – the Admech never had the same spike Drukhari did, in part because they started at a much higher level

Like the Drukhari, the ability of the Mechanicus to weather these nerfs and maintain a high level of competitive play depends heavily on the book having multiple ways to build a top-tier army. The Book of Fire’s Veteran Skitarii Cohort Army of Renown is one such option and was piloted to a win at the Games Workshop Orlando event just two weeks ago, though so far in August it’s one of only two event wins for the faction.

Wings: As mentioned above, while all the nerfs mattered taking CORE off Ironstriders hit AdMech like a truck, making it far easier for them to swing and miss against hull-heavy builds, and while Enriched Rounds is still great it’s no longer a near perfect answer to quite as many things. The combined effect has been to knock AdMech’s win rate a reasonable bit harder than expected, which would look pretty healthy (they’re still in the high fifties in the hot-off-the-press numbers) were Drukhari not filling the gap so effectively.

There are, obviously, still some very good builds out there, and I think the best options are either going hard on melee Skitarii in the Cohort (as Siegler showed off at Orlando) or running mixed Mars/Lucius (as we’ve seen repeatedly in the lists still taking down events). In terms of whether any further nerfs are needed, I think the only thing I’d look at touching right now is Sicarian Infiltrators, who are still just wildly too good for their price tag in a way that isn’t healthy. Probably stick 2PPM on them and otherwise wait and see.

Adepta Sororitas

The Adepta Sororitas were one of the game’s top factions before the release of Codex: Drukhari and declined quickly after, not because of a power issue with their own book but rather because of the former’s dominance. Since the release of their 9th codexk they’ve seen a steady increase in performance as players have gradually caught on to how the new version of the army plays, spearheaded by the ITC’s current top player John Lennon, who took the army to a first-place finish at the Lone Star Open and a 2nd place finish at the Games Workshop Orlando event. 

In our win rate and Glicko scores, Sisters are the clear third-place faction; they’re capable of winning many games, but their podium success has not been on the same level as Drukhari or Mechanicus. And in taking a deeper look at their head-to-head scores, we can see why: 

While the faction appears to clean up against Marines of most types and pace evenly with Necrons and Death Guard, they have abysmal win rates against Drukhari and Mechanicus armies, potentially marking them as another gatekeeper army – a trend we also see reflected in head-to-head win rates at the GT level. Despite this, recent wins and an upward Glicko trend are at least a promising sign there may be more improvement to come.

Wings: I’m optimistic on Sisters, especially as I think they have good answers into many of the best Ork toys. They’re also still very high skill ceiling, maybe even more than they were before with the mild toning down of Retributors in the new book, and fewer miracle dice to work with in any given game. I expect to continue to see top players doing well with them.

Orks

Finally we have Orks. The Orks are just starting to make real appearances at events despite not having several key new units from the new Codex – our recent Competitive Innovations articles have shown some very successful lists for them, both running lots of buggies and Ork jets. The result is a faction on the rise, showing event success that hasn’t yet been reflected in their overall win percentages in either platform. 

Source: 40kstats

As we gear up for a full release in September (or another Orktober?), we can expect to see this trend continue in the near future – the only question is how much better the faction will get.

What About Grey Knights and Thousand Sons?

Unfortunately, these factions are still too new to have concrete performance data for – they have yet to make major tournament showings and neither is popular enough to have the volume of games in the ITC Battles App we’d need to see to get a good feel for the faction. The one thing we can potentially point to are the discrepancies in the August win rates between ITC Battles and GT results:

These early differences suggest that both factions are likely to see a strong increase in performance over their pre-codex incarnations, with Thousand Sons like being the biggest benefactor. We’ll have more data on this next month, when we’ll be taking a deeper look at all three factions.

Secondary Objectives and the 2021 GT Missions Pack

The release of the 2021 GT Mission Pack in June changed a number of secondary objectives and while we took an early look at secondary objectives in our July Meta Review, the limited data we had at the time necessitated a second pass on that data. So two months and a large number of events in, how do the current secondaries look?

First, let’s talk about the good news: the average VP scored on many of the new secondaries has increased from the GT 2020 pack, and overall, the game’s generic secondary objectives are worth more points than before. Many now sport higher average scores than their prior incarnations in the GT 2020 Mission pack – Stranglehold is an improvement over Domination, while Retrieve Octarius Data is consistently providing higher average values (though potentially fewer than 10 points) than the all-or-nothing Deploy Scramblers. And Titan Hunter is less punishing than it used to be, now averaging more than a full point less than when it debuted one year ago.

Otherwise, we’ve seen little movement on many of the other secondaries, though the extra point available for Assassination has raised the average on that secondary. If we look back, we can compare players’ average secondary objective performance in each of three distinct “eras” for 9th edition – the Pre-January 2021 FAQ period (before tweaks to secondaries and primary scoring), the Post-FAQ period in 2021 prior to the release of the GT Mission Pack 2021, and the current period, with the 2021 GT mission pack.

The bad news is that the game’s bad secondaries are still just as bad or worse – Deploy Teleport Homers, Pierce the Veil, and Investigate Signal are still among the game’s worst secondaries and the least taken. And faction-specific secondary objectives continue to be an extremely mixed bag – while many are fine, they vary in power wildly, and can often introduce an additional challenge to the game’s balance: When a bad faction has a good or easy to score secondary, it can help keep them in contention, but what happens when the game’s best faction also has the game’s easiest secondary?

