Hello friends! This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Warzone Atlanta, one of the most fun events out there. This event would mark my return to singles competition in Warhammer after a very quiet season for me. Like most people, I suffered from some common afflictions like “other commitments” and “real life,” which have kept my performance in 40k this season relatively tame. The last time I played in a singles tournament was in May at Motor City Mayhem, which was approximately one mission pack, a balance dataslate, and many metas ago. Still, I knew what had to be done. I had to put my brave face on, leave the safety of the commentator booth, and venture out into the arena once more.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this kind of undertaking. Over the years I’ve watched many of my friends take a step back from competing only to get drawn in by the allure of toy soldiers months or even years later. Taking that step back into competitive play can be daunting. The game changes so fast: Once you start falling behind on the meta, it’s easy to keep falling behind and let the amount of things you don’t know about other factions just keep piling up, compounding the issue. Rather than focus on my individual games from Warzone Atlanta I want to focus on my preparation, my experience coming back into the scene as a competitor, and how I’m feeling after the event. With any luck, this article will resonate with some of you and hopefully not only ignite the spark for you to go out and play in a Warhammer event, but also give you some ideas on how to best go about it!
What to Bring
One of the big decision points you are faced with when you’re planning to go out to a Super Major style event is which faction to bring. At the moment, 40k has a wide field in which nearly every faction can compete reasonably (Sorry, Admech and Space Marines!). This isn’t even my pandering to James Workshop; it’s actually backed up by stats and all that math stuff. This is a marvelous thing, but it can also be overwhelming. One thing I’ve learned in my years of experience with this game is that you’ve got to play something you know (unless you’re Jack Harpster). In my case this would mean I’d need to either pick up a faction I haven’t messed with in a while, playing it exclusively for the months leading up to the event, so that I could play, master, and refine the build. Or I could play Craftworlds, a faction I was already very sharp on.
I weighed the pros and cons of playing Craftworlds. They would be the least amount of work to get me going at a level I’d be satisfied with. I knew them intimately. I really enjoy the way they play currently and their play style. The army checked all my boxes… except one. Craftworlds have a very bad matchup into Kraken Tyranids, and Thousand Sons + [Flamer Detachment], two lists that are growing in popularity within the meta. I HATE going into a tournament with very bad matchups because it can tend to feel like the game is totally out of your control no matter what you do. So, with that in mind, I resolved to explore other options.
Chaos has always been a faction near and dear to my heart, and they seemed to be doing well all over the place. They also have an enormous depth of rules to choose from and express creative freedom, which has always drawn me to the faction. I figured now is as good a time as any to really learn the faction again, and add to my repertoire of skills.
There were of course so many other viable factions. Tyranids are cool and great. Tau shoot people real good. Votann are new and shiny. I love Fateweaver. I think being able to narrow your scope of options and put some self enforced blinders on is really important when preparing for an event. I’ve left my options open for far too long before and it leads to 1 – 2 practice games with 10 different factions and that is no way to actually win an event. I knew whichever direction I chose I’d have to see it through to ensure I got enough reps with it. For me, the journey took me to Chaos. Wherever your journey takes you, make sure you don’t focus on how the grass is always greener on the other side. The greenness of the grass is an illusion.
Fortunately, my amazing teammates on Art of War were fully supportive of my ventures into Chaos and playing competitively again. Unfortunately, my amazing teammates are some of the best players in the world and continuously trounced me in a variety of practice games. Gives and takes, ya know? I went deep into Chaos, exploring nearly every legion and combination I could come up with. I went down a countless number of rabbit holes. While I was mostly satisfied with my army and its capabilities, there were a few problems I hadn’t figured out how to solve.
I still had some matchups which felt unwinable, at least with the style I had been working on centered around a large terminator unit and Abaddon. I also didn’t love that Chaos has a pretty weak secondary game. This in itself is an issue that can be overcome, but it is how you have to overcome it that I have issues with. When you have a weak secondary game relative to your opponent, your options are to get aggressive and dominate them on primary, or get aggressive and table them so that points functionally don’t matter. The problem here is that as a Warhammer player I love to play defensively and reactively, NOT aggressively. When your army’s play style stands in opposition to your personal play style it feels a little unnatural, and typically you won’t produce the same results as you would with an equally capable faction that matches your playstyle.
In the midst of all my Chaos practicing and discoveries I went off into the New Mexico sunset for the Games Workshop series finale, where I’d once again be commentating. I had the immense pleasure of watching James Kelling, winner of the US Open Grand Finale (Best Overalls) play his Ulthwe army beautifully. In such eager excitement for one of my favorite factions performing wonderfully we decided to bring James onto the Art of War podcast where he chats about his Craftworld list and how it operates in great detail. And, this is when we get to the 11th hour of list submission, a time where many competitors falter… With the dreaded list submission deadline upon me, I had to decide whether I would ride it out with Chaos, or go back to my little Elf hidey hole.
