Earlier today, Games Workshop released what will presumably be the last Balance Dataslate of 9th edition, which you can find here. Accompanying it is an updated FAQ for the Arks of Omen GT pack.
The combination of the December 2022 dataslate and the Arks of Omen pack made some significant changes to the game, as did the full release of the Astra Militarum codex and to a lesser extent, World Eaters. With a few months of play remaining before the release of 10th edition, which is likely to come in mid to late June judging by recent form for both 40k and Age of Sigmar, let’s take a look at the changes which will shape the rest of the edition’s life.
The Balance Dataslate
One incredibly annoying feature of the dataslates is that there’s no accompanying changelog, so you have to go through it every time and compare with the last one to see what’s new (or, often, what’s been removed). To our eyes the changes are as follows
Arks of Omen Secondary Objective Changes
There are quite a few changes here to secondaries, a first in the balance dataslate:
- Change the category of Abhor the Witch from Warpcraft to Purge the Enemy.
- Add the following to the end of the Codex Warfare secondary objective: ’You can score a maximum of 5VP from this secondary objective while the Devastator Doctrine is active for your army, 5VP while the Tactical Doctrine is active for your army, and 5VP while the Assault Doctrine is active for your army.
- Change the last paragraph of the Cull Order secondary objective to read: ’At the end of the battle, for each Battlefield Role that was selected, score 3VP if one or more units in your opponent’s army with that Battlefield Role have been destroyed (score 5VP instead if every unit in your opponent’s army with that Battlefield Role has been destroyed).
- Delete the first and the last bullet points from the Broodswarm secondary objective.
One general change here, and then three army-specific ones. For the general secondaries, the key change with Abhor the Witch is that it is now a Purge the Enemy secondary, meaning it shares a category with Assassination, so you can’t pick both together. A mere 3 years into the edition, it’s finally Too Much to be able to double-dip on secondary points by killing one PSYKER CHARACTER.
Rob: I can absolutely see how they thought this was a buff to Thousand Sons but it changes so little as to be laughable. The situations where someone took Assassination and Abhor against me were pretty rare and given Thousand Sons, Grey Knights, and Daemons don’t really give up 15 for other kill secondaries most of the time this shouldn’t change much.
Turning to Space Marines, the iterative process of making Codex Warfare sane continues. The previous version had uncapped scoring in each doctrine, which was fine until you could also sit in Devastator Doctrine all game with Iron Hands and score 2VP every time you killed something with a Heavy weapon – which was coincidentally the entire game plan of your army. Rob: Especially after desolators released. The new version adds the caps back in for each doctrine, so if you want to score points you have to actually move through the doctrines. This feels like how the system should always have worked, and it’s nice that we’ve finally arrived here. For more on how this secondary played out, check out our article on Imperial secondary scoring here.
Where other Marines take a nerf, the Deathwatch pick up a slight buff – Cull Order now scores 3VP if you kill any of the units in a selected Battlefield Role, making it a little less all or nothing. Deathwatch are languishing down at the bottom end of the win rate pile, so a small change to their ability to score will help them out, though whether it will be enough to move out of the 30-39% bracket remains to be seen.
Finally there’s a nerf to the Broodswarm secondary for Genestealer Cults, with its previous five scoring conditions slimmed down to just three (we’ve talked before about how it was the best secondary in the game). The first bullet point allowed you to score 1VP for having more models on the battlefield than your opponent, and the last was a bonus point which gave you another VP if you met all of the other criteria. In our most recent data Broodswarm was being taken 90% of the time and scored an average of 12.61 VP, which suggests it was a little too good, so a targeted nerf to sand off the edges of its possibilities is unsurprising, even though GSC were maintaining a fairly pedestrian win rate around 52% – Games Workshop tends to hammer down nails that stick up like this no matter what. It’s also worth noting that the 52% is covering two very different populations – per Stat Check, the win rate for experienced GSC players is more like 63%, higher than Iron Hands and only slightly below leading faction Dark Angels. Balancing “high skill” factions like GSC – which tend to do significantly better in the hands of experienced players than inexperienced ones – is always difficult, so a change like this which smooths out their scoring without taking a hammer to what the units actually do may work better to calm down their event performance without making them unplayable in a casual setting.
The bolded text has been added to the second bullet point: Change the Adeptus Custodes keyword in all instances on the Arcane Genetic Alchemy and Emperor’s Auspice Stratagems to read Adeptus Custodes Infantry. You cannot use both of these Stratagems on the same unit in the same phase.