The answer is: A good faction becomes a dominant one. Here we can see a tale of two factions: 

  • For Drukhari, one of the game’s premier factions, Herd the Prey is an immediate improvement over Engage on All Fronts and Stranglehold, netting an average of 11.1 Victory Points – the highest in the game and more than 3 VP more than they’d be getting from either, on average. If you’re looking for the place to nerf Drukhari, I’d start here – just remove this from the game altogether and force them to take Engage or Stranglehold.
  • For Dark Angels, Death on the Wind (which was already nerfed) and Stubborn Defiance both average more than 10 VP per game – well above the average – but Dark Angels are merely a good faction, not a dominant one. This tells the other story, of a faction that may need these tools to compete.

Likewise, Space Marines’ Oaths of Moment – another secondary averaging well above the 8.0 mark – seems fine for a faction that’s struggling to pass 50% win rates, though it’s worth watching how it interacts with some of the newer and more successful vehicle-heavy lists that can make aspects of it like not failing a morale test trivial.

Perhaps fortunately for the competitive scene as a whole the Mechanicus and Sororitas objectives offer only above-average options, though the former’s Uncharted Sequencing definitely toes the line between “above average” and “stellar” at 9.1 VP, though its somewhat unpredictable nature and the fact that it’s a Battlefield Supremacy objective keep it from being quite as oppressive – among secondary categories, Battlefield Supremacy is by far the most valuable.

Wings: Realistically I don’t expect removing a secondary entirely to be a thing that will ever happen, but you could change this to 2VP for the first clear quarter and 1VP for every additional one, making it way harder to max and not a free 15VP if you wipe the opponent on turn 3. Equally, I’ve been playing mixed Drukhari/Craftworlds, so don’t get access to this at all, but I haven’t found having to take whichever of Stranglehold/Engage is better in a given game that much of a burden.

New Codexes Quick Hits

While we still have very little data on the newer secondary objectives from Codex: Orks, Grey Knights, and Thousand Sons, we can at least take an early look at what data we do have, which suggests Purifying Ritual and Wrath of Magnus are the stand-outs from those latter two codexes, though Mutate Landscape also appears to be at least average for the faction and Burn Empires doesn’t appear to be bad at this early juncture. Comparatively, none of the Ork secondary objectives appear to be offering much to the faction, with only Stomp Em Good showing near-average results. 

Go-First Win Rates and Orlando Terrain

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Meta Review without a look at first turn win rates. We’ve heard some rumblings that terrain at the Games Workshop Orlando event might have had a transformative impact on first-turn win rates, and so it was worth diving into the event’s BCP data for a closer look. Readers equipped with good memories might recall that we took a deep look at go-first win rates several times this year following the January 2021 FAQ that made key adjustments to the game’s scoring structure, making first turn mandatory for the winner of the roll-off and shifting scoring for the player going second to the end of the battle round.

Since that January adjustment, go-first win rates – the percentage of games where the winner is the player who had the first turn – have decreased about two percentage points, from just over 56% to just under 55%. This hasn’t changed since the release of the GT 2021 mission pack, holding steady at 54.8% in the 14,314 games recorded in the ITC Battles app played with the current mission pack. If we look at the rate in GT events in 2021 across the 4,328 games recorded in Best Coast Pairings, that number is slightly lower – around 53.4%. Better, but unfortunately not a statistically significant difference, even at these sample sizes.

So the current Go-First Win Rate stands at somewhere around 54%. But how did the Orlando event, with its much-heralded terrain setup fare comparatively? 

683 games were recorded in Best Coast Pairings for the Orlando event, and of these, 654 provided data on which player went first. In these games, the player with the first turn went on to win the game 53.2% of the time. That’s perfectly in-line with our prior GT result and not significantly different from our ITC Battles result of 54.8%. 

Furthermore, the Orlando event was not immune to the same challenges we’ve seen repeatedly in competitive play – namely, that as events progress and players are matched up in skill, the advantage inherent in having the first turn increases, as good players are no longer able to overcome going second by taking advantage of the skill gap between then and an opponent.

What’s surprising here are the relatively lower go-first win rates on day 1; these are lower than we’d expect but not statistically unlikely nor are they significant deviations at these sample sizes. However, the overall trend starting on day 2 shows a sharp upward increase in-line with results we’ve observed before. It’s easy to see how someone could take away from day 1 that the terrain setup was driving more even games, but overall results for the event show that this just wasn’t the case – going first in 40k remains a structural advantage.

If there was one takeaway from Orlando, it was that the terrain likely influenced the armies capable of competing; many top players, after seeing the terrain layouts and testing them, opted to take more melee-heavy armies, banking on the terrain acting as a way to hide large portions of their armies on the advance. This was certainly a driving factor behind Siegler’s list decisions with Ad Mech. It also likely made it difficult for shooting-heavy and Knights armies to compete, as they’d need to have a way to engage those armies to prevent them from hiding.

Next Time: The Impact of Orks, Thousand Sons, and Grey Knights

That wraps up this month’s meta review. Join us next time – in another month or so – when we revisit the three newest codexes and the impact they’ve had on the game, with more than a month of data worth of games to review. In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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