Study Smarter, Not Harder

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How many of you have walked up to a table, and had a vague idea of what your opponent’s army did, but didn’t really understand the ins and outs of how it worked? How many of you have completely underestimated the damage output, durability, or speed of a unit before? What if I told you there’s a magical trick you can use to never have that happen again!?

Well there is!

When people receive advice on how to prepare for a tournament one of the common things they hear is that they should study everyone else’s army. And, as valid as that advice is, it’s only so pragmatically effective. There are thousands upon thousands of rules in 40k, and nearly infinite interactions between units, stratagems, traits, powers etc… Sitting there with a Harlequin Codex at 3am under the blanket with a flash light trying to figure out how far a Solitaire can theoretically move in a turn may not be the most practical way to learn things. Memorizing what the Tyranid Stratagem Grisly Feast does, and knowing its applications might sound like it’s imperative to your success as a 40k player, but I promise you it’s not. However, Tide of Traitors or Agents of Vect might actually be something you need to know. So, I guess the question comes down to how do you know what to study, and what not to study?


There’s a simple answer here, and it’s essentially follow what people are using and use that as your guide. Remember in high school, when you cut every corner imaginable to just study the minimum amount to get by? There’s actually some merit to that. Study smarter, not harder. Do some basic research, follow tournament results, join Nights Pro to listen to me narrate the meta to you in real time every week, and see what people are taking. If you see 4 Knight armies in the top 8 of the Boise GT maybe you should read the knight codex. If you see Bullgryn and a Shadowsword winning the Boise GT, then it might make sense to familiarize yourself with those units, and any strats or psychic powers that may potentially combo with them. If you follow this process enough then you’ll eventually have a fairly decent understanding of how all the popular unit in 40k works.

But, vaguely knowing of what your opponent’s army can do is only part of the battle my friends.

It’s tournament day, you show up to the table, and you’re playing against some obscure Ad Mech/Sisters of Battle/Custodes army you’ve never faced. You’ve followed some tournaments and you know Shield Captains are popular because they’re solid combat characters or something, and you know Celestine comes back to life and something about faith which you don’t really understand. Your plan for the game at this point is basically shoot anti tank-weapons at the tanks, and shoot anti-infantry weapons at the infantry. Shoot the punchy people and charge the shooty people.

So, how should you proceed? Don’t ask me ask your opponent, silly!

But seriously, for whatever reason, time and time again I see people who have a moderate at best understanding of what their opponent’s army can do not ask questions. This will not only hurt your ability to win the game, but also stunt your growth as a player. That said, it’s inappropriate to just ask your opponent “How does your army work?”. That’s ambiguous, vague, and just too all encompassing to answer. So, here are some better ways to ask questions!

When you show up to the table and see that Ad Mech, Sisters, Custodes list you might want to start off with clearing up your understanding of faith. A simple “Could you just explain how faith works really quick, I’ve played against it before, but I just want a refresher.” This is friendly, not abrasive, specific, and doesn’t convey that you have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s imperative to toss in “I’ve played against it before” as an insurance policy. Against a stranger, you have no idea if he’s the type of guy who may want to try and take advantage of your lack of knowledge, so tossing in the idea that you know what it does (even if you don’t) should de-incentivize him from trying to pull something shady. Not, that you should ever assume the worst in people, but it’s a harmless little social trick you can pull as an insurance policy.

As deployment starts going I like to ask my opponent if there’s any way he can infiltrate (scouts, alpha legion etc… or redeploy eg. phanstasm). If no, carry on as normal, if yes, ask more specifically what/how and then act accordingly. If your opponent puts stuff into deep strike, ask if there is any way to charge further (bloodletters/blood angels charging 3d6 for example, and once again, act accordingly. Finally, you may want to ask if there is a way to teleport once the game starts (veil of darkness, dark matter crystal, upon wings of fire), and as always, act accordingly.

These are fairly common exceptions to normal rules, so ask if your opponent can make use of any of them before it’s too late. Better safe than sorry!

Maybe during your movement phase ask if there’s anything funky you should know about. Is there any way your opponent can interact with you during your movement phase (eg. deathwatch shooting Eldar if they move close to them). In the movement phase I like to ask my opponent to point out his psychers so I can premeasure 24″ from them when moving to stay out of deny range. Additionally to that, you may want to ask if he has any other ways to deny your powers (hint hint- Sisters do!)

Basically, anything out of the norm that could theoretically screw you is something you should strive to find out about before it’s too late.

