Competitive Innovations Editorial: What GW Should Do About the Adeptus Mechanicus

An article by    Competitive Play Editorial Goonhammer Warhammer 40k        0

It’s that time again, apparently. After a slightly slower start, the new Adeptus Mechanicus codex has become the metagame’s latest glaring issue, racking up impressive win rates and hogging the lion’s share of top four slots. The raw win rate numbers haven’t climbed as high as Drukhari’s. but the stranglehold on the upper echelons of the game is perhaps even more impressive because of how thoroughly it’s displaced the previous incumbent. It also reflects the fact that we’re dealing with a slightly different set of problems this time around.

The Drukhari Codex as launched combined a flagship broken mechanic (Dark Technomancers) with a book that’s just wall-to-wall overpushed. Even with Technomancers removed and a scattering of point increases, unless you go out of your way to build a bad list you’re going to end up with something that gives you 110% compared to most other books, and the exceptional list-building flexibility within it lets top players push that even higher.

AdMech are a bit different. There certainly are some over-pushed options (and we’ll get to them) but the power level you get just for choosing to show up with AdMech is much more in line with other good books than the oppressive power of Drukhari. That’s an important thing to stress up front, because a comment we often get when we put out articles like this is that we’re trying to stir up resentment against loyal players of the faction, or making it harder to get games. That’s not our goal, and there’s plenty of fun, fair stuff you can do with Adeptus Mechanicus. If your buddy wants to throw down against your Marines with a list built from a collection they’ve built up over the years, chances are you’re going to have a good time.

The busted AdMech builds are something that you do on purpose. The book is pretty complex, and things become problematic in places where:

  • You can stack too many different buffs (or the threat of them), allowing units to wildly overperform on the offence and making it very difficult to build lists that counter the defences.
  • You can exploit some problematic scaling on key effects.
  • You can lean too hard into some extremely pushed faction traits.
Skitarii Vanguard

Skitarii Vanguard. Credit: Pendulin

The most problematic build that’s arisen thanks to the combination of this is the Lucius Skitarii horde, an example of which is shown below:

Adrian Phillips' 1st Place Hammerhead Open List - Click to Expand

++ Battalion Detachment 0CP (Imperium – Adeptus Mechanicus) [97 PL, 2,000pts, 7CP] ++

+ Configuration +

Forge World Choice: Forge World: Lucius

+ Stratagems +

Stratagem: Archeotech Specialist [-2CP]: 2x Archeotech Specialist

Stratagem: Host of the Intermediary [-1CP]: Host of the Intermediary

Stratagem: Mechanicus Locum [-2CP]: 2x Mechanicus Locum

+ HQ +

Skitarii Marshal [3 PL, 45pts]: Control Stave, Radium Serpenta, Relic: Exemplar’s Eternity, Warlord, Warlord Trait (Codex 3): Programmed Retreat

Tech-Priest Manipulus [5 PL, 95pts]: Artisans, Magnarail lance, Manipulus Mechadendrites, Omnissian Staff, Relic (Lucius): The Solar Flare

Tech-Priest Manipulus [6 PL, 105pts]: Logi, Magnarail lance, Manipulus Mechadendrites, Mechanicus Locum, Omnissian Staff, Relic: Raiment of the Technomartyr, Warlord Trait (Lucius): Luminescent Blessings

+ Troops +

Skitarii Rangers [8 PL, 175pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether, Omnispex
. Ranger Alpha: Galvanic Rifle, Host of the Intermediary, Power sword, Warlord Trait (Codex 5): Firepoint Telemetry Cache
. 19x Skitarii Ranger: 19x Galvanic Rifle

Skitarii Rangers [8 PL, 195pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether, Omnispex
. Ranger Alpha: Galvanic Rifle, Power sword
. 17x Skitarii Ranger: 17x Galvanic Rifle
. 2x Skitarii Ranger (Arc Rifle): 2x Arc Rifle

Skitarii Vanguards [8 PL, 170pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether, Omnispex
. 19x Skitarii Vanguard: 19x Radium Carbine
. Vanguard Alpha: Radium Carbine

Skitarii Vanguards [8 PL, 170pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether, Omnispex
. 19x Skitarii Vanguard: 19x Radium Carbine
. Vanguard Alpha: Radium Carbine

+ Elites +

Fulgurite Electro-Priests [6 PL, 150pts] . 10x Fulgurite Electro-Priest: 10x Electroleech Stave

Sicarian Infiltrators [4 PL, 85pts] . Infiltrator Princeps (Flechette/Taser): Flechette Blaster, Taser Goad
. 4x Sicarian Infiltrator (Flechette/Taser): 4x Flechette Blaster, 4x Taser Goad

Sicarian Infiltrators [4 PL, 85pts] . Infiltrator Princeps (Flechette/Taser): Flechette Blaster, Taser Goad
. 4x Sicarian Infiltrator (Flechette/Taser): 4x Flechette Blaster, 4x Taser Goad

Sicarian Infiltrators [4 PL, 85pts] . Infiltrator Princeps (Flechette/Taser): Flechette Blaster, Taser Goad
. 4x Sicarian Infiltrator (Flechette/Taser): 4x Flechette Blaster, 4x Taser Goad

