40K Current Army Meta – LVO 2017


Today take a look at what armies are hot and who’s note in the 40K meta. You’ll be shocked!


An article written by Variance Hammer

As has become something of a yearly tradition here at Variance Hammer, I’ve done some number crunching on the 2017 Las Vegas Open 40K Championships, to see what there is to see.

And this year, what there is to see is interesting. A king has been unseated, to be replaced by pirates, renegades and daemons.

The Data:

The data used for this analysis is an unholy union of the tournament results found on Best Coast Pairings, last year’s LVO results (we’ll get to that in a minute), and the dump of ITC scores from this January I used for this post. The latter we assume is a reasonable standin for someone’s ITC score as they go into the LVO – not perfect, as there were some tournaments in very late January, but probably reasonable. I’ll get the dataset up on the Variance Hammer Github site soon, but that is in need of a major reorganization after the past few months.

Army Representation: The factions present at the LVO were a pretty broad swathe, with all the usual players there in force.


That’s a tiny picture, I know. By far the best represented were the Eldar, followed by Space Marines and Tau, with strong showings from Chaos Daemons, Chaos Space Marines, Cult Mechanicus, and the Dark Angels. This is pretty much the same as we saw last year. The singleton armies this year were Deathwatch and Militarum Tempestus. There’s somewhat middling numbers of everything else, and it’s good to see less powerful codexes getting played, though there are clearly some tournament favorites.

Player/Tournament Scene Contributions:

I’ve recently begin trying to more accurately estimate the role of a player in the performance of their army, rather than just the army itself. After all, there’s probably a wider difference between me playing Eldar and the top ranked ITC Eldar player than there is between a top ranked ITC Eldar player and a top ranked ITC Chaos Daemons player.

If by probably I mean “certainly”.

I tried to get at this a little bit with my analysis of Warzone Atlanta, but was flummoxed a bit by two issues. First, because WZA had grown a lot, many of the players there hadn’t played in the previous Warzone Atlanta, which meant I couldn’t really use “How did you do at the last one?” as a measure. Second, a lot of the folks in that region don’t seem to heavily attend ITC events, which made their ITC score nigh useless.

The LVO has neither one of these problems. I’ll model them both when I look at army performance, but let’s take a look for a moment at how well your incoming ITC score correlates with your battle points at the event:


Nicely, but not perfectly. Like the “Events Attended and ITC Points” correlation, it’s a nice quadratic fit – basically more ITC points is exponentially better, and there’s few really high performing players with almost no ITC points. On the other hand, there’s some very well ranked ITC players who had a very bad weekend from a performance standpoint.


An Aside for Math Lovers….

Now, lets also control for army performance (discussed below) to parse out just the effect of player skill independent of the army they chose. First, a brief statistical aside. I decided to jointly model both player characteristics (placing at LVO 2016 and incoming ITC points) and army selection at the same time, but a fair number of people are missing an LVO 2016 placing, and a smaller number are missing ITC points. Conventionally, the solution to this is to throw out anyone with missing values (this is called “complete case analysis”). Its bad for a number of reasons I won’t get into, but this year, I’ve used something called multiple imputation to handle that missing data problem. This is why, if you just rerun the model using my data on another machine you’re likely not going to get the same answer. /end statistical nerdery.

For the LVO, as they use non-integer battle points, I used a linear regression model, so rather than these modifiers being a multiplier of your score, this time they’re an addition to your score. For example, the “average” army is estimated to get a BP score of 103.95, and the modifier for a the Dark Eldar is 1.68, which means a Dark Eldar army statistically can expect a BP score of (103.95+1.68) or 105.63. Positive scores are good, negative scores are bad, and if everyone had a score of zero, it would mean army selection/player skill didn’t matter.

Controlling for army selection, the relationship between placement and ITC points remains largely the same, with a linear term of -0.94 and a quadratic term of 0.03 for ITC points divided by ten. What does that mean? It means that someone with 100 ITC points is expected to have (-0.94*10) + (0.03*10^2) or -6.4 BP below the average score, while someone with 450 ITC points is expected to have (-0.94*45) + (0.03*45^2) or 18.45 BP above the average score. That’s a fairly significant portion of what determines performance.

I also looked at previous LVO performance, which showed a pretty predictable linear trend of -0.13, meaning for each place lower in the 2016 40K Championships you placed, you could be expected to earn 0.13 less BPs. So the different between someone who placed 10th and someone who placed 60th last year? The model predicts the 60th ranked player will earn -0.13 * (60-10) or -6.5 BP compared to their 10th ranked opponent. Back to normal speak…


Army Performance:

 Now let’s consider army performance while controlling for player skill. The short version: Renegades won. Or well, kinda Renegades. A Renegades CAD along with Fateweaver, the Masque, and a Heralds Anarchic formation. We’re going to get to this later- “What does a faction at this point even mean?”

Importantly, in the Top 10 results, there were only three Eldar players overall, one each for Craftworld, Corsair and Dark Eldar, which makes me chuckle a little bit. And this is where things get interesting: This year, the Eldar were not particularly good.

That is not to say they’re bad. Oh no. But in terms of the way I’ve been modeling army performance recently, as how much an army can expect to have it’s score modified over an “average” army based on army selecting, they fared only middling well. Shall we look at them all? Below is easy army’s modifier, along with a 95% confidence interval for those who care about these things:

  • Chaos Daemons: 14.77 (0.56, 28.97)
  • Cult Mechanicus: 0.32 (-13.32, 13.95)
  • Eldar Corsairs: 25.70 (5.52, 45.88)
  • Chaos Space Marines: 1.19 (-9.97, 12.36)
  • Dark Angels: 14.47 (-0.38, 29.32)
  • Dark Eldar: 1.68 (-16.86, 20.23)
  • Deathwatch: 9.01 (-7.69, 25.72)
  • Eldar: 4.68 (-5.90, 15.26)
  • Grey Knights: 9.77 (-6.81, 26.35)
  • Genestealer Cult: 1.73 (-18.19, 21.64)
  • Harlequins:  11