What It Takes to be a 40k Champion

Hello all!

Rawdogger here to talk about top level Warhammer 40k top tournament players and what it takes to be a champion.


I want to let you in on a little secret of mine, dear readers.  I’m not very good at Warhammer 40k.  I know, you may want to have a seat after reading that bomb shell.  Oh, I can name off special rules and stats like a champ, but when it comes to the actual skills it takes to be a top table tournament player I tend to be more of a chump.  I constantly find myself making the same mistakes over and over again.  I also write subpar lists and even when I take a “net” list I still make mistakes that have me at the mid-low tables consistently.  A lot of forum trolls will write off 40k tournaments as a battle of the new hot list, and while there may be some merit in newer codices dominating top tables, there is one constant that keeps me believing there is semblance of skill required to compete at that game level.  That constant being the same players turning up time and time again on the top tables of major 40k tournaments.  Names like Tony Kopac, Alan Baramaramvich, Bill Kim, Alex Fennel, etc.  It’s actually more of a surprise when the winning player of a major tournament is NOT one of the regulars.  So what makes these players turn up at the top table on such a regular basis?

  • Knowledge – These guys not only know their army inside and out but they know YOUR army inside and out.  This goes the same with rules knowledge from the main rulebook.  Knowledge of your opponent’s capabilities will keep you from making that ‘oh shit’ face when a Tau army intercepts your whole damn Deathwing army on Turn 1 (yes this happened to me).  If you know  what your opponent is going to do and is capable of before you even deploy you’ll be in a much better position from the get go.
  • Practice – I am constantly changing my list.  Constantly.  I have one bad game and its into the bin for the list and I start on a new one before the ink’s dry on the score sheet.  Guys like Kopac and the other top tournament players will play the same list over and over and over again.  Any loss is studied and replayed until they understand how to overcome the obstacle.  By the time a tournament comes around, these players have played their list so many times and against such a wide range of opponents they won’t be surprised by anything they see on the tabletop.
  • Details – How many times have you won the roll to pick deployment and have simply said ‘ fuck it I’ll take the side I’m standing on’ or felt bad making your opponent move their models to a different side of the table?  You know who doesn’t do that?  CHAMPIONS.  Good players will take the time to analyze the battlefield and choose the deployment that will give them the biggest advantage in the game.
  • Levelheadedness – When things start to go bad, I panic.  I start to get down on myself and blame the dice.  We’ve all been there when things start to go south.  Instead of really buckling down and thinking on how to play to the missions in order snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, I tend to make rushed actions that tend to make things go from bad to worse.  Good players will analyze the best way to overcome their disadvantages and get back into the fight.
  • Clearheadedness – A lot of tournaments include copious amounts of adult beverages.  Nothing wrong with grown ass men wanting to sip on a cold one while moving army men around a tabletop.  However, most top players will refrain from imbibing too heavily during tournament play.  Now, there are certainly exceptions to the rule, as Alan Baramanitz is well know to be ‘loose’ during tournament play and he is constantly winning over sober jabronies.
  • Taking Dice out of the Game –  A wise drunk once told me that the way to become a 40k champion was to take the dice out of the game.  It was funny at the time but he was absolutely right.  It’s easy to say ‘oh if I hadn’t of rolled a 1 on the bottom of turn 5 I would have won the game’ but let’s face it if your entire victory hinged on that one die roll than you really didn’t play that well in the game.  Yes, a large amount of luck in the die rolls takes place in a game of 40k but there is a lot that good players do to mitigate the fallout from a batch of bad dice rolls.

So what do you think it takes to be a top 40k tournament player?  Is it really just the lists that get them to the top so consistently or do these names we see time and time again really have a skill level that is so unattainable by the majority of players?



About Jason

Raw Dogger, aka, Phat J Sleaze (formerly of the Booty Boyzzz) is a highly opinionated, questionably skilled 40k enthusiast. When not working at Frontline Gaming, he can be found down on Jabroni Avenue.

