The August 2021 Age of Sigmar Meta Review

Welcome, Dear Reader, to our first Age of Sigmar meta review! We do these on a regular basis for 40k but similar to Competitive Innovations, will be doing these reviews of the AoS meta as well on a semi-regular basis moving forward. There’s not quite as much data to look at for Age of Sigmar as 40k, but even at this early stage, there’s plenty to contemplate with the results we *do* have. 

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 Best Coast Pairings/Down Under Pairings apps, the premier way to run, manage, and track results for tournaments. 

The BCP dataset includes nearly 2,000 games of Age of Sigmar played at tournaments since mid-July, and nearly 850 played at GT events with 30+ players and 5 rounds. It’s a great starting point for analysis about the game’s factions and looking at how the early meta is shaping up in third edition.

What We’re Covering This Month

With the first battletomes for 3.0 not dropping until September, we’ve had ample time to watch the meta develop and settle as players have figured out what does and does not work in the new edition. In this report we’ll be looking at:

  • Win rates for every faction
  • Faction popularity at events
  • A faction tier list
  • Key differences between 3-round and 5-round events
  • Faction head-to-head results

Faction Breakdown at GT events

Let’s start with a general breakdown of the factions. While generally almost every faction has been represented at lower level events, across the 12 GT events that have run since mid-July, the spread is much smaller. Specifically, ten factions make up more than half of the field, led by the Sons of Behemat, who have been among the game’s most successful factions early in 3rd edition.

Behind the Sons of Behemat are the Seraphon (6%), Lumineth Realm-Lords (6%), Ogor Mawtribes (6%), and Soulblight Gravelords (6%). And as we’ll see, this popularity goes hand-in-hand with success at these events.

Faction Win Rates

So who’s winning and losing in third edition, and how do those faction comp rates compare to those results? We’ll start by narrowing our focus a bit: While there have been quite a few third edition tournaments – particularly as the US has jumped back into full competitive play – only a handful have been GTs using the new rules. If we focus just on events with 30+ players and 5 rounds of play, we narrow our dataset down to just under 1,700 of the most competitive games. In the chart below, we can see the win rates for each faction with more than 30 games logged at such events.

These results show us some clear stand-outs at the top of the pile, with Daughters of Khaine, Idoneth Deepkin, and Sons of Behemat distinguishing themselves from other factions, and making it clear why two of these factions are among the most well represented. Also topping 50% are the Soulblight Gravelords, Cities of Sigmar, Seraphon, Slaves to Darkness, and Lumineths.

Looking at non-GT Events

The GT sample gives us some interesting data but it’s only part of the picture, particularly given how early we are into the lifecycle of AoS’ third edition. If we broaden our scope to include all events with 8 or more attendees, we can generate a more complete picture of games being played, albeit one that’s not *quite* as competitive. This does, however, help us confirm some of what we’re seeing at smaller sample sizes in the GT win rate results.

In this larger sample we make room near the top of the standings for the Disciples of Tzeentch, who are much less successful  at GT events but have so far won 58% of their games if we include a wider sample. Here Idoneths drop to a more pedestrian 51% win rate, and Flesh Eater Courts rise from 50% at the GT level (Albeit with only 26 games, missing our cutoff) to 54%. 

So where is the truth of these? The likelihood is somewhere in the middle, particularly for the factions that have the most games played. Sons of Behemat and Daughters of Khaine appear to sit comfortably atop the standings as the most powerful armies, while the basement-dwellers are also clear. We’ll revisit this in our Faction Tier list later on.

Another way of looking at things: Top 4s

Of course, win rates aren’t the only metric we should be looking at – factions can post relatively high win rates but still have little to show for it at the competitive level, particularly if those win rates come from beating up on weaker factions. A faction that performs poorly against other top factions is more likely to be a Gatekeeper faction – one all armies must plan for – than a true contender. As such, we can look at the number of podium/top 4 finishes and event wins for each faction as well over the 14 events we’ve tracked so far in Best Coast Pairings using third edition rules.

While in the future we’ll look to contextualize these results against the field, for our sample is small enough that we’ll have to be content with just taking raw totals. Next time around, we’ll look at each faction’s percentage of podium showings compared to its relative percentage of the field. 