+ Fast Attack +

Ironstrider Ballistarii [12 PL, 225pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius: Twin Cognis Lascannon
. Ironstrider Ballistarius: Twin Cognis Lascannon
. Ironstrider Ballistarius: Twin Cognis Lascannon

Ironstrider Ballistarii [12 PL, 225pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius: Twin Cognis Lascannon
. Ironstrider Ballistarius: Twin Cognis Lascannon
. Ironstrider Ballistarius: Twin Cognis Lascannon

Pteraxii Sterylizors [4 PL, 95pts] . 4x Pteraxii Sterylizor: 4x Phosphor torch, 4x Pteraxii Talons
. Pteraxii Sterylizor Alpha: Flechette Blaster, Pteraxii Talons, Taser Goad

+ Dedicated Transport +

Skorpius Dunerider [5 PL, 95pts]: 2x Cognis Heavy Stubber, Twin Cognis Heavy Stubber

++ Total: [97 PL, 7CP, 2,000pts] ++

We went through this army in full in Competitive Innovations a few weeks back, but the quick summary is:

  • The Skitarii horde can blow away almost anything between their two stratagems and Manipulus buffs, and can strike almost anywhere thanks to Solar Flare and Legio Teleportarium.
  • The Lucius Solar Blessing dogma combines with Doctrinas, Firepoint Telemetry Cache and the Logi buff to allow one or more units to be rendered functionally unshiftable via conventional offence.
  • Multiple sources of Fall Back/Shoot plus near invulnerability to morale from Acquisition at Any Cost shuts down alternative routes to punish the big blocks.
  • Ironstriders sitting in a Skitarii Marshall aura provide best-in-breed ranged anti-tank at an outrageously efficient price, and able to be selected for all the defensive buffs in matchups where they’re more important than the hordes.
  • Infiltrators are outrageously pushed at their price, providing a heady mix of advance deploy screening, durability and damage potential, plus excellent objective/action play.

This list is pretty representative of what the best builds are doing, with the only notable absence from the stuff that’s really top tier being Archaeopter Fusilaves. That doesn’t mean it’s the only valid strategy or shell, of course. We’ve seen lists that mix in or go heavy on Mars, lists that spam planes (including the aforementioned Fusilaves) and builds that go even heavier on Sicarians. However, just like when we did this for Drukhari, a strategy being good doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be nerfed. All books should have strong options, and it’s fine for a particular codex to get its time in the limelight.

However, when a book is performing as strongly as AdMech is (and Drukhari was) the top builds need a careful look to assess whether they’ve crossed the line from good to oppressive, and with the results from the (many) events this weekend in the books it’s pretty clear that AdMech are once again in the latter category. Their damage potential out of the gate is outrageous, reminiscent of the very worst 8th Edition gunline builds, and that means that far too many matches against them are over before their opponent gets to play. Even with good terrain or the opponent getting the first turn, the defences of these builds are so strong that it’s extremely tough to hurt them enough to do anything other than delay the inevitable. Despite the lower win rate, I’ve generally found competitive players even more pessimistic about AdMech than Drukhari, and that’s because these top builds feel even more crushingly insurmountable than the worst excesses of the Dark Eldar.


TheChirurgeon’s Notes: What does the data say?

As always, we don’t just make these decisions based on gut feel or in a vacuum – we’re lucky enough to have a large amount of data at our disposal, both from events through the Best Coast Pairings app and from competitive games played in and out of events tracked in the ITC Battles App. In our July 2021 meta review two weeks ago we noted that the win rate for the Adeptus Mechanicus at GT-level events had jumped 12.5 percentage points, to nearly 62 percent, and that was over 206 games, putting them on the upper half of games played during that span. This was supported by the glicko scores we calculated for the faction using data from the ITC Battles app, but worth noting here is the percentage of games: We often talk about a faction warping the meta or becoming a gatekeeper but that’s partially dependent on the number of players picking the faction up. Harlequins may have had a high win rate compared to other factions in 9th edition but as they represent such a tiny percentage of games played, their overall impact is lower and they’re unlikely to dominate top 8s across multiple events in a given weekend. With Drukhari and Admech, that’s not the case.

Looking at the top 10 factions by win rate/glicko score in the ITC Battles app data shows us how interest in the faction has grown since the release of the new book. While some expansion is always to be expected – new launches drive interest in a faction – continued growth of that faction tends to be more predicated on the competitive strength of that faction – hence, Death Guard play is still high (it’s the most popular single Chaos faction as the only one sporting 2W marines), but down from the month of its release. Comparatively looking at the combined areas for Admech + Death Guard + Drukhari, you can easily see how Admech have eaten into the Drukhari share of games played over the last month following the book’s release and nerfs to the Drukhari faction. Drukhari are still strong, but in this case we can easily visualize via data how some players made the switch, while the Death Guard share of games has remained relatively constant.

So far the growth of admech hasn’t quite mirrored the astronomical win rate growth of Drukhari, but that wasn’t necessarily realistic – the Adeptus Mechanicus were an average or above-average faction in terms of win rate and glicko score before their codex. Comparatively, Drukhari were one of the game’s weaker factions, though they had been climbing slightly. In the wake of the book release we’re starting to see similar trends to Drukhari as the Mechanicus’ share of wins creeps upward and its share of losses drops. Compared to the other new codex – Adepta Sororitas – it’s easy to see how the two books have different comparative power levels: Both factions have increased in popularity, increasing their share of wins and losses, but for sisters, whose win rates have stayed relatively even with their performance prior to the codex, both win and loss share have increased at around the same rate, meaning the faction’s overall win percentage has stayed about the same.

