Guest Editorial by Facepuncher: The Discipline of Upgrades

A guest editorial by Facepuncher on spending buying every single upgrade for every single unit in your list and why that is AWESOME!!

Greetings everyone. I was having a conversation with a buddy yesterday about how much fun I have been having running Death Company in a drop pod. As often happens with my home group of players, being the competitive bunch that they are, the discussion immediately moved to different units and the upgrades that you can/should run. The point of this article is not to tell you what army/unit/load out to take. Instead, I want to talk about the general principle of what I call Upgrade Discipline (UD) and share a little bit about what it means to me and how it might benefit your army list development. As you may have noticed, this article does have a competitive bent. If that is not your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are many aspects to the 40K hobby and competition is just one of them (and not even the most important one in my mind). Anyway, moving forward…

“It would just make them so much better…”

Let me relate an experience that I often have in my brain when I am developing a list. Maybe you can relate. I look at the GK codex entry “Paladins.” Full unit of Paladins at base cost of 55 points a model… times 10 = 550 points naked. Now comes the full struggle with the little voice in my head:

 “Yeah, but they would be SOOO much better with FNP for 75 points” “WOW, str 5 storm bolters is so good!!! They should really have psybolt ammo for 20 points.” “What if they get in a fight with Abbadon or Lysander? A warding staff at 25(?) point would really be good to have (I did not bring my codex to the coffee shop).” “Man, you can take 4 psycannons for 80 points. Those are good. I should take advantage of this opportunity to include them.” “WOOO… A Brotherhood Banner would be great at 25 points. 3 attacks are more than 2, right?”

Assuming I give into my passions, what was a 550 point Paladin unit is now around 775 points. Ok then, let’s take a break real quick. I want to clear up a few things that I am not implying/discussing with this example.

  1. This unit would not be more effective with any of these upgrades. Not true, it certainly would be. They all add something of value.
  2. A 775 point Paladin unit is too expensive/not good and you should not take it. Not true, this has been disproven many times (Blackmoore most notably).
  3. Taking one upgrade means you should take all upgrades. Not true, you can certainly just take one.
  4. The point cost of the upgrade is/isn’t a bargain for what it does.  I don’t know? Could be? Maybe we could discuss that in another article. I am not trying to illustrate a unit efficiency algorithm here. This article is on general list building principles.
  5. I suck because I play GK and use Paladins. Not true. I don’t play GK. I just own the codex and enjoy writing lists. This is just an example.

OK. GOOD TALK… Moving on.


Being naked is ok (The point)

Psychology time. Why is it that we don’t all walk around naked (aside from weather)? I personally don’t because I think my sense of fashion makes me better somehow and I am afraid someone might say something about how pasty white I am. In other words, I think I need upgrades to be good and I am afraid of what you might say about me if I don’t have upgrades. In the same way, I might be motivated to spend points upgrading a unit because I don’t think it is good without upgrades and I am afraid you might say something about how I did not take obvious upgrades. Did I hit the nail on the head? Maybe? Well… whatever, I am big on subliminal motivators. Anyway, returning to the Paladin example. We might ask ourselves: “Is a basic 10 man Paladin unit for 550 points good?” Heck yes it is!!! The basic Paladin is excellent for 55 points. It does not need anything else to be good. If this sounds odd, here is another way you might look at it. Ask yourself if you would take a unit of Paladins if they did not have any upgrade options (you can shift around the free Force Weapon options of course). I know I certainly would.

Ok. So being naked is ok, but why would I?

That is a good question, but unfortunately it is one that I cannot answer for you. I would be telling you what you should/shouldn’t do which I cannot possibly know since I do not know your army preferences and play style. Some people are able to make certain armies work where others cannot. I believe that there is such a thing as an objectively better/worse list, but the algorithm for devising such a thing is beyond me. My main point here is that you should feel comfortable not taking upgraded units and that it is a solid list design principle.

Well, what can you tell me bub? This is a tactics article, right?

Generally speaking, the tactical advantage of exercising UD is the opportunity cost of not taking the upgrades. That is to say that you will now have a bigger excess point pool to play with. In the example of the Paladins, the opportunity cost of upgrading them fully is around 225 points. If you do not upgrade them, you can now spend those points on something else. I think it is worth saying that the Paladin example is rather extreme. You might be thinking that, well… obviously it is easy to not take any upgrades when you have a base stateline like that. I agree. It is not on units like Paladins where I find exercising UD the hardest. The real struggle for me comes with units like BA assault squads. Power weapon: 15 points? Power fist: 25 points? Special weapons? 2 meltas… just 1? It is easy to think that the point cost is minor, but over the course of several units it tends to add up. What to do?

Developing Discipline

Here are a few suggestions I would make on how to hone the skill of UD:

  1. Try practicing with units/armies with no upgrades at all. This will give you a real idea of how a unit performs on the most basic level. Its strengths and weaknesses. It will also give you an idea of how the unit might fit in with your overall game plan and the other units you are including. After you do this for a while, try running the unit fully upgraded or specifically upgraded and compare the results. Figure out what works.