Needless to say, I submitted an Eldar list at 11:59pm the night before the list deadline with no actual practice games. Perhaps a bit misleading since I’ve played hundreds of games with the current Eldar Codex, but still I had to 180 my thought process to defense and evasion instead of offense and pressure to make the switch. Luckily, that comes naturally to me.
Here’s the list I ended up submitting:
Craftworld patrol Swift strike / masterful shots
Farseer sky runner- doom, fateful divergence 125
Farseer- guide, focus will 95 (WL)
2 warlocks- quicken/restrain 40
Warlock skyrunner- protect/jinx 60
5 rangers 65
5 striking scorpions- biting blade, crushing blows 110
5 howling banshees- mirror swords, chrome scream 95
9 swooping hawks 180
Craftworld patrol swift strike / masterful shots
Farseer skyrunner- will of asuryan, ghost walk 125
20 Guardians 180
9 swooping hawks- Phoenix plume, and winged evasion 195
3 shroud runners 105
10 dire avengers-130
5 howling banshees- mirror swords, piercing strikes 110
Wave serpent 145
Webway gate 80
This list is designed to make use of the Swift Strikes combo with swooping hawks to advance up to 20” bomb something with the Grenade Pack stratagem, shoot something and teleport away (especially reliable with Fate Dice).
***Note some events may rule this interaction does not work. Games Workshop and WTC have both ruled that it does. When in doubt, ask your TO. I coupled up Swift Strikes with ignore cover to help mitigate the lack of AP the army otherwise packs.
This list is all about dealing damage to your opponent via death by a thousand cuts. It provides sustained firepower for turn after turn while my resources return to safety with clever use of positioning, terrain, fire and fade, battle focus, and sky leap. It’s very much a control style list that tries to play its own game of 40k. I find I am most comfortable with this style, and especially when you’re reentering the tournament scene after a bit of a hiatus I find it extra important to focus on your list and your plan rather than try to account for everything your theoretical opponents can do. You don’t know what you don’t know, so focus on what you do know.
You can find a more detailed breakdown of how this list works, the design choices, the strategic plan, and the tactical execution on the Art of War podcast.
So, it’s game day and my teammate John Lennon who’s on the waitlist for the event at this point decides to hop in my car Friday morning to embark on the five-hour journey to Atlanta for the event, knowing full well it’s possible he will not be given a spot if the event has no drops day of. John is one of my really close friends and teammates so of course I’m hoping his weekend doesn’t suck and he gets to play. One caveat though; the boy-king is playing his Tyranids, an army that hard counters mine (I guess I’ve made my peace with that), and he is ferocious on the table with it. If John does get into the event my odds of winning greatly diminish. Nonetheless, I relish the challenge!
As Fateweaver would have it, John got to play in the event, and we were off to the races!
Round 1 vs Kevin McCormick’s Chaos Knights (12 War Dogs)
Kevin is a great player from Texas, and quite the gentleman also! We had a lovely game. I was nervous going in since I’m very limited in my Chaos Knight experience and I know they have all kinds of whacky rules to catch people off guard. I asked Kevin many questions before the game, and vice versa, as well as throughout it. This is a great habit to get into and a great way to play against armies you don’t know much about. Thankfully, my army is very well equipped to handle Knights so long as it has ample terrain. I set up some clever move blocks, was careful not to overextend, and through sustained damage, zone clearing, and a great strategy I was able to pull out the W.
Round 2 vs Thomas Byrd’s Leagues of Votann (Land Fort, bikes, Berzerkers)
Thomas is one of my favorite humans on this planet, and such a treat to play against. He and I have traded blows on the tabletop for years. Win or lose I knew this game was going to be awesome.
One of the big reasons I switched from Chaos was because the Votann matchup was one I hadn’t figured out just yet. I knew Craftworlds have a much better match up into them so long as I either built a Hail of Doom list or a Swooping Hawk heavy variation, because 6’s to hit auto wounding is an amazing rule which bypasses their main defense. I’m also just light years faster than them and I have great psychic output. Finally my army does a sneaky TON of mortals (hawks, banshees with chrone scream, shroud runners, smites for days, and even ranger long rifles with fate dice).
Thomas largely didn’t know what my army was trying to do in the beginning of the game and lost 5 of his bikes turn 1 and was unable to get any return shots in response. This cascaded as turn 2 I killed off his berzerkers without taking return damage. Turn 3 we got a concession as he was just losing resources and unable to mount any sort of comeback. Thomas got a good old lesson in pointy eared plans for this game. Better luck next time my friend!