All of this is to say that the data shows the Adeptus Mechanicus with a clear advantage that will likely continue to increase, at least in the short term, and may become more oppressive as the number of people who play the faction increases.

Back to you, James.


With that in mind, just like I did for Drukhari I’ve put together a list of five changes that I think Games Workshop should apply in an emergency balance FAQ to try and get things under control. No anti-Xenos bias here – I started my time on this website writing about how an Imperium model should be nerfed, and I’m not going to stop now.

Just like with Drukhari, this isn’t an attempt to completely re-tune the whole book. Instead, it’s aimed to be a small, proportionate set of changes aimed at shifting the best builds to a power level where countering them is realistic. It’s also intended to be a set of updates I can realistically see Games Workshop applying, taking account of the drawbacks and knocks to customer confidence that snap nerfs bring. I’ve put the principles I followed when coming up with changes for Drukhari below, and pretty much still stand by them.

  • They should aim to be a minimum adequate set of changes: the fewer words in the printed DrukhariAdMech Codex are invalidated by the changes, the better.
  • They should avoid invalidating models: nothing should be hit so hard that the models involved just aren’t a thing any more.
  • They should focus on competitive builds: realistically, some stuff in books tends to get much more airtime in optimised competitive lists than in casual armies, and if fixes can be focused in on those, all the better.
  • They should consider comparisons with other books: every book does unique things. When these are clearly part of the identity and design, that’s fine. Sometimes, however, the rules accumulate to give one faction something that feels like an arbitrary advantage without a good reason behind it, and that should be up for review, because leaving them makes players of every other faction feel hard done by. If a faction is excelling at something that clearly isn’t part of its core design, that also needs scrutiny.
  • They should err towards restraint: I do not think the intention of any set of changes should be to ensure DrukhariAdMech are no longer the best army in the game. The goal should be to close the gap to the point where other top builds adapting is a realistic prospect, and then see if that happens.

Essentially, we want to be proportionate about this – go as far as we need to, but no further.

With AdMech in particular, there’s one change these factors are leading me not to propose, which is changing Skitarii unit sizes. I’m pretty comfortable that changing the maximum sizes of squads to twenty models was probably not a good call, but now that it’s done I also don’t think you can back it out lightly. People will have bought and equipped units based on these sizes, the datasheet would need significant re-writes to account for it and my suspicion is that the basic troop choice for the faction is likely something GW is most hesitant to make changes to. Now that Sisters get 20 model units it would also look extremely strange in comparison. I also think it’s reasonably clear from the Sisters book that it’s possible for 20-model units to still be fair with layered buffs, strongly implying that the driving issue in the AdMech book is the excessive point efficiency surrounding effects rather than the unit size itself.

With that out the way, let’s roll.

 

The Changes

Skitarii Marshal

Skitarii Marshal. Credit: Pendulin

1. Change the Lucius Dogma

What?

Change the defensive part of the Solar Blessing Dogma to the following:

“Each time an attack with a damage characteristic of 1 is allocated to a model with this dogma, reduce the AP of that attack by 1 (to a minimum of 0)”.

Why?

The Solar Blessing as it stands is problematic for a few key reasons:

  • It’s a very strong defensive boost for horde lists that pre-emptively neutralises most anti-horde tools.
  • It makes it too easy to get an effective +2 to saves on units when it really matters.
  • It shuts down the effectiveness of significant proportions of many lists, allowing the AdMech to focus on removing anything that gets around it.

When something’s strong it’s vital that there be angles available for opponents to counter it, and the Solar Blessing (as applied to lists heavy on Skitarii) fails that test. Defensive abilities with a way around them are a staple of subfaction traits, but the Solar Blessing is both unusually broad in what it works against and extremely tough to work around. Nearly ever army brings a substantial number of D1 attacks to the table, so this always does something (usually quite a lot) but it crosses the line to being a problem because of the availability of good horde builds in AdMech. For the vast majority of armies, the tools they would tech in to beat hordes normally provide massed D1 firepower, but against Lucius the effectiveness of this will be severely limited. Some armies have options that will still work (the Volkite Contemptor being the most notable, but spamming mortals is also good) but they’re rarer and generally significantly more expensive to tech in, hurting the overall efficiency of armies that build around it. It’s also an issue that you have to build hard against this at list building time – if you’ve turned up to a game against Lucius without some sort of answer built into your army, you’re flatly just going to lose. This was part of the problem with Raiders (where the move to T6 meant that only a quite small list of weapons were efficient against them) but it’s even starker here, and that’s because of the second part of the problem.