After dialing it back we get a new piling-on to the two fantastic Adeptus Custodes defensive stratagems, which now cannot be used together. Custodes were sitting at around 54% win rate, so this further tweaks them down – though their TiWP ratio of 0.76 means they’re mostly not going the distance in events, which suggests the perceived problem is that they’re a gatekeeper army which is unfun to play against in the middle tables. This will definitely reduce some of that capability to just no-sell an opponent’s buffs, which will presumably make for fewer feels-bad moments, but also likely see the win rate decline a little and even fewer podiums.
- Change the last sentence of the Overcharged Las-cells Stratagem to read: ‘A unit can only inflict a maximum of 6 mortal wounds per phase as a result of this Stratagem.’
- Change the ability granted by the Finial of the Nemrodesh 1st Relic to read: ’Finial of the Nemrodesh 1st (Aura): While a friendly Astra Militarum Core unit is within 6″ of this model’s unit, each time a model in that unit makes a ranged attack, if that attack is allocated to an enemy model, that enemy model cannot use any rules to ignore the wounds it loses.
The world’s least surprising alteration as Overcharged Las-cells now scores a maximum of 6 mortal wounds for the unit using it rather than the enemy unit/s being targeted. Kasrkin can no longer be punted forwards to drop a reasonably reliable 18 mortal wounds into anything they cared to fire at, which should help to make them a lot less offensive to play against. It’s important to note that from a rules standpoint, you only get the first 6 mortal wounds you generate, so you need to think about how you resolve shots for different targets when using this Stratagem.
Pairing up with this change is a nerf to the Finial relic, which no longer allows you to ignore modifiers to hit rolls. It’s still very good, but it no longer ignores two of the game’s most common defensive rules.
These are fairly light touches to the Astra Militarum codex overall, probably reflecting its pedestrian win rate even as top players did horrible, horrible things with it. Whether it’s enough to calm down the best lists without cratering the results of more middling players will be interesting to watch. It certainly forces the army to play with a bit more nuance.
- Delete the fourth bullet point from the Inner Circle ability.
Such bloodless text obscures what a huge change this actually is, because the fourth bullet point in the Inner Circle rule is the one which gives INFANTRY units with INNER CIRCLE – i.e., all the Deathwing stuff – their permanent version of Transhuman Physiology. Dark Angels saw a huge recent upswing in results after points and scoring changes made bricks of Deathwing Terminators very attractive, and have now been struck down accordingly. There’s likely two significant reasons underlying this one – firstly the data-driven point about results for the subfaction, and what units were driving those results, but secondly a similar comment to the Custodes one about stacking stratagems. Inner Circle granting Transhuman to a pile of Terminators wasn’t just a strong rule, it was also one that feels bad for a lot of players, particularly if the entire enemy army consists of bone-armoured guys cheerfully shrugging off meltas and lascannons because they’re just that stubborn. It also added a sting in the tail of what was meant to be a positive change (making wargear free, or at least baked into the regular points cost, to enable players to take cool options without it being a huge impediment) because Deathwing Terminators just get so much more stuff than their comparators available to other Chapters, so reducing the degree to which they are out of line in other ways helps smooth over differences between subfactions.
Rob: This probably drops Dark Angels fully out of contention among the top marine armies, but those who stay in the faction will have a reason to actually use the Lion now and that’s a good thing, I think. We may see more Ravenwing builds for players who stay in the faction now.
- Change the Mission Tactics Detachment ability to read: ’Do not use the rules in Codex: Space Marines to determine which combat doctrine is active for your army during each battle round. Instead, at the start of each battle round, select the Devastator Doctrine, Tactical Doctrine or Assault Doctrine. The combat doctrine you select is active for your army until the end of that battle round.’
Again, a buff here for the Deathwatch when other Marines are eating nerfs. You can now just pick whatever doctrine to be in each round, with no limitations – so you can always be in the optimal one for the moment. This also helps them with Codex Warfare compared to other Chapters, because they can change to a more beneficial doctrine in a particular round without having to give up any unscored points, lessening the opportunity cost. Similarly to the comment on Cull Order, the main question is just whether this change does enough to lift them out of the mire that they’re in with the other unfavoured Marine Chapters.
Rob: We dodged a bullet when Deathwatch terminators ate a points nerf out of the gate which Deathwing and Wolf Guard never got, but the result was they never really took off in the marine meta. Hopefully this gives players a reason to look at them, but Deathwatch have never been a popular faction given the amount of work and cognitive load it takes to play them.
- The former text reading “Remove the CORE keyword from the Keywords section of the following datasheets: Talos; Cronos.” has been removed.
