While many of the recent competitive AoS events were revelatory in terms of what much-hyped armies failed to make their mark, the story of other events was all about what can happen when powerful interactions slip through the cracks.
If last week was a bit of a discussion on not chasing the meta, out of its capricious nature, and also the times it ends up being a misfire, then this can be considered a companion piece for those times when something sneaks out and utterly destabilizes a game for one brief moment in time.
To provide a bit of context, LVO, Cancon, and the first Warhammer World heats told two very different meta-stories; The difference being, while LVO did not yet allow the new Tzeentch and KO Battletomes to be utilized, the other majors did. The end result may have caught many off guard, as the traditionally solid (having always required a fairly high degree of player skill), Disciples of Tzeentch suddenly, and UTTERLY dominated.
What occurred was a case worth investigating and discussing. The phrase “perfect storm” comes to mind, but in actuality there were a lot of small design gaps where power was able to creep in at a greater than intended level.
Issue #1: The Changehost Battalion was an incredibly strong option, grandfathered in from an outdated book.
In an effort (one I generally appreciate) to not eliminate or invalidate armies or rules players had paid for, this Battalion from a simpler time was allowed to be used with a new book, with new rules, that never fully intended to co-mingle. The language of its marquee ability came from a less precisely worded stage of AoS’ development. What this meant was that players could, for example, trigger its immensely powerful “teleport” at any point in the Hero Phase. This alone created unparalleled hit-and-run spell-casting potential, and that was one of its least egregious uses.
Oh, and the entire army can elegantly become one-drop thanks to its broad and generous required units.
Further problems arose from the fact that teleported units could still move in the following Movement Phase which leads us to…
Issue #2: Already powerful rules can become outright broken when paired with unforeseen or old rules.
As part of the Tzeentch book’s new rules, the Hosts Duplicitous sub-faction pairs exceedingly well with Pink Horrors. In short, Pink Horrors of the Hosts Duplicitous along with a hero, become a functionally unkillable tarpit that also is unlikely to lose models to battleshock. In a vacuum this is a potent interaction, internally balanced through the shorter ranges and low speeds of Horrors.
A teleport AND a move afterwards suddenly creates an unkillable tarpit which can now lock you out of such a massive portion of the table, that it is functionally insurmountable.
The largest issue on display here is that this interaction undermines the design that went into the new Tzeentch book. As we have discussed in earlier articles, it is equal parts art and science that go into game design. Here the measured choices that go into making sure units such as Flamers and Horrors work in certain ways, pivoting around the expectation that they are shorter ranged, or slower, units, are undone. The ways in which you play to an armies strengths and work around their weaknesses, don’t mean much when you can just erase those weaknesses instantly.
Issue #3: No book is devoid of wording quirks, or odd interactions.
Destiny Dice, and the way in which they describe their “unmodified” dice replacement ability, created abusable, unclear, uses. The fact that battleshock losses that would literally be devastating, could simply be passed, or that save-rolls could be interpreted as now ignoring rend, feel, if we’re being honest, like the realm of rules lawyers, and rules abusers. Rather than go into the hobby-old argument of “rules as written vs. rules as intended”, I will simply say that imprecise language certainly ended up being a big part of the perfect storm I alluded to.
So where are we now, and what are some important things to take away?
Firstly, it must be said that EVERYTHING I have written up to this point reflects the state of the rules at the time of those events. Competitive players made the most of the tools available to them at the time, and those are fair and valid results. That said, many of those rules were immediately clarified in the recent FAQs for the Tzeentch Battletome.
As of said FAQ…
Destiny Dice have been reined in and their language expressly clarified.
The Changehost is a slightly more traditional redeploy, happening with specific “start of Hero Phase” timing, and forbidding movement afterwards.
It remains to be seen if these two changes will be significant enough to derail the high standing this army now has in a competitive setting, but it isn’t the intent of this article to fear powerful armies changing up the meta. The real reason I wanted to speak to this topic was two-fold…
Firstly, I think something needs to be said, all around, for showing restraint when new books/rules drop. Our competitive sport is a largely new one, still finding its footing, its best practices, etc… Knowing FAQs are always just around the corner thanks to the current GW ethos, I think there is value in waiting to allow rules in competitive venues. A brief time spent vetting and clarifying rules can make for better tournament experiences all around AND can help individuals who might drop large sums on a new book and army, only to see it perhaps wildly changed mere weeks later.
Secondarily, but perhaps more positively, I do think there is value simply being aware of the fact that the absolute bleeding edge of the meta, will both never do exactly what you expect, and probably isn’t where you should live, outside of the top-top-top levels of play.
As I continue writing this series, my main objective has always been to encourage the healthiest types of competitive play, while gently warning against the point where our terrific hobby can be… to be blunt… a trap. At the end of the day, the vast majority of players should strive to be the best players they can be, while enjoying their particular take on the hobby to its fullest. It remains a game where we will often play games against others we know, and will continue to share games with them for some time. Not chasing the dragon (unless Tyrion is riding it), and playing to the spirit of the rules, will keep even hardcore competitive players happier, longer.
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