Stacking boosts to your save is good – it’s really good. Unlike lots of other flavours of modifier, there’s no cap on boosts to your armour save, and no drop-off in marginal utility for each point of improvement until you hit 2+. Because AP is far more common as an “opposing” modifier than negatives to hits or wound, even a boost that takes you past the 2+ cap can be relevant a lot of the time. AdMech have an unprecedented number of ways to stack positive save modifiers, and Lucius is one of the worst offenders in this regard. Bulwark Doctrina lets you apply a near army-wide (thanks to Skitarii generally being more pushed in the book) +1 to saves that goes on top of the Solar Blessing, and you can also use Firepoint Telemetry Cache to trivially apply Light Cover to a key unit on other turns. Adding two to saves just so happens to be the perfect amount to get Skitarii infantry to a 2+ save, and once they’re there you can use the Logi Holy Order ability to ignore incoming AP-1 or AP-2, locking in that 2+ against almost all D1 anti-horde options. This allows a designated unit of Skitarii to become near-indestructible for a turn, which is a big problem when they’ve just teleported in and flattened one of your units with an overpowered stratagem (which we’ll get to), and will do it again next turn if left un-answered.

Finally on the problem front, AdMech are a very high threat army out of the gate, and the Lucius dogma is so good at mitigating damage from D1 offence that it allows a player to go all-in on trying to alpha strike whatever threats the opponent has with other offensive profiles – because if that gambit succeeds the opponent has zero chance of getting back into the game. This is particularly true because of how well the Solar Blessing protects units that start on a 3+ like Ironstriders and Fusilaves. Another way in which save modifiers differ from other types is that the better your starting save is, the more proportionately impactful the first +1 modifier is. Giving a unit with BS3+ +1 to hit increases their damage output by 25%, while for a unit starting on a more average BS4+, that +1 represents a 33% boost. For saves things flip around – giving a unit with a 4+ save a +1 modifier to that reduces incoming damage by 33% – but for a unit starting at 3+ the impact is a mighty 50% damage reduction. That means that the Solar Blessing is wildly effective at reducing chip damage to some key AdMech units, and really closes the vice on an opponent that loses their big damage dealers.

The change proposed attacks all three of these issues:

  • It makes massed AP0 shooting or melee a more realistic answer to Skitarii hordes, opening up a wider range of possible counters and making a tool most armies have some of in their back pocket (AP0 melee attacks) more meaningful.
  • It reduces the ceiling of save stacking, meaning you’re never going to be rolling 2+ saves army-wide against anti-horde weapons, and preventing the Logi Holy Order from comboing with the Dogma at all.
  • It makes chip damage from run-of-the-mill firepower more impactful against Lucius units.

Why It’s Proportionate

This change keeps the essential theme of the Solar Blessing, and still leaves it very potent, but sands off the edges a bit, shutting down the worst excesses and opening up more counters. Because of the maths of the jump from 3+ to 2+ saves, stopping the Solar Blessing doing that against AP0 attacks makes them literally twice as effective at chewing through Lucius hordes when either Bulwark or Firepoint are active, and also reduces the frequency with which Logi can be stacked up to create an essentially unkillable unit.

I honestly think there’s some chance this still leaves the Dogma as too good in comparison with other similar effects, but in line with the principles of being minimal, this is what I’d try first (especially with point changes also proposed). A more nuclear option would be to just replace it with the Valorous Heart trait (reduce AP by 1 against AP-1 or AP-2) but I think a change that stays as close as possible to the current function and retains the unique criteria is more likely to be made. Other options for fixing it start to look a bit clunky or rely on very specific exceptions, and I prefer the cleaner fix proposed.

Something this does hammer home is that, thanks to the maths explored above, wide-ranging save boosts are an incredibly dangerous mechanic to throw around, and while Lucius is currently the top dog I don’t think it’s impossible that Mars’ ability to apply mostly army-wide +2 saves against shooting by combining Shroudpsalm and Bulwark Doctrina will need a look in the future. Interestingly, the new edition of Age of Sigmar actually caps positive save modifiers at a net +1, and while I don’t think that’s a rule I’d import wholesale (and also wouldn’t actually work here, because Bulwark is implemented as a change to the save characteristic rather than a modifier), it shows a recognition that where these effects are easily accessible (as they now are in AoS) they need safety valves.

2. Nerf Galvanic Volley Fire

Skitarii Rangers. Credit: Rockfish

Skitarii Rangers. Credit: Rockfish

What?

Change Galvanic Volley Fire so that the first sentence reads “Use this stratagem in your shooting phase, when a SKITARII RANGERS unit that Remained Stationary in your movement phase is selected to shoot.”

Why?

If they were just super tough there might be some more angles to defeat the Lucius horde lists. Unfortunately, as well as being incredibly durable, units of twenty Skitarii are also absurdly deadly, and that’s in a large part down to two exceptional stratagems, both of which need some changes. Galvanic Volley Fire is first up, which in combination with a Tech Priest Manipulus allows a unit of Rangers to throw out an eye-watering 80 BS3+ S4 AP-2 shots at anything that they can get within Rapid Fire range. That’s a hefty amount of firepower from a 160pt unit, enough to blow away most opposing infantry units and take real chunks out of larger targets. It’s also, currently, incredibly difficult to avoid, and that’s what this change is aimed at addressing. Once you add 6″ to the base range from a Manipulus’ Galvanic Field, 3″ pre-game movement from Rangers and a 6″ Normal Move, this deadly volley has a 27″ threat range turn 1 (longer for Lucius) and can also be deployed from a Legio Teleportarium or Solar Flare with near complete impunity.