Finally, the greatest injustice in Warhammer has been corrected, and Talos are CORE again. Fifteen months after it was implemented, this one feels like a nerf that had run its course – Drukhari never really recovered from the double whammy of balance changes and Tau/Custodes/Aeldari/Nids all landing in early 2022, and they’ve been puttering along at a 45% win rate and a deeply mediocre 0.65 TiWP ratio throughout Arks. It’s unlikely that Talos restored to their former rules will also restore their former tournament-dominating glory given what the rest of the meta is like now, but it re-opens some options for Drukhari players to try something different again.
Rob: This sucks and I hate it. Anyways, where this is going to be the funniest is when you realize that Coteries of the Haemonculus are still legal for matched play. I don’t think this change is enough to make them competitive again, but it’s at least an option and some sicko is going to T4 some events running them.
- The former text reading “Add the following to the Rare Organisms Detachment ability: ‘If your army contains one or more Hive Tyrant models, one of them must be selected as your Warlord.” has been removed.
- The former text reading “Replace the first paragraph of the Synaptic Imperatives ability with: ‘If every unit from your army has the Hive Tendril keyword (excluding Unaligned units) and each of those units (excluding Living Artillery units) is from the same hive fleet, then while your Warlord is on the battlefield, Synapse units from your army have a Synaptic Imperative ability depending on which one is currently active for your army.’” has been removed.
- The former text reading “When playing a matched play game, players cannot swap out the Adaptive element of their Hive Fleet Adaptation at the start of the battle after determining who has the first turn – if they wish to do so, this must instead be done during the Muster Armies step, and the player’s selection written on their army roster.” has been removed.
Some significant reversals of the previous dataslate changes to Tyranids. Nobody who played against them pre-nerf is going to mourn it, but the faction had been somewhat kneecapped by the accumulation of changes, and like others in that situation (Ad Mech, Drukhari, and apparently T’au as below) adjustments have been made to soften the blow.
First is the straightforward allowance, once again, of other characters as your Warlord even if you have a Hive Tyrant – giving you more opportunities to to spread useful traits around, and fewer risks if you want to use your Tyrant aggressively. The second combos with this, restoring the original wording of Synaptic Imperatives – your Warlord is no longer required to be on the battlefield for them to work, allowing you to keep using them if your Warlord is dead or in reserves of some kind.
Third, the Adaptive element of Hive Fleet Adaptations is actually adaptive again. Changing this was always a weird decision because the whole point was that it was alterable game to game, so restoring it to its original form should help the codex feel more like how it was meant to be.
Rob: I’d have preferred “Imperatives need your Warlord on the table” stick around but then if the Hive Tyrant doesn’t have to be your Warlord anymore this doesn’t matter all that much, since it’s just much easier for Tyranids to play without risking their Warlord all game.
- The former text reading “Remove the CORE keyword from the Keywords section of the Broadside Battlesuits datasheet” has been removed.
Cool, Broadsides are back. We can all look forward to their fucking bullshit again. Within minutes of the dataslate landing Adepticon winner Nassim declared his intention to start playing T’au Sept again, so try to avoid pairing into him at your next GT if you’d like your games to last beyond the first turn.
Rob: I can already hear Greg celebrating in the other room, putting all of his Dark Angels shit into a big dumpster (where it belongs) and putting on his T’au shirt, getting ready to tell us how he was always a T’au main, actually. He will play zero games with T’au before 10th edition hits.
The Arks FAQ gets five changes, and thankfully these are highlighted in the document. The changes are:
Errata – Inflexible Command (Astra Militarum secondary)
Adds the text “on your battlefield” to the secondary conditions. A straightforward change to close off the argument that some people were apparently making that you could be prevented from scoring the points on this secondary by units being in Reserves, or dead. No word apparently needed on it being the highest-scoring secondary in the game.
Errata – Broodswarm (Genestealer Cults secondary)
Changes ‘within’ to read ‘wholly within’ on the remaining bullet points in the secondary (see the dataslate section above for the other changes). Another small nerf to this high-scoring objective, no longer allowing you to meet multiple conditions with a single unit.