Round 3 vs Collin Cochram Chaos Knights (1 Desecrator, ~8 War Dogs, small daemon detachment with flamers)
More Chaos Knights, this time featuring flamers and a big knight! The big knight posed unique challenges as he was undivided and I couldn’t reroll hits or wounds against him. Luckily, his super awesome melta cannon only has 3 shots and my army is very not vulnerable to that. Collin is relatively new to the game, but you couldn’t tell. He made a couple errors in movement, but largely I got the impression he had been playing for years the way he was piloting his army. Not to mention they were some beautifully painted Knights and I’m pretty sure he also went on to win 3rd? Best painted at the major event. Quite impressive! Collin is also a War Room member! It’s always great to put some faces to name and meet the amazing people we have in our community. And hey, maybe Collin’s success has something to do with his War Room membership? Who’s to say…
This game went largely like the first with clever move blocks, pile-ins, and consolidates to steal primary where possible and mitigate the flamers with howling banshees. The big Knight absolutely hated my Mortal wound output, and just the sheer volume of auto wounds I could put onto it with Jinx active to bring it to a 4+ armor. Over time I was able to take not trade repeatedly, score Warp Rituals, Bring it Downs, and generally outscore the Knights.
Fantastic game, fantastic opponent, and great to make some new friends!
Round 4 vs John Lennon Kraken Tyranids
Well, as Fateweaver laid out in his grand plan, I hit John Lennon, the person I wanted to play least in the tournament. On the bright side, John is a real pleasure to play, and I knew that if I could win this one nothing could stop me! You can actually watch this game on Wargames Live!
What makes this game so challenging is that John has these two Flyrants which sit behind Tyrant guard who live behind line of sight blocking terrain, functionally making them unshootable. Then he makes them so difficult to charge in any meaningful way with a blockade of sporemines. From there every turn Flyramts with their enormous kraken threat ranges can launch into my army from virtually anywhere, charge key components and wipe them out. With two Flyrants they can stage up and threaten different flanks, and he can commit one, lose it and still keep up the pressure. Not to mention there’s also like a Tyranid army also. Kraken Raveners everywhere, Zoanthropes, Warriors. What a mess.
I needed things to go my way in this game. Unfortunately, John won the roll for terrain placement and put a ruin up in midfield which he could walk to on his first turn to stage at a point where I couldn’t shoot him and he could threaten ~80% of the table. Then John won the roll for first and did just that. He played immaculately well. Knowing John wanted to station up in the ruin I put my webway gate in a position where I could come out of it and charge to his side of the ruin automatically with Fate Dice and Ghost Walk. John covered my webway area with spore mines…. I set up traps so if John moved too aggressively to the center turn one I’d be able to do some crippling damage and return to safety. John took his time and approached with caution. He didn’t even walk onto a second objective on his top of one. Focussing solely on resource preservation instead of points. Really great moves.
Seeing this I knew my opportunity would be to get as ahead on the scoreboard as I could. I went for very conservative plays just moving laterally for the most part and taking any safe shots I could get hoping to catch John in a mistake. Meanwhile I was sending a psycher to midfield every turn to cast warp ritual and return to safety via quicken. On turn 2, I sent my farseer with doom out to the middle with the intent of spending a command point to cast Warp Ritual and Doom through shadows and deny. I put focus will on the psycher and used both of my Fate Dice for psychics to force ritual and doom through despite all of John’s defense. This meant I had to hard roll quicken (a 6 to cast with a CP reroll), and unfortunately I rolled a 4… twice… My Farseer was left hanging. John used him as a springboard to launch his entire castle right in my face. His first Flyrant flew out deep and assassinated Bahorath who failed to stand up, and John cast a Neuro Parasite which was elegantly chained from well out of deny range to a Swooping Hawk unit behind a wall killing 5, and then another 2 with morale. Speaking of morale, at this point mine was shot. Our beautiful chess match had ended. John got me good. And after our game John would eventually go on to win the whole tournament.
Round 5 vs Jaime Paris (More Kraken Tyranids)
You know, after losing to one of the best players in the world you’d think the path gets easier. Nope, Jamie, another phenomenal player, was actually still undefeated, but I was (un?)fortunate enough to get the pair up into him. I really did not want to lose twice back to back, but against Jamie and his Tyranids featuring double Harpy and 18 Raveners in Tide of Conviction it did not look great.
Thankfully. This time I went first and was able to create a lot of space between me and the Tyranid army. Turn on staging is so huge in this matchup I’ve found. I was also able to kill his synaptic link Harpy turn one before it got its invulnerable save going.
One question I keep getting is what changed in my approach between my game with Jamie and my game with John. The answer is nothing really. My approach with my list is always the same from a strategic level. I shoot and stay safe, and take secondaries that support that as best as possible. My list isn’t designed to play that differently. The difference in games comes in my tactical execution of each specific board state.