Adding a “Remained Stationary” rider to this makes it a bit harder to use to full effect, reducing the number of blowout effects AdMech can throw around turn 1, removes the issue that it’s essentially unavoidable out of reserves, and also deals with the weird quirk where it also acts as a mobility effect in a pinch by taking away the heavy penalty.

You might also need to make a minor edit to the general “Repositioned Units” Rare Rule to add “if the unit Remained Stationary, it no longer counts as having done so”. This is heavily implied by the rule as currently worded, but I’d expect people to try and argue that you could select a unit to Remain Stationary then Solar Flare them and still have this be usable.

Why It’s Proportionate

While it doesn’t feel quite as crushingly inevitable as Enriched Rounds the boost in output this stratagem is still exceptional, and feels tuned as if needing to get within Rapid Fire range makes it heavily conditional, but right now AdMech have enough ways of boosting the threat range on this (or as Lucius dropping a unit straight into it) that it’s not sufficiently constrained in when it can be used. This contributes to AdMech reaching a critical mass of damage dealing effects out of the gate that’s resulting in absurd, one-sided blowouts.

The suggested drawback here means you won’t usually be able to pull off a full volley turn 1 and can’t just blast the opponent straight from reserves. It also puts some agency in the hands of your opponent, giving more angles for counterplay. Remaining Stationary to boost shooting output is also not an uncommon tradeoff and feels aligned to the flavour of the effect here.

3. Nerf Enriched Rounds

Skitarii Vanguard

Skitarii Vanguard. Credit: Pendulin

What?

Make two changes to Enriched Rounds:

  1. Update the cost so that it increases to 2CP for units of 11+ models.
  2. Change the auto-wounds to trigger on 5+ instead of 4+.

Why?

Enriched Rounds is broken, to a degree that can’t be fixed through a cost change alone. Used by a big Vanguard unit, it’s a very reliable point and click 30+ wounds (30 auto-wounds average plus a few more from either a RR1 aura or hits on 3s wounding naturally) into eligible targets (at AP-1 if you bring a Manipulus), and that’s the kind of game-breaking combination of power and reliability that starts taking making substantial numbers of units unusable. With a Manipulus, this smokes a unit of 20 Necron Warriors on average dice at a 30″+ threat range. No one’s going to give a damn that Ork Boyz are getting a much-hyped move to T5 if thirty of them evaporate the second a Vanguard unit looks at them funny. Pretty much the entire Tyranid roster has to just wistfully reminisce about the before times when they were experiencing an exciting resurgence in competitive usability. All the cool giant monsters that Chaos can muster, including new posterboy Be’lakor, are doomed to a rapid return trip to the warp whenever AdMech take the field. We’ve seen just how hard this kind of effect can skew the metagame before with the Castellan in 8th (in fact this was the subject of my very first article for the site), and it’s incredibly unhealthy when allowed to persist, as it completely throws off how units perform and are evaluated (it was notable that as soon as the Castellan got a nerf the RepEx was suddenly everywhere).

At a price tag of 160pts and 1CP, a cost at which you can (and many are) trivially load up multiple units for this and expect to do it every turn, and with the defences AdMech have available your opponent isn’t going to be able to shut you down fast enough to stop a premium unit vanishing into a fine mist every shooting phase. Really the only thing you can do about this stratagem as it stands is go hull heavy, and that’s not an option that’s efficiently available to all factions (nor something that 9th seems to want to encourage in general). In addition, Skitarii Vanguard don’t exist in a vacuum, and to some degree all investing in hulls does is ensure that the lascannon Ironstriders that will exist elsewhere in the AdMech list are operating in a target-rich environment.

Adding a scaling cost on a strat of this power level is an extremely obvious first step, but it’s not enough. An effect that allows a 160pt unit (nor the price I’m going to propose they go up to) to reasonably reliably take out 250pts+ of opposing models essentially has no fair price that isn’t comical. There’s a number of clever things you could do to try and rein it in while keeping the eye-catching 4+ trigger, but most of them I’ve spitballed still leave the potential for absurd blowouts in play.

Why It’s Proportionate

There’s really nothing else quite like Enriched Rounds as it stands right now, with the closest equivalent for absurd punching up from a core Troop unit being Asuryani Guardians leaning on Guide and Doom. To put things in perspective, a full Guardian Bomb with Guide and Doom online performs substantially worse than Enriched Rounds with a Manipulus when firing into any non-VEHICLE target, has a much more constrained threat range, relies on Psychic Powers that can fail or be denied, and comes from squishier models. A change of the magnitude proposed here is needed to shunt Enriched Rounds back into line, and I think an uncomplicated 5+ trigger is the simplest option (at which point it’s still exceptional, even with the price increase for larger units). It helps that the current version, where an effect that normally triggers on an unmodified 6+ gets changed to a 4+, is a bizarre outlier – most similar things (including others in the same book) provide a safer 6+ to 5+ shift. Bringing effects in-line with what’s seen elsewhere is one of the easiest kinds of changes to justify, and thus seems like the best option here.

4. Acquisition at Any Cost to Once Per Game

What?

As title.

Why?

When part of the problem with an army is over-efficient hordes, maybe they shouldn’t have a 1CP stratagem that provides an auto-pass for multiple units at once that can be used an unlimited number of times.