FAQ – Iron Hands Character Dreadnoughts
A slightly surprising one here – you are not allowed to use the 0-3 Elites CHARACTER slots in the Arks of Omen detachment for Iron Hands Dreadnoughts which gain the CHARACTER keyword from March of the Ancients. This adds fuel to the slightly bizarre order-of-operations fire over detachment building which was initiated by Travelling Players last year, because the basis for the FAQ is that the Dreadnought isn’t a character until after it’s been added into a normal Elites slot. To some extent this feels like an interaction that wasn’t spotted when the Arks detachment was designed, and the answer is really just ‘no we didn’t mean that, actually’ – and 3 months before a new edition which will delete all the current codexes and fundamentally change how lists are built, including the final death of the Iron Hands supplement which has caused problems ever since it came out, you can see why they’ve just kind of handwaved it away.
FAQ – Codex Warfare (Space Marines secondary)
A simple “Yes” allowing you to score points for different doctrines if a unit is treating its active one differently – so for example, you can score Assault Doctrine points with a unit in that doctrine, even if the rest of the army is in Devastator. Adds some flexibility to the above-described nerf, but also opens up some interesting possibilities with Adaptive Strategy allowing a unit to count as being in all doctrines at once.
FAQ – Militarum Tempestus
Rounding things out, an answer which cuts the opposite way to the Iron Hands one above – you can take three Elites choices of Tempestus Scions in your Arks of Omen detachment, and still take more of them as Troops in a separate Militarum Tempestus Patrol.
Agents of the Imperium
Agents of the Imperium got an updated doc, which added Arbites.
The immediate impression here is that a number of armies which were struggling a bit have gotten help – often by reversing previous balance changes – while others have taken some significant hits. Dark Angels are surely the biggest losers, with a key ability being entirely removed, and Space Marines generally take a hit – which in practical terms means Iron Hands. Whether it’s enough to calm them down or whether it just means Desolation Marine Meta enters a new stage will be answered over the coming months.
Astra Militarum also take some key hits, taming the worst excesses of the codex without doing much to impact its overall wealth of options, and Genestealer Cults and Adeptus Custodes eat some targeted nerfs to specific pain points for opponents.
The biggest winner out of all this is probably Tau, who get the lovely freebie of CORE Broadsides, and also see their competition weaken. Drukhari and Tyranids get a useful helping hand too, and other factions should also benefit from the top end dipping a little. That said, there’s a lot of factions sitting below that 50% line right now, and most of them got nothing specific here – Marines being a little worse always helps because of their ubiquity, but it may well not be enough for the factions which are hovering in the 40-45% range and could have used a push of their own to make up the gap.
Rob: As the Goonhammer Chaos Guy, I predictably do not love the fact that Chaos Space Marines, Death Guard, and Thousand Sons get almost nothing out of this, despite dropping win rates and factionwide struggles created in the last dataslate/points update. The factions will get some help from marines getting nerfed but on the whole it feels like they’re still paying for sins they never actually committed. Coming into this dataslate we were looking at a meta that looked somewhat healthy from a pure win rate point of view, but there were clearly some issues below the surface if you looked at some more advanced stats, where you’d see factions like Dark Angels and Astra Militarum outperforming their expectations despite being among the most popular factions in the field.
TiWP Ratio is the ratio of tournaments in winning position for a faction (4-0 or better starts) divided by their percentage of the field. A value of 1.0 means a faction gets that result as often as you’d expect it to. Higher than 1 means the faction is overperforming, and its players are more likely to start 4-0 and podium. From 40kstats.
Stat Check’s stats also provide some additional context here, where GSC and Dark Angels were both showing up much more than expected in event top 4s (along with World Eaters, who have escaped from this balance dataslate unscathed), with Iron Hands and Black Templars close behind them.
OverRep: OverRep (Over Representation) is the degree to which a given faction is over-represented in the population of top 4 finishers at GT+ events, relative to their population among all players. For example: Genestealer Cults have an OverRep of 1.99. This means that while they are played by 3% of the all players, they make up more than 6% of all players in the top 4 of GT+ events.
Overall these changes get us to a more stable meta, and I’m interested to see how marines handle the changes. We’ll likely see Dark Angels and Iron Hands tumble, but I expect Space Wolves and Black Templars to make up some of that slack. Space Wolves in particular have a great mix of shooting and melee and were already doing well without relying so much on Codex Warfare. GSC will come down a bit, World Eaters will move up, but they have an interesting paper-to-their-rock in that Daemons just kills them completely, and T’au and Tyranids should see solid jumps here, though both may just become high B-tier/low A-tier given their secondary objective situations. The point changes from February hurt Nids far more than the dataslate adjustments.
What’s Next: 10th Edition
That wraps up what we expect will be the final time we talk about a dataslate in 9th edition. This one is bound to shake things up quite a bit, so it’ll be interesting to see how things work out for the next few months as a result. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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