21 Responses to “What It Takes to be a 40k Champion”

  1. Mercutioh July 30, 2015 1:28 am

    How to win in competitive 40k tourneys.
    Step 1. Do not be me.
    Step 2. No seriously avoid being me at all costs.
    Step 3. Listen man I warned you…
    step 4. Profit

  2. Lord Krungharr July 30, 2015 5:28 am

    Yep, that’s why I don’t place high in major tournies. All that stuff. I think the idea of using the same army for a while is a good idea. That can get boring though can’t it?

    • fluger July 30, 2015 7:32 am

      I made one list for my Orks that I used without change from the beginning of 5th to the end of it.

      • Warmaster_GIR July 30, 2015 8:19 am

        Did pretty much the same thing with my Chaos Space Marines for all of 5th ed. Only minor tweaks between lists, and I had the list scaled from 1250-2000 points so that it would usually play the same regardless of points.

  3. Ghost Valley July 30, 2015 5:36 am

    I’ve been playing this game for a long time and anyone who says that skill plays no part and it is only lists and dice that decide a game, is simply wrong.

    I think all the factors you list are great and would add another in regard to tournament play, and that would be Stamina. Playing 6 or more games over a weekend is grueling and my losses will inevitably come on the final game of each day. I get sloppy and make mistakes due to fatigue or what not.

    Also, I really agree about the dice. Yes sometimes you want to throw them across the room, but blaming them or using them as the reason you lost – even if they were 😉 – will never help you learn from your mistakes because you wont be looking for mistakes – just new dice.

    • Jason
      Jason July 30, 2015 7:38 am

      Right? After a full day of gaming in a competitive environment all I want to do is hit the shower and then the pillow. It takes a TON out of you. You’re constantly sweating also. I don’t know how these guys who go out drinking until 2 after the first day of tournament show up on day 2. Those guys are the real champions.

      • Ghost Valley July 30, 2015 9:05 am

        I agree. Mostly I’m just trying to not use the bathroom during the game and keep most of my flop sweat from splashing my opponents models

  4. Plains of War GT July 30, 2015 7:20 am

    Nice Article! I do hate when people try and say its always ‘Net lists’ that win major events. while it usually is some variation of a net list (there are exceptions of course) this article sums up a lot of other things that are huge factors that most complainers fail to take into account.

  5. Hotsauceman1 July 30, 2015 7:30 am

    What it takesto be a good 40k player?
    Money and a job that allows you good time off.
    and practice.

    • Jason
      Jason July 30, 2015 7:35 am

      You don’t sound like a champion to me

      • Hotsauceman1 July 30, 2015 7:48 am

        Damn right I aint!!!!
        I aint got that Barnes and Noble money.

  6. fluger July 30, 2015 7:38 am

    “Taking Dice out of the Game” This is why I prefer horde armies in general. I’m basically forcing my opponent to roll average to beat me. Having more bodies means I can do more stuff and cover more ground. Also, Orks REALLY appeal to me because the expected return on most of what they do is either average or below average. To whit, if my scatter-laser war walkers only hit with 6 out 24 shots, It’s a rough day, but if my lootas get 18 hits out of 24, it’s a great day! Same with 6+ armor vs 2+ armor. Orks save as often as terminators fail, but when there’s a blip in the expected return, it effects me in a very positive way as opposed to a very negative way (I make 3/4 saves vs failing 3/4 saves for example).

    To expand upon your example, the best players are making the best choices about stuff that they can control, and that’s almost always movement and deployment. I’d say most top-flight generals make their bones with precise movement and deployment because they can see how the game is going to develop based on the lists, the mission, and the terrain.

  7. iNcontroL July 30, 2015 8:35 am

    Agreed on all points.

  8. Warmaster_GIR July 30, 2015 8:38 am

    To me one of the hardest things to do since the release of 6th Ed and especially now in 7th ed is playing the same list. There are just so many options and army builds that I want to try! Back in 5th ed I could play the same list fairly often, but that was because I was working out of 1 book with no formations. My options were severely limited in comparison to now.