Why It’s Proportionate

Because everyone else has to pay 2CP for this and can only do it once per game. The restrictions here are clearly meant to offset that, but having 1 model within 6″ of an objective marker isn’t a meaningful limitation nearly enough of the time.

5. Point Increases for the Worst Offenders

Adeptus Mechanicus - Ironstrider Ballistarii

Adeptus Mechanicus – Ironstrider Ballistarii
Credit: Pendulin

What?

Make the following point changes:

  • Rangers/Vanguard +2pts
  • Infiltrators +2pts
  • Archaeopter Fusilaves +10pts
  • Ironstriders +5pts (autocannons)/+10pts (lascannons)

Why?

All of these units are too efficient in their various ways, but there’s broadly two different categories of why they’re getting singled out. In fact, they’re so good that one of the winning lists from the weekend demonstrated that you can build a list pretty much exclusively from them and some support characters.

Jake Nelson - R&R GT - 1st Place - Click to Expand

++ Battalion Detachment 0CP (Imperium – Adeptus Mechanicus) [100 PL, 1,998pts, 6CP] ++

+ Configuration [12CP] +

Forge World Choice: Forge World: Lucius

+ Stratagems [-6CP] +

Stratagem: Archeotech Specialist [-2CP]: 2x Archeotech Specialist [-2CP]

Stratagem: Artefactotum [-1CP]: Artefactorum [-1CP]

Stratagem: Host of the Intermediary [-2CP]: 2x Host of the Intermediary [-2CP]

Stratagem: Mechanicus Locum [-1CP]: Mechanicus Locum [-1CP]

+ HQ [14 PL, 245pts] +

Skitarii Marshal [3 PL, 45pts]: Control Stave, Mechanicus Locum, Radium Serpenta, Relic: Exemplar’s Eternity, Warlord Trait (Codex 3): Programmed Retreat

Tech-Priest Manipulus [6 PL, 105pts]: Logi [2 PL, 35pts], Magnarail lance, Manipulus Mechadendrites, Omnissian Staff, Relic: Raiment of the Technomartyr, Warlord, Warlord Trait (Lucius): Luminescent Blessings

Tech-Priest Manipulus [5 PL, 95pts]: Artisans [1 PL, 25pts], Magnarail lance, Manipulus Mechadendrites, Omnissian Staff, Relic (Lucius): The Solar Flare

+ Troops [32 PL, 680pts] +

Skitarii Rangers [8 PL, 170pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether [5pts], Omnispex [5pts] . Ranger Alpha [8pts]: Galvanic Rifle, Host of the Intermediary, Warlord Trait (Codex 5): Firepoint Telemetry Cache
. 19x Skitarii Ranger [152pts]: 19x Galvanic Rifle

Skitarii Rangers [8 PL, 170pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether [5pts], Omnispex [5pts] . Ranger Alpha [8pts]: Galvanic Rifle
. 19x Skitarii Ranger [152pts]: 19x Galvanic Rifle

Skitarii Vanguards [8 PL, 170pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether [5pts], Omnispex [5pts] . 19x Skitarii Vanguard [152pts]: 19x Radium Carbine
. Vanguard Alpha [8pts]: Radium Carbine

Skitarii Vanguards [8 PL, 170pts]: Enhanced Data-Tether [5pts], Omnispex [5pts] . 19x Skitarii Vanguard [152pts]: 19x Radium Carbine
. Vanguard Alpha [8pts]: Radium Carbine

+ Elites [16 PL, 323pts] +

Sicarian Infiltrators [8 PL, 153pts] . Infiltrator Princeps (Stub/Sword) [17pts]: Artefactotum, Host of the Intermediary, Power Sword, Relic: The Omniscient Mask, Stubcarbine, Warlord Trait (Codex 4): Archived Engagements
. 8x Sicarian Infiltrator (Flechette/Taser) [136pts]: 8x Flechette Blaster, 8x Taser Goad

Sicarian Infiltrators [4 PL, 85pts] . Infiltrator Princeps (Stub/Sword) [17pts]: Power Sword, Stubcarbine
. 4x Sicarian Infiltrator (Stub/Sword) [68pts]: 4x Power Sword, 4x Stubcarbine

Sicarian Infiltrators [4 PL, 85pts] . Infiltrator Princeps (Stub/Sword) [17pts]: Power Sword, Stubcarbine
. 4x Sicarian Infiltrator (Stub/Sword) [68pts]: 4x Power Sword, 4x Stubcarbine

+ Fast Attack [24 PL, 450pts] +

Ironstrider Ballistarii [8 PL, 150pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius [4 PL, 75pts]: Twin Cognis Lascannon [10pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius [4 PL, 75pts]: Twin Cognis Lascannon [10pts]

Ironstrider Ballistarii [8 PL, 150pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius [4 PL, 75pts]: Twin Cognis Lascannon [10pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius [4 PL, 75pts]: Twin Cognis Lascannon [10pts]

Ironstrider Ballistarii [8 PL, 150pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius [4 PL, 75pts]: Twin Cognis Lascannon [10pts] . Ironstrider Ballistarius [4 PL, 75pts]: Twin Cognis Lascannon [10pts]