Again, these results line up pretty neatly with our win percentage values, though it’s worth keeping an eye on Sons of Behemat – while we did notice a Sons of Behemat win at the smaller, 4-round, 22-player Fanatic event in August, so far they’ve only posted podium results at large events. It remains to be seen whether the faction is a true contender or a gatekeeper, though at the moment we may err on the side of the former. Lumineth Realm-Lords show some real hitting power here, punching well above their win rate when it comes to podium showings, with 6 top 4 finishes despite a middling overall win rate. 

The Faction Tier List

So what can we make of all this? Well at this point it’s still early days but we’ve got enough data on wins and event standings that we can create a presumptive tier list for AoS 3.0. Note that within each tier these factions aren’t necessarily organized by power.

Tier 1

These factions are the best, regular contenders at every event. If you want to win a GT, your army needs to be able to beat one of these, likely multiple times.

  • Daughters of Khaine
  • Lumineth Realm-Lords
  • Soulblight Gravelords
  • Disciples of Tzeentch
  • Cities of Sigmar
  • Kharadron Overlords

Tier 2

These factions are good and likely to finish in the top 4, but may face an uphill battle against some of the top factions.

  • Sons of Behemat
  • Ogor Mawtribes
  • Seraphon
  • Fyreslayers
  • Orruks
  • Legion of the First Prince
  • Skaventide

Tier 3

These factions occasionally place in the top 4 and can still compete but overall have lower win rates and aren’t likely to see consistent success.

  • Slaves to Darkness
  • Sylvaneth
  • Idoneth Deepkin
  • Stormcast Eternals
  • Maggotkin of Nurgle
  • Flesh Eater Courts

Tier 4

These factions are bad. They may still have flashes and win events with the right combination of luck and matchups, but they’re playing on Hard Mode.

  • Hedonites of Slaanesh
  • Ossiarch Bonereapers
  • Blades of Khorne
  • Nighthaunt
  • Beasts of Chaos

Gloomspite Tier

These factions are the Gloomspite Gitz.

  • Gloomspite Gitz

Joek: So most of this tier list is based solely on raw stats and hard numbers. I do say “most” intentionally – the 3 that are not are the Sons of Behemat, Kharadron Overlords, and Skaven. There are a few reasons we’ve chosen to go this route

  • Sons of Behemat: Looking purely at win rate, this appears to be a Tier 1 army. This army has been doing well because they are all monsters, and hold objectives well. If you’re not careful, being caught by them in combat can spell disaster for some armies. However the play style of this army is very monotonous and as a result, predictable. Also, with so few units generally, once you start killing them, they lose all or most of their board control. So if an army can deal at least 35 damage a turn, that army should almost never lose to a SoB army. Which is why out of one of the most top 4’s in the list of factions, there are zero 5/0’s or 1st places in GTs for them so far. If your army can do 35 damage, and you don’t spread or sprinkle your damage among multiple enemy units, you should be able to kill at least 1 monster a turn, gaining you the same point they gained for doing secondaries with monsters, for killing one. So while they have impressive win rates, this is why we’ve put them in tier 2 – For the moment they are essentially a “gatekeeper” army. For how much they love breaking gates, the 5/0 bracket may be the hardest for them to ever break.
  • Kharadron Overlords: KO would be a tier 3 army going off win rate. However, this army has one of the highest outputs and fastest delivery systems in the game, and they’re exceptionally consistent at that. This army, as many dwarf factions, has a large fanbase so the player skill gap, and the desire to bring top tier armies, and play them at the highest level, in a constant flux. Give this army to a player looking to win an event, and it will be one of the worst NPE’s you will face in an event, easily tabling armies in 1-2 turns. On the other side, in the hands of players who aren’t out to go 5-0, they could easily end up finishing 2-3. The army’s popularity and high skill ceiling is keeping its win rate deceptively low.
  • Skaventide: Similar to Kharadron Overlords, Skaven would be at Tier 3. have already posted 3-0/4-1/5-0 results within the first month of the edition’s released, all played by people determined to go 5-0. At the highest level, watching Skaven played by these players who built and studied their lists and optimized them as hard as they can is a terrifying prospect to see, and they can get results. But on the same note, unoptimized Skaven are likely to lose more than they win and can easily fail the “deal 35 damage per turn” requirement necessary to beat Sons of Behemat.