    I was also in school back then and only lived about 5 minutes from the game store so getting multiple repeat games in was really easy. Now I live almost an hour from my nearest 40k opponent and only really have 1 day off a week. So now with my time is so limited and my options so varied my desire to “practice” with one list has decreased dramatically.

    That’s just me though, I envy people who have the time and convenience to play the same list against a variety of opponents. Guess its just one of the drawbacks of living in rural area =P.

    • fluger July 30, 2015 9:11 am

      I’m in a very similar boat. Moved out of Seattle to a rural suburb of Tacoma and it’s all garage gaming for me now. 🙁

      I’m finally getting out of the early years of my kids so they require less direct supervision, so I’m seeing more free time in my future.

  9. Cooper Waddell July 30, 2015 9:54 am

    Wait just one god damn second…. you are telling me that you aren’t supposed to be hammered by round 3 of day 1 to perform well?

    Well then.

    • Raw Dogger July 30, 2015 12:21 pm

      Spoken like a true runner up

  10. Pajama Pants July 30, 2015 10:26 am

    Privileged to be mentioned in the article. Thank you for the consideration but I think its a lot of luck on my part as well.

    I think another big thing is knowing the tournament Meta. If you know the game well after reading the tournament meta you can figure out what is missing.

    ITC is a great example after I read the rules I saw that the LACK of TRUE D is missing at range but the remaining Stomps limits conventional death stars for sure since 1 Lucky Stomp and Death stars have a hard time making it back.

    What I later came to realize is that without true 6’s on ranged D the Blood Thirstier Fears nothing he is one unit and sure he can be killed against D in Close Combat but he tackles so many other issues before making it there. Also he has options that help him either keep away from the few things he is worried about. I feel like my ITC wins at Wargames Con and BAO was a big part of taking that model and a list to support him.

    I am doing the same thing now… my Mom looks like she is going to beat the crap out of cancer so I may end up going to NOVA…. and I already have a list I think counters their meta and brings the PAIN so freaking hard to all the lists I know are going to be there…. You will for sure hear about my list on the Pod Cast since I really really like my chances of winning with the list I plan to take.

    • Petey Pab
      Pablo August 3, 2015 4:00 pm

      I agree with this as well. A lot of major games like Magic:The Gathering, and Chess all have top players who hang out a couple of days before major tournaments and have what I call “Jacuzzi talk” They sit around a jacuzzi in the hotel and talk about the meta and what they might see. They swap list ideas and tweak their lists until they feel comfortable enough going into the tournament. Alan does a great job of doing this every tournament i’ve seen him in and it’s no surprise that he is the one who posted it.

      Rawdogger this is a great article with some really solid advice for anyone who wants to take their tournament game up a notch.

      Another thing I might add along is “mindset” top competitors from all sorts of sports have a specific mindset that gives them a competitive edge. I’ll use Geoff Robinson as an example, because I love the way he competes. I have heard people describe him as “intense” and “too serious” however I know he isn’t always like that. When he plays he concentrates and gives both the game he is playing and his opponent his full attention. If you want that mindset you don’t necessarily have to be the guy no one wants to have a beer with and play all the time, just when it matters most. Treat the 40k games you want to win seriously.

  11. Mike July 30, 2015 10:51 am

    Pretty good article, and lots of truth to it.
    The shortcut to being a top contender is to figure out the meta, research the missions, list build with both of those in mind, know the enemy armies, have a lot of experience with your own, know everything you can do via rules, (eg did you know you can have a measly razorback tank shock and crush a unit of canoptek wraiths if you set it up right?) never give up looking for a way to win during the game, and lastly, have a bit of luck, because once you get to the top tables, you WILL be facing people just as good as you who have also done their homework, and so those last couple games in a 6 round or higher GT will be more heavily influenced by dice than say…your tournament face stomper list vs. the “I’m just here for fun” guy you faced in round 1.

    I find in my top games against top players, rolls to determine who gets first turn choice, and end of game rolls are generally heavier than any rolls we throw out during the game.

  12. Brian July 30, 2015 11:08 am

    You missed Desire. You have to want to be that good to have a shot.