With the rollout of the winter AoS FAQs surprising us and less than twenty-four hours old, what will the impact be one the competitive scene? Let’s find out.
Addendum: A couple late changes came in after this article was written. I am leaving the original text intact, but look for bold text with further additions.
After an unexpected, early, drop of the January Age of Sigmar balance changes, many players are left adjusting lists, and thinking about the future. With the, not-terribly-smooth, roll-out of all of these changes now posted, we can begin digesting the information.
Elephant in the room. Going into these changes we had a handful of armies that were too new to expect anything much for. Orruk Warclans and Bone Reapers (as well as Cities of Sigmar, and Ogor Mawtribes) are still in the process of shaking up the meta. With their impact yet to be fully realized, a lack of changes here is fine. That said, many, many, competitive AoS players were going into these changes with an eye on Hedonites of Slaanesh, and, to a lesser degree, Flesh-Eater Courts, as well as Daughters of Khaine.
All three armies have sat atop the competitive stats for some time now, and each represent the armies furthest outside of being statistically “balanced”, with win-rates ranging from the upper 60% to 70%+. All three have received changes, but to say they aren’t the changes expected would be an understatement.
Let’s get the simple changes out of the way first. Daughters of Khaine and FEC saw zero points increases, or notable rule changes. Instead the designers opted to try to increase build diversity by dropping the costs of maligned units such as Melusai and Crypt Horrors. These units, while already fun and viable in more casual play, tended to be inefficient at tournament levels. These points decreases are very modest, however, and still don’t address the fact that these units lack a role that other units in their respective lists don’t already fill. Functionally, these armies are unchanged, competitively speaking.
Hedonites of Slaanesh had more significant changes, as nearly all players agree, were needed. While having no points changes, the approach was instead to alter the Depravity Point costs of summoned units. The most significant change was to summoning Keepers of Secrets, and giant blobs of Daemonettes. Both went up 50%, while the remaining summons saw increases spanning 15-40%.
The issue, is that in not fundamentally considering how Depravity is generated, competitive Slaanesh are driven even further towards the raw efficiency, and DP generation of multiple Keepers of Secrets, and other massed heroes. Ironically, a further change to their Loci (now triggering on a 5+) makes Keepers even more appealing.
It feels safe to say that these changes will slightly moderate the most extreme summoning excesses the army was known for, but may have inadvertently hurt build diversity even more, and leaving a, frankly, problematic army, still sitting atop competitive standings.
Since the time of writing this, an additional universal change has been rightly brought to my attention. As Loci triggers in the charge-phase, any army with “strikes first” command abilities such as charging Gristlegore Flesh Eater Courts, or Hemdar Fyreslayers, that occurs in the combat-phase, will not bypass said Loci. This is technically another de-facto nerf to Hedonites, though still creates a haves-vs-have-nots situation where armies without such a trick likely still have an up-hill battle against Slaanesh.
Moving on, the majority of remaining armies saw largely positive, and sometimes very significant changes.
Fyreslayers received two changes which I can only see as buffs. Vulkites saw a twenty-point price cut which should help MSU units be a more tempting proposition for backfield objective holding and screening.
More dramatic is a change to Hearthguard Berserkers which now have a maximum unit size of twenty, rather than thirty, but get their horde bonus of an eighty point savings at this new max size. This is covertly a huge gain. Players of Fyreslayers would often feel obligated to take thirty Berserkers for the tremendous savings in points, but would end up with an anvil unit which rarely lost many models, but proved unwieldy to keep fully within buff ranges, and with many models never contributing to combat. These new twenty-model units should prove more agile, and the saved points actually help with over-all table control/presence, when spent elsewhere. Big, albeit not flashy, improvement for the army.
Other army improvements come in the form of simple, bulk, points reductions. Somewhat worth mentioning are both Beasts of Chaos and Sylvaneth. Sylvaneth centerpiece models including Allarielle and all flavors of Treelord have seen pretty hefty point reductions, while Beasts of Chaos see wider ranging reductions with standout, significant reductions to Doombulls and Minotaurs which may actually be big enough to see them star in a few eclectic, or fringe meta lists. Whether these armies, and fellows such as Deepkin, and Stormcast, improve enough to shake up their standings remain to be seen, but improvements are improvements and should only help.
A small shout-out to the inexplicable point cut for the caster version of Gloomspite Gitz (more on them this Friday, wink wink) Arachnarok. Already a bit under-costed for its utility, I suspect these will sell quickly in the next few weeks at a now crazy point-cost.
Interestingly, Tzeentch, Seraphon, and Kharadron Overlords received literally no changes. Obvious money is on these three being the next three book releases, as the later two in particular, suffer from their lack of 2nd Edition Battletomes. Expect all three books before July.
A final class of changes come in the form of armies which received actual new rules. Among these are Maggotkin of Nurgle, and Skaven. Maggotkin special rules that yield bonus attacks on 6’s, have now been reworked to “natural sixes” passively helping this armies in any match-ups where hitting debuffs would hurt them disproportionately. Skaven meanwhile saw a few point changes, and a more significant one decreasing Stormfiend max unit sizes (to six, from nine), but the most “meta” change is the outright replacement of the entire Plague Monk warscroll. The willingness for designers to issue an entirely new warscroll is worth mentioning. This unit tended to receive buffs so well, and hit so above their pay-grade, that a humble point tweak was unlikely to fix them. I suspect the new warscroll will also homogenize their weapon profiles, not unlike those of ‘Ardboys in their new book, as rolling mixed weapon units of Monks was famously time-consuming at tournaments. (Edit: As of moments ago, it seems this was correct. Monks, after all math-hammer are roughly 20% weaker in damage output)
Obviously I encourage everyone to read their respective FAQs for a more inclusive list of changes, but my immediate general take-away is one of slight confusion, coupled with modest improvement to the tournament community. Clearly elevating the majority of armies that needed help is a positive, though one of degrees in cases where armies struggled with core mechanical issues. The bigger surprise is how little I expect the broader scene to change, with the problematic outliers still remaining essentially intact. With the next round of changes not expected until 2020’s General’s Handbook, I wonder if we will again hear rumblings of the community taking into its own hands, the particular boogeyman that are the Hedonites, an oft-whispered topic I had heard throughout this fall from major event organizers.
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