  1. Think about what you want a unit to do for you on a very specific level. In the broadest sense, I want a unit to either a) Survive and score. or b) Kill stuff. Sometimes both. Now get specific. If a unit is supposed to do “b” and kill stuff, consider how you want it to do that. Shooting? Assault? What kind? For example, one of the units I am currently running is a BA assault squad in a drop pod. The unit has 2 flamers and that is it. Its job is to drop down with the second wave, flame something annoying in cover like scouts or DE warriors, re-enforce an ongoing assault that the first wave units have not cleaned up, and then score on that objective in the opponents deployment zone (the one that the “annoying” unit was probably just sitting on). There have been times when I was like “Wow, I really wish I had a powerfist in there,” but they are the exception and the 25 points is normally better spent elsewhere.


  1. Try playing an Eldar list. Haha… No, really… I am serious. If you can, you should. Borrow your buddies to try it. I really learned the ropes playing Eldar. Look at their units. They are all very one dimensional. Hmmm… 10 man naked unit of Fire Dragons. What do these guys do again??? It made it easier to develop unit roles based on basic equipment loadouts. It also forced me to consider a more comprehensive game plan.


Are there exceptions to UD considerations?

In my opinion, no there are not. You should consider the point cost upgrades on each and every unit very carefully and plan accordingly. Even in take-all-comer units like Grey Hunter(GH) where taking the Wolf Standard for 10 points seems like a no brainer. For example, I run an army with 6 ten man GH units. In my experience, taking the banner is not necessary in all 6 units. Most of the time at least 2 units of GH will play a more supportive shooting role. I don’t find taking the banner necessary and it frees up a nice 20 points. These considerations also apply to outfitting characters. For example, I run a Chaplain with my drop pod Death Company unit. The power mace he carries is certainly not my favorite ccw. However, I stopped paying the points to upgrade it to a powerfist because it did not end up mattering that much. He is with the Death Company to buff them. The extra powerfist attacks rarely mattered. As it turns out, the Death Company marines were not really having a problem doing clean up without it.


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

6 Responses to “Guest Editorial by Facepuncher: The Discipline of Upgrades”

  1. edwin December 9, 2012 1:10 pm

    Wasn’t there a BoLS article about this sometime back? I can’t find it, but they even used the paladins as an example of too many upgrades (stupid paladins). They punched peoples faces off no matter what. I have been playing orks ever since I started playing and the phrase “Boys before Toys” has been mentioned nearly every game. Power klaw boss pole is all a nob ever needs as the kalw kills people and the boss pole keeps you from breaking when you get below the dreaded 50% line. Saved entire squads on more occasions than I care to count. Every other upgrade isn’t needed

  2. David Key December 10, 2012 11:50 am

    I don’t know. If there is, I did not read it. Thanks for the heads-up.

  3. Jeremy Veysseire
    MikhailLenin December 10, 2012 12:34 pm

    The Problem is Paladins is not a very good example and here is why: Upgrades are about optimizing the unit to accomplish a target goal and more often than not a lot of units have upgrades that do or do not share synergy well with other upgrades within the unit. By not taking all the upgrades but taking the ones that do share synergy well with each other, you are effectively choosing to spend the points in another unit that has better or on par upgrades that do share synergy for that other goal or not at all.

    Now here is why I state Paladins are a bad example, their Upgrades pretty much cover all the grounds of synergy but that is more of a result from the GK Codex. Psycannons are not only great at killing infantry, but great at anti-mech (and to some extent flyers). Spending those extra upgrade points on Master-crafting them is not like you are buying a different upgrade but literally just making them better. On top of that you still have the ability to exchange your Nemesis Force Swords for a Panoply of Choices to tackle different aspect of encounters you will find in game (Oh and you can Master-Craft them).

    You can have your cake and eat it too with Paladins.

    I won’t go into the whole Points overload on few units but Paladins are not an example I would take for this article or any units in the GK codex really.

    Now, perhaps an example using Sternguard…

    • edwin December 11, 2012 2:18 pm

      Paladins are a great example. A unit that can steamroll almost everything when optimized. But they will have that extra i10 steam rolliness when you throw in a quicksilver librarian. Oh! And a tech marine or two for more grenades. Oh! And might of titan for armor bane! You don’t need the extra bits to optimize .

      • Jeremy Veysseire
        MikhailLenin December 11, 2012 3:19 pm

        My Point is that all their Upgrades are effectively Multi-Platform Upgrades.

        Which defeats the point of being selective and smart about Upgrades.

        Its just Auto-Pilot Upgrading.

        • David Key December 12, 2012 3:41 pm

          Thank you for the feedback. I think I understand what you are saying. Correct me if I am wrong, but you think that Paladins are a “bad example” because all their upgrades are no-brainers and offer excellent synergy.

          If so, I disagree, spending points upgrading Paladins is not the same as spending the same points on a unit that does something similar to the upgrades. I like psycannons, but I would not take even 1 in a GK army. I think there is other stuff that is better given the state of the game right now. I do have a rather strange army building philosophy though…

          But anyway…. that is not the point. The point of the article is not about what upgrades are worth taking on Paladins or any other unit for that matter. It is about NOT taking them when it seems like an obviously good idea (as might be the case with Paladins).