The competitive landscape is in an interesting place right now. Yesterday we had the second major event with an early concession following a devastating first turn. Furthermore, this event doesn’t possess any of the fig leaves that others used to write off the London GT results. The player who lost went first, is a very experienced player and the terrain on the board was sufficient for the edition. In many ways this is the logical outcome of the direction that Games Workshop has been pushing. To correct the ills of 7th edition where the best armies never died, they have been creating ever more deadly combinations in 8th and 9th. This leads us to today where many players are skewing their lists to either auto-win if they go first or to abuse terrain as much as possible if they go second. At this event we saw the return of the age old bogey-man the flyer-spam (alongside a healthy portion of buggys) which has vacillated wildly between amazing and terrible ever since the first ones were introduced in 5th edition.
Unfortunately, I anticipate that these Alpha/Beta strike lists will continue to be the norm in the competitive circles for a while. It seems likely that the next two books are going to be Genestealer Cult (GSC) and Custodes. While the latter may skew towards a durability-over-damage army style I anticipate the GSC will want to play the game in a similar way as Dark Eldar just with less flying 5++ tanks. The upcoming Black Templar book does seem to provide a lot of durability which is refreshing, but it is still too early to fully judge its impact. Currently Games Workshop only seems to know how to design armies that kill you in the open or that can creep up on you and kill you in terrain. While they have made some attempts at making units more durable, they have also not been able to mitigate the buffs to killing they give in the same book. Furthermore, the lackluster terrain rules can be easy to play around if you are blessed with the right units (ones that ignore line of sight or are aircraft).
So where do we go from here? As has been said before we are still pretty far behind the intended release schedule for 40k. While we don’t know how the game will play once all the books are revealed I find it hard to imagine that the future books will tone down the killing power in the game. Maybe if we receive rules for some army that neutralizes flyers and locks down infantry blobs and light vehicles we will see players select lists that favor durability over lethality. However, I believe that the issues with the game are more systematic and will require either a change in army detachment rules or in mission design which are bigger problems then any one FAQ can fix. I wouldn’t expect this issue to be addressed until the Summer of 2022 at the earliest. Until then we will need to hope that more frequent FAQ updates will address the more blatant offenders.
We’ve known for a while that Games Workshop has sought to use codex updates as a way to promote sales of certain kits. We also know that they don’t play test well (specifically that they don’t seem to listen to their play testers) and so some units and combinations will slip the net. Given these short comings, and the slow release of game-wide FAQs, I anticipate the competitive community will see a lot more of these types of games in the upcoming months. Worst of all, while TOs do bear some responsibility it really isn’t there fault. These games are the result of conscious choices by GW and they are the only ones that can fix them. TOs will have to continue to try and mitigate the impact of high-mobility high-damage lists while also not giving Dark Eldar armies infinite places to hide.
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