+ Flyer [14 PL, 300pts] +

Archaeopter Fusilave [7 PL, 150pts]: Chaff Launcher [20pts], 4x Cognis Heavy Stubber

Archaeopter Fusilave [7 PL, 150pts]: Chaff Launcher [20pts], 4x Cognis Heavy Stubber

++ Total: [100 PL, 6CP, 1,998pts] ++

The Troops and Ironstriders sit at parity with the best equivalents in other factions on their base rate, and the buffs available to units with the SKITARII CORE keyword combination in this book push them absurdly over the top, making them flat-out too strong. In both cases, widely available save manipulation is a big part of the problem, and it’s also too easy to crank up their offences. A Skitarii Marshall with Exemplar’s Eternity and Firepoint Telemetry Cache single-handedly cranks Ironstriders into stratospheric levels of efficiency, and the fact the auras work for multiple units is just gravy. Looking ahead, you also now need to account for the fact that the new Veteran Cohort allows one unit of these to be kept in permanent Bulwark Doctrina, with no restriction on stacking that with Firepoint. They are still, fundamentally, 6W vehicles so I don’t think you can push them too high, but a decent jump on lascannons and a minor tweak on autocannons feels reasonable.

I went back and forth on whether to go for a point increase on the Troops, but in the end I don’t think it can be avoided. Compare a Skitarii to a Battle Sister and the only thing that’s meaningfully worse about the Skitarii is the save for a three point price difference. As discussed, AdMech have a whole laundry list of ways to change that, and spectacular offensive buffs to apply as well. The Tech Priest Manipulus is the real standout here, and it’s worth stopping and comparing Galvanic Field with the Catechism of Repugnance buff that Sororitas Priests can throw out. Repugnance only works 2/3rds of the time, adds auto-wounds on 6s (which one flavour of Skitarii just has) and boosts AP within half range, the real prize. The Manipulus buff works automatically and grants an AP bonus to all shots, and increases the range of the guns. Oh, and that Skitarii Marshall that is definitely kicking around gives RR1s to these as well, just while keeping score. Skitarii start in competition for the best Troop choice in the game, and they very quickly take that crown as soon as the rest of the book gets involved. With the strats getting nerfed as well, you could maybe do a 1pt increase, but 2pts is much safer – it’s very clear from looking at results and analysing matchups that the builds sporting 60+ of these are just a different level of horrible to all the others. Alternatively, if you really want to leave the troops slot alone, significant hikes to the price of Manipulii and Marshalls are probably the alternative.

Infiltrators and Fusilaves are also both very efficient, but the reason they in particular need increases compared to the rest of the efficient units in the book is how much they add to the first turn damage output of the army. Between Infiltrators scout deploying and Fusilaves being bombers, it’s very hard for an opponent to prevent these from getting into the mix turn 1, and Infiltrators defences are good enough that unlike a lot of scout deploy units, they still take serious attention to kill when deployed up the field. Both of these units also have a lot of shots, making it exceptionally difficult for horde armies to compete. Sicarians are also another unit that are on the Veteran Cohort naughty list, as playing this Army of Renown gives them several exceptional new options at no cost to the unit.

Why It’s Proportionate

Right now AdMech can pack in so much high quality stuff that really only Drukhari are anywhere close to playing the same game as them. These changes go some distance to bringing them in line with the rest of the game, and should also help to encourage players to use a wider proportion of the roster – right now there’s no obligation to do anything other than plow your points into these five units and the supporting buff characters, and then maybe treat yourself to a very small number of other things.

What About Drukhari?

Credit: Wings

Astute readers may have run some numbers in their head and spotted that the impact of these changes is likely a bit harsher than those I proposed for Drukhari (which largely mirrored what happened). That is, broadly, true, for a couple of reasons:

  • The best AdMech builds feel nightmarishly oppressive on a level even Drukhari couldn’t manage.
  • The Drukhari changes probably needed to be a little harsher.

Not much harder on the latter point, but even after being down a peg it’s clear that Drukhari are operating on a level substantially above most other factions, and need just a little bit more tuning to get them back in line so lists that aren’t specifically built to gun for them have a fighting chance.

The problem with that, of course, is that more books are coming. Sisters hasn’t made the spectacular waves of AdMech or (release) Drukhari, but it’s still clear from some early builds that it’s a significant cut above the first few books of the edition, and can certainly compete with Drukhari as they are now. It’s possible that the power curve we’re trying to assess these new books on is just being wildly thrown off by the presence of 8th Edition holdovers, and the first few books of 9th being, well, just a little anemic compared to what we’ve seen since.

What’s very striking about lists built out of Sisters, AdMech and Drukhari is that your armies are pretty much all killer, no filler, save maybe 100pts spent chucking in a couple of objective holding MSUs. All three allow you to build your Troops choices as real alpha units, and are packed with stuff that is good at what it does, and ways to maximise every unit’s chance of performing. The first two books of the edition (Marines and Necrons) in particular are struggling in that world. Both pay a reasonably high premium for the basic building blocks, and that cost is predicated on the assumption of them being able durable enough to roll with the opponent’s punches and hit back. That’s just not really working any more – the new books get to put a bit more stuff on the table and it generally has lots of early reach. That allows them to take a big enough chunk out of clunkier Marine and Necron builds that it’s very difficult for them to fight back. Marines are faring a bit better because of the huge selection of supplements they have to build with (including Dark Angels, clearly built on the more recent power curve, and Space Wolves where a key unit is flat out cheaper than in other chapters because it got missed in a nerf), but Necrons are an increasingly rare sight anywhere near the top tables (and only break through with serious skew builds).

