Jwolf here. The world has changed a lot since the last time I rated the armies (unless you are Necrons). Some armies have risen, others have fallen, and unsurprisingly some of the newer books have displaced older books in the top 50%. Without further preamble, here are my top 8 armies in the current environment of 40K. #1 Imperial Guard – The Guard top the list this year due to the vast panoply of killing tools at their disposal. No other army can bring the ability to break 5 Landraiders or kill 300 Orks to the table at the same time as well as the Guard can. Add to that the Psyker Battle Squad’s ability to neuter many of the toughest units in the game (Nob Bikers, Thunderhammer Terminators, Thunderwolf Multi-Character Bombs) and the Guard seem unstoppable. But it doesn’t stop there – add in a Daemonhunter Inquisitor Lord for an unlimited Range Psychic Hood and some Deep Strike defense, and you’ve got an army that just plain does everything better, except take hits. The too common fully mechanized Guard don’t much care about their troopers lack of armor though. It used to be that if you designed an army to kill Marines, you would be fine. Nowadays, if you aren't building your army with busting a dozen or more AV 12+ vehicles in mind, don't expect to be seated at the top tables at the end of the day.
#2 Space Wolves – No other army is as annoying to me as Space Wolves. Charging them isn’t better than being charged. Multiple deadly CC characters in every line troop unit. Long Fangs with Heavy Bolters and Missile Launchers at bargain prices. Four HQ choices per army, including one of the least balanced characters in the game (hint – his name starts with Nj, and ends with “he does what?!?!?”) The only real weaknesses that Space Wolves have is relatively low leadership (in this day and age) and no fast transports. But having the ability to reliably neuter the enemy Psychic Powers and deliver a beating even when charged gives the Wolves the #2 slot.
#3 Blood Angels – What would a Space Marine be if he was even more heavily hooked on Steroids? That’s right, a Blood Angel. Blood Angels do nearly everything that Marines do better, and have the Sanguinor and Mephiston, two combat monsters who turn the game into neutralizing them for many, many armies. (Either of these makes every Ork Warboss south of Ghazzy just disappear in a puff of smoke). Sanguinary Priests and their auras of amazingness mean that someone will be in the Land Raider after the assault troops disembark. And the Litany continues with WS 7 Dreadnoughts that can (and do) kill entire units per turn of close combat, Dreadnoughts THAT FLY, Baal Predators in the Fast Attack section, Meltagun pistols, and a Death Company that went from a cruel joke to a righteous killing doomsday device (Berserkers, except better for fewer points…) The only weakness that Blood Angels have is that they cannot take the numbers to handle getting dumped out of their vehicles early and they depend on getting the charge to maximize their assault power.
#4 Space Marines – Oh, how the mighty have fallen. With the arguably improved Marines in Blue and Red, the Space Marines lose a lot of their claim to fame. The best Marine armies will use Combat Tactics and Marneus Calgar to good effect, allowing them to not be shot by enemies that wish to charge them, and becoming essentially improved fearless troops. If Space Marines knew how to put slings on their Bolters, they would be higher than #4.
#5 Chaos Space Marines – Being Fearless gives CSM reliability in their Cult Troops. Yes, they are overpriced and weaker versions of Marines (and their various Cults, like Blood Angels, are even better), but they have some good strengths. No troops choice is fearless for less than Summoned Lesser Daemons, and who cares if they can do anything, when their job will be to stand in the right spot at the end of the game?
#6 Tyranids – With so many Psykers in the top armies, Tyranids get an effective bump due to their sheer volume of anti-psyker defense. Add it that The Doom of Malan’tai can ruin your day on the cheap, and that you can end up with more scoring troops at the end of the game (after losing a hundred of them) than you started with, and you’re on to something. Yes, some armies will be able to drop Tervigons reliably, but anyone spending those first crucial turns neutralizing the breeders isn’t thinning the herd coming their direction very much. And the curtain of Spore Pods that can segment the board and dump all sorts of nasty critters right into the midst of the enemy helps Tyranids climb in the rankings this year.
#7 Eldar – I’m a believer in Tournament results, and I’m seeing a lot of Eldar at the top tables. How can this be, when they’re overpriced and underpowered?
Eldar are very good at killing Rhinos and Chimeras.
Eldar help enemy Psykers reach the Promised Land very quickly.
A fortuned Avatar generates a reasonably solid area of fearlessness that can be used either to hold a line or let fleeing troops rally automatically, both of which have great tactical uses.
Wave Serpents and Holofields (separately) are great counters to the current melta-heavy armies.
Winning Eldar armies produced huge volumes of wounds, which allows the odds to kill off your opponents. Gone is the surgical strike of the Banshee, here now see the Scatter Laser War Walker squadron throwing a bucket of shots into those Terminators.
#8 Witch Hunters – Witch Hunters get a boost from their relative expendability and ubiquitous Stubborn 9 (that Book is everywhere) leadership. Sisters of Battle do exactly what you need your Marines to do most of the time, for fewer points AND the chance to break all the rules with Acts of Faith. Inducted Guard are a lot better value than they were when the Codex was written, and the inclusion of some Heavy Weapons Squads can fill in for the biggest weakness of the Witch Hunters, increasing the volume of anti-vehicle fire significantly. The Exorcist is still a workhorse, and Squadrons of AV 12 tanks are right to fear them.
Those are my thoughts on the top half of the field. I look forward to your comments, and I'm preparing to hear the lamentations as I explain why the bottom half of the field are the bottom half of the field next time.