In this case Jamie played a much more aggressive game than John did (which he after the fact highlighted as a mistake). He went for a turn 1 charge into 5 scorpions and 3 shroud runners with his unit of 8 raveners. We premeasured, and Jamie needed a 5” charge to hit them. I informed him of my shroud runner strat to subtract d3” from the charge. He said yolo I’m going fo rit anyway. His remaining Harpy and 3 Warriors exposed themselves into relatively ineffective positions with the plan of having the Raveners kill my scorpions and shroud runners and overrunning to safety with the Harpies and Warriors acting as a screen so that I couldn’t shoot the raveners with any of my Hawks or Guardians in reserve. A great plan if it works. When it came to the charge phase I popped my strat and got 3 mortals onto the raveners who went on to fail the now 8” rerollable charge. In response I murdered the Harpy and Warriors who were now exposed and accomplishing nothing, as well as teh 8 Raveners. From there Jamie played a great game and nearly stole it back, but I was able to systematically remove his resources and control points. Jamie learned a valuable lesson that game. Instead of looking at the upside of what happens if I pull off this cool plan with a respectable chance of failure, he could have foreseen the downside to failing. This may have led him down the path of a more defensive, control based game like John Lennon was able to play against me.
Seriously, great game!
Round 6 vs Stephen Mitchell and his Black Legion (Terminators, Abaddon + good stuff)
How ironic. I was seriously considering a list just like Stephen’s, but opted out against it. Here we find ourselves with the same 5-1 record going into round 6. Stephen is a phenomenal player who bested my Drukhari last we played, so this time I was out for vengeance.
Stephen’s list is one that really tries to dominate primary. Unfortunately we played in Secure missing artifacts and I was able to hide both of my objectives (including my priority) behind ruins. Stephen went first and barreled toward the central objective with 10 terminators. I responded by ignoring them completely and focussing on his much more attackable support elements. I eliminated 10 possessed turn 1 and gave Stephen the 12 on primary. I knew I could afford to give him 12’s on primary all game since his primary caps at 45, and me simply holding my two very well defended objectives turn after turn was netting me 11 (with the bonus factored in).
On turn 2 he put mutated invigoration on a Decimator to make it T8 against all of my S4 shooting. But then he failed delightful agonies on the terminators. I knew this was my chance. I went all in on mortals, doom, jinx, bladestorm, everything. I killed 7 of 10 terminators. And I had done good work on his possessed and Warp Talons. At this point he had no practical way of coming onto my half of the table to mess with my primary. My secondaries were just better than his #CSMllife, and we talked it out.
Stephen was, as always, a gentleman to play against.
Round 7 vs Lee Harris 10 War Dogs + 15 Flamers
Well, the good news is at this point I’m pretty well versed in the Chaos Knight match. I won the roll for both first turn and terrain which greatly impacted the tempo of the match as Lee was never able to get a meaningful shot onto my Hawks or stop Scout the Enemy from scoring. Lee played a phenomenal game as well, especially given the impossible situation I put him in as far as damage goes. He wisely shifted his focus to the score board instead of damage. In a 5 objective game with him having bottom, of turn he had a sizable primary advantage on me. Thankfully my secondaries were good enough to help carry me through.
I ended up winning this game 66-65 in a nail biter finish to come in second place after my Art of War teammate John Lennon who won it all with a clean 7-0 finish!
Man I missed competing! It felt so good to get out there again. I knew I missed it, but I did not realize how much! What I was most excited about is how every single game was against a very competent general and an excellent sportsman. I had no disagreements, miscommunications, gotcha moments, bad feelings, or shenanigans in any game.
I went in with the goal of competing at 40k in a healthy way. It’s easy to let the nature of competition get the better of you. You can tie your sense of self worth to your success on the battlefield. You can feel “entitled” to winning. You can focus too much on your own experience and intentionally or unintentionally create a negative experience for your opponent (and inadvertently yourself). These are all pitfalls I’ve seen players make over the years, and admittedly, in my youth I’ve fallen into them as well. It was my goal to actively compete at 40k in a healthy way, to create fun experiences for both myself and my opponents, to play with respect for both my opponent and the game, and to ultimately see how well I could do with an army I really enjoyed. I did exactly that.
My fire has been resparked. I think actively competing again will help me better coach our clients over at Art of War, and create better content for our War Room members. Finally, I can only hope that this article has helped inspire people to go out and experience a tournament. Whether it’s going back out onto the scene after a break, or jumping in for the very first time. This community and the friends we make along the way is why we play, and I hope to see you become a part of it!
If you’re interested in learning more about my process for building and refining lists, head over to our site. Become a part of our awesome community and enjoy your hobby even more!
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