Rather than nerfing Drukhari again (and maybe if you go this route you could only take Skitarii down by 1pt), I think maybe a quick sweep through these books to re-calibrate some of their mainstay units for the terrifying world of mid-9th would be a better call? These books are far from all bad, and plenty of stuff feels decent, but the bread-and-butter stuff that you have to use to glue lists together feels like it’s been left behind. Buffing stuff is more fun for everyone than nerfs, and some boosts for the (very popular) early books are going to spark joy for a lot of people. I realise this is going to leave things a bit rough for players that don’t have a book yet, but at this point it’s pretty clear that pulling some of the game’s weakest factions with point changes alone isn’t going to cut it, and proposing what would essentially be another MFM pass a few months on just isn’t realistic. The reason I’m willing to plead a special case for Necrons and Space Marines is that they’ve clearly been calibrated for a less powerful period of 9th, and don’t have a new book in the pipeline to look forward to. Get them boosted up to a level where they’re operating in the same ball park as Sisters (easily the best pitched of the recent books) and you both increase the diversity of lists seen on tables, and also make it a bit less urgent to go in with sweeping balance changes the next time an over-pushed book is released – people playing games that are a bit skewed but winnable is a very different kettle of fish to the completely one-sided blowouts the current disparity can create.

With that in mind, here are my two options for other changes you’d want to bring in alongside the AdMech updates, and in general I’d be much keener to see option 2 tried!

Option 1 – A few more Drukhari tweaks

  • Succubi +10pts
  • Hellions +1pts
  • Incubi +1pts
  • Ssylth/Ghuls +2pts

This will tax most Drukhari lists by 30-50pts and that feels about right – they can still pack just a little too much stuff onto the table, and Succubi, Hellions and Incubi are by far the worst offenders for reliably trading up into almost everything.

Option 2 – Discounts for Early Codexes

Assault Intercessors. Credit: SRM

  • Marines
    • Intercessors -2pts > 18pts
    • Assault Intercessors -1pts > 18pts
    • Heavy Intercessors -2pts > 26pts
    • Tacticals/Assault Marines -2pts > 16pts
    • Infiltrators -2pts > 22pts
    • Incursors -1pts > 20pts
    • Hellblasters -3pts > 30pts
    • (Chapter equivalents down similar amounts)
  • Necrons
    • Warriors -2pts (flayer) -1pt (reaper) > 11/12pts.
    • Immortals -2pts > 15pts
    • Lychguard -2pts > 26pts
    • Triarch -2pts > 23pts
    • Deathmarks -2pts > 16pts
    • Flayed Ones -2pts > 11pts
  • Death Guard
    • Plague Marines -2pts > 19pts

Mostly these changes focus on the first two books, with just a little look-in for Death Guard at the end. That book is mostly fine, but Plague Marines have slightly fallen foul to the same issues seen in the others – their statline looks fine for the cost, but the difficulty of getting them to where they need to be to actually do stuff stops that from mattering nearly as much as it should. The rest of the book is clearly fine, as we’re seeing plenty of lists on the top tables, just not with very many Plague Marines.

For Marines and Necrons the changes are a bit more sweeping, with a substantial portion of foot-slogging squads earmarked for a price cut. It seems like a lot of units, but I mean look at them. Quite a few of these things start to look “competitive” at the proposed price tags, but are they going to be meta busting? Maybe there’s a Dark Angels list that’s a bit much with some of them (but that’s more of a Dark Angels problem than a Marine problem), and maybe spamming as many flayer Warriors as possible turns out to be a bit of a headache, but compared to what we’re seeing from other books right now? It just feels like it’ll spice up the metagame with some variety, and that sounds good to me.

When?

The last thing that needs to be considered in proposing changes like this is when they should happen. Drukhari ended up being serendipitously timed to align with the big FAQ released in June, but assuming we’re on a six month cycle for those like in 8th, waiting for the next clearly isn’t an option. My suggestion would be early-mid August, which is 8-10 weeks after the book’s initial launch. That roughly lines up with the timeline on the Drukhari nerfs and sets a decent precedent – it gives you a month after the 4-week FAQ to check if any corrections made in that have solved the problem, plus will usually give a chance for the next book to hit the tournament scene so you can acid test whether that has completely re-calibrated the metagame. It’s also soon enough that it builds confidence that things won’t be left to linger for a prolonged period when they’re properly dire. Finally, while we’re not expecting to see that happen in this case, it’s easily long enough that if someone is going to find an “answer” among the tools available, it’s going to surface, and you can dial back changes before publishing as needed.

Wrap Up

That’s that, for now. I was hoping Drukhari was going to be a one-time thing (and the quality of the Sisters book builds some confidence that this won’t happen every codex) but we have to be consistent in how we approach this stuff, and right now AdMech are a big problem. Let us know in the comments what you think of the proposed changes, and we’ll see you next week in Competive Innovations to see how the latest builds are performing. Questions or suggestions to contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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