As the edition continues, and players find their bearings, I expect the SOB stat will most likely drop, and the Kharadron and Skaven numbers will rise.

Final Thoughts

Magos Sockbert: All the goss is about this month’s hottest factions, but I’m here to pour one out for the other end of town. What went wrong, Ossiarch Bonereapers? How have you been failed, uh… Honestly, everyone else in the bottom two factions is probably roughly where we would have placed them last edition as well. The Hedonites battletome has been roundly criticised for being overcosted and poorly synergised, while Khorne, Beasts, ghosts and Gitz are all older books that, save for brief periods on launch, have never done particularly well. These bottom books tend to be the more fragile of the lot, and trending towards the lower end of town when it comes to synergies. 

Of all the armies in tiers 4 and Gitz, the Ossiarch Bonereapers is perhaps the most surprising. Petrifex Elite was the bane of many events (at Cancon 2020, the world’s largest Age of Sigmar event, 18 of 18 Ossiarch Bonereapers armies were Petrifex. Their subsequent nerf kicked them down a few pegs, but we saw a rise late in 2.0 with Mortis Praetorians and Katakros. Sadly, 3.0 is a completely different game.

OBR last edition were the king of synergies, with buffs and interplay flowing like a river of skulls (?!) between lynchpin units like Katakros and Liege-Kavalos. The 3.0 FAQ has gutted this synergy, denying OBR most of the fundamentals (command ability stacking and usage, primarily) their book was designed around. We’ve seen a couple of smaller events (not using DUP and BCP) have a very specific Nagash Petrifex build do decently (one small event even won by such a list!) but from an overall meta perspective this is not the army it once was.

At this point I’d really like to reiterate that any army can be piloted to success by a good player. I am aware of Hedonites of Slannesh lists going 4-1 at events, and as mentioned a Petrigash list (Nagash joining Petrifex Elite in perhaps the worst ship name in the game) won an event in the UK recently. What these numbers give a good indication of is what results an average player or average army could expect to get. If you take an Australian Masters player and give them Beasts, they’re probably going to do better than a brand new player handed the incredibly complex Lumineth book. On the other hand, there are still limits; while it’s certainly possible for a Gitz player to do well in AoS 3.0, it’s vanishingly unlikely. That player in your local meta talking about going 11/1/2 WDL with Nighthaunt is either an aberration or punching baby seals, and probably shouldn’t be counted; if they were any good, we’d see them pulling up these numbers.

At the spikey end of things, Cities of Sigmar surprises me a little, but having seen a few nasty Har Kuron lists with Morathi and Gotrek, it doesn’t entirely shock me.

Going forward, I expect the win rate for Kharadron Overlords and Sons of Behemat to taper off a little as the meta (including godhammer) pushes armies towards a kind of high rend, high damage profile that can reach out and touch the sky dwarves, and beat the 35 wounds-per-round DPS check of mega gargants. Finally, allying in a mega-gargant to Death armies seems to be becoming more and more popular, and I and my half-painted Gatebreaker are fascinated to see whether this trend continues.

Plastic Craic: I’m not so sure that the Sons of Behemat are on downgrade watch. I couldn’t agree more that they are the quintessential Gatekeeper army, with a raw win-rate wildly ahead of their representation at the pointy end of tournaments.  What I’m thinking (and, as a part-time Sons player, hoping) is that their recent White Dwarf love could put them over the top and into serious podium contention at major events.

Everything they’ve achieved so far has been with two Enhancements (typically one CT and one Artefact, although Takers can sub out their CT for an extra Artefact); overnight, that has doubled to four thanks to the Bosses of the Stomp Battalion.  Even a minor increase in their durability can tip them over in those games where they get tabled half a turn too quickly, so although that flashy win rate does currently overstate their power, they could be in great shape to make the next step into grabbing podiums – which is a far more important measure of competitive force.

Where I do agree is that Skaven are way stronger than their raw stats are currently showing.  Top players have already demonstrated that a well-constructed list in the right hands is serious, serious business, and it’s an army that has all the tools to do everything 3rd Ed is asking of you.