While this may seem a bit tedious and annoying, it rarely if ever plays out that way. Typically, there aren’t too many questions I need to ask my opponent personally, but if you are new to the competitive 40k scene, and relatively inexperienced then instead of asking your opponent a series of individual and hyper-specific questions, ask the more general “Is there anything weird that your army can do that I should know about, like can you intercept my deep strikers, block psychic powers unexpectedly, pile in further than normal?” ***pause***

That kind of question/phrasing puts pressure on your opponent to tell you anything abnormal out there for your knowledge. You’ve touched on multiple phases of the game, meaning your question is asking if there is anything abnormal your opponent can do at any point. You’ve also left it pretty open ended, which actually works in your benefit. If you ask a series of specific questions without the implication of wanting more knowledge than what you’re asking for specifically, then once your opponent answers that question his obligation is fulfilled and if he gets you later on a question you didn’t think to ask, that’s on you. Asking ambiguously specific questions (as demonstrated above) puts the onus on your opponent to be up front, and not get you with an “I gotcha”

Let me show you what I mean. You’re playing against the Ad Mech/Sisters/Custodes guy and ask him “Hey do you have anything that can intercept my deep strikers?” Your opponent replies: “Yeah my Ad Mech have a strat that let’s me shoot you if you come in within 12″ of them”. Your opponent has fulfilled his duty to answer the question honestly. Later on, you charge a unit of Sisters, then your opponent uses his Stooping Dive strat on his Custodes, counter charges you, and kills all your Khorne Berzerkers and you lose. Feels bad, and easily avoidable if you knew it existed. But why would you even think to even ask about stooping dive?


Well try this instead. Beginning of your turn 1 instead of asking the hyper-specific question “Hey do you have anything that can intercept my deep strikers?” ask “Hey is there anything weird that your army can do that I should know about, like can you intercept my deep strikers, block psychic powers unexpectedly, pile in further than normal?” ***pause*** Your opponent will then say something like “Yeah I can intecercept with my Ad Mech, and my Sisters can block psychic powers.” Your opponent may not even touch on Stooping Dive at this point because he might not honestly be thinking about it. So, you continue on with your game, you’re both having a good old time, and you reach the point where your Berzerkers want to charge the Sisters.

This can unfold one of two ways- More often than not I’ve found, because of the way you set the tone from the game early on with the phrasing of the initial question your opponent will say something like “Hey just so you know I can Stooping Dive.” Because if he doesn’t he would be failing to fulfill his duty to answer honestly when asked if there’s anything abnormal his army can do. Then you adjust and act accordingly.

Now, you might get someone who doesn’t tell you, and then tries to Stooping Dive you anyway with the “gotcha moment”. First off, don’t be that guy. Second, if you’re playing against that guy that’s okay too. You can start off by saying something like “I asked you earlier if there was anything weird you could do in the assault phase, and you didn’t tell me about this.” There’s no real defense against this, the only reasonable recourse, from here is to just say “Sorry, I didn’t think of it, would you like to do something else now that you have the knowledge I was obligated to give you before.” Then you just go back and adjust accordingly. And then of course once every blue moon you’ll run into that #$*&$*& guy and he says something like “No you didn’t ask about Stooping Dive” which is kinda sorta technically true I guess. In these ultra rare situations there’s not much you can do. Just keep your head up, try to make the most of it, and own the fact that you probably should have done more research on Shield Captains before.

Part of why it’s so imperative to have a friendly game at a tournament (aside from the obvious- you’re playing a game of toy soldiers as your hobby, you’re supposed to enjoy it, and the general why you should be a good person) is also because it’s actually advantageous to you to have a good time. If you were being friendly and amicable the whole time, then the odds your opponent will follow through with the potential course of action where he says “Screw you buddy, I’m Stooping Diving you anyway!” are greatly diminished.

Anyways, that turned into a short story about how not to get Stooping Dived, but the point was actually much more so about not being afraid to ask your opponent questions, but doing so in an intelligent, deliberate, and friendly manner. No one can possibly know every rule and interaction in 40k, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it! So, next time you play some guy and you aren’t 100% comfortable with the ins and outs of his army, try to really change your mentality about asking questions and how you ask them. You’ll learn a lot more about the game, and you’ll probably have a much better experience with your opponent as well!

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3 years ago

“Researches Stooping dive”

Well….shi#%$@t. (Looks under table for ork codex)

Charlie A.
3 years ago

Thanks Nick! This is super useful and practical advice. There’s a lot more about “getting gud” than list building and knowing the ins and outs of your own list. Managing all the unknowns that are likely to exist goes beyond reading other codexes, which I appreciate you touched on. There’s always that social contract part of the game and you’ve given some great advice on how to navigate that. Great article!

Davis Centis
Davis Centis
3 years ago

I can’t say I agree with the way you’re going about it. People do forget their corner-case scenarios. At the same time, it’s also considered bad form to ask to take back an in-game action. While in a casual game, you definitely should allow take-backs, in a competitive game, asking for take backs both slows down the game, and rewards less experienced players. Neither of those results are things that I would like to see at the top tables. I like seeing the best players get to the top tables (which, frankly, is not myself – I can do good, but not great), and the best players really do need to have all the main tricks memorised, and props to the newcomers who find a great way to get to the top tables with something unexpected. If they do so, and others follow suit, then a new meta emerges and the top players learn those tricks.

Gotchas suck for newer players, but your ability to know and avoid them is part of the success of great players.

I think a first two questions of “Hey, do you have anything that gives you extra shooting, moving, or charging actions? Also, do you have anything that lets you infiltrate/deep strike or punishes infiltrators/deep strikers?” are the main two questions you should be focusing on. If they lie to you (they say “no”, and then immediately set up stuff in deep strike/infiltrate), then you could probably call a judge. Otherwise, you’re pretty much on your own.

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