Finally, pour one out for those poor Gits. I’ve really enjoyed running Squigs recently, but let’s be honest, you wouldn’t take them to an event you were trying to win; meanwhile your classic Grots have taken a double kicking from the loss of stacking debuffs, and run moves no longer being allowed when retreating (since Grots get +2” to run, and also win games by running away a lot).  When experienced Gits players can only manage 1-4, and that still secures them best in faction at a large event, you know it’s getting rough out there.

Liam_Jordan: I’m really not a big fan of stats, Age of Sigmar is so much more than people taking what they want to win. People play armies for a variety of different reasons, they might have a nice theme they think fits, there might be a particular model in the range which has to go into every list but really isn’t up to much, or there are people who just take Gits because they’re Gits and that’s all their simple pea sized brains have ever known. However we can only take these stats at their face value and try to interpret them with our own spin. 

We’ve stuck to 4 real tiers here (Gitz are in T4) but trying to claim that everyone in that tier is equal is like claiming everyone in the Premier League has an equal chance of winning it, it’s just not going to be the case, and even then what you might think is towards the bottom of one tier might be similar to what’s the top of the next (looking at you Overlords and Gargants). But there are trends certainly within the figures and methodology behind things. We all agree heavily on Gargants being a DPS check, similar to Knights were on their 40k release. Can you do 35W a turn to Gargants? If yes, congratulations, you’ve won. If not then sorry, you aren’t winning that game, that’s all there is to it. 

What I would say is however that specific builds especially down to T3 armies, maybe even T4 with the OBR are really viable, but you might struggle to deviate from that set path. For example a Knights of the Empty Throne Slaves list or a Nagash led OBR can really put certain top tier lists all the way. This however isn’t always taken into account in the data where one or two people playing in a sea of mediocrity get swallowed up within the figures.

As others have said though, sometimes the army can carry and skill floors and ceilings for different armies are clearly there for everyone to see. Gargants aren’t really going to ever go worse than 2-3, just because they’ll hit at least 2 armies which can’t pass the DPS check. At the same time, no matter how much you play Beasts of Chaos or Gits (and I’m really trying on the BoC front), you’ll sometimes just hit something which prevents you going 5-0 or more than likely even winning 4 at a large event. It’s all about setting your expectations and knowing what you want from the Hobby. Know that when deciding what you’ll look to spend your hard earned cash on, what you spent hours upon hours painting and what you want to take to the next set of events. Do that well and you’ll be in a much better place.

RagnarokAngel: I don’t have much to say my colleagues haven’t. I think things look good in the middle, it’s the extremes that concern me. The few at the top have incredibly high win rates and are hard to defeat without lists tailored to defeat them. Morathi in particular I think was indefensibly bad design, as I am not a fan of binary game design like that and now that is compounded with the godhammer problem. That said I think the number of “Tier 1” lists is pretty long and diverse, outside of a few notable exceptions there are multiple ways to go 5-0 which is good news for many players.

The ones at the bottom though, woof, that is rough. I am of course miffed for my personal Ossiarchs but have nothing to add on that front Magos hasn’t already said. Hedonites of Slaanesh continuing to get beaten down alongside other long time bottom dwellers like Gitz and Beasts of Chaos are more deviated from the mean than the winners are which says a lot about how sore a shape these armies are in.

I’m more interested in how to make these armies better, because lifting up always feels better to the community than dragging down. Winning may not be everything but consistantly going 1-4 or 0-5 starts to take the fun out of the game for a while, especially if it feels like its beyond your control. As stated though I hope this doesn’t dissuade people from trying with their favorite army, a good player in a lower tier can beat a mediocre player in a higher tier and you will look like a legend if you do win. So keep going out there and shake things up!

We’re in a transition stage, there aren’t any new battletomes quite yet and some kinks needs to be worked out of the system. It’s going to be a wild few months as things change up. Who knows, next meta analysis might be unrecognizable!

Next Month: New Battletomes

That wraps up this month’s AoS meta analysis but we’ll meet you back here in a month or so to talk about the early impact of the upcoming Stormcast and Orruk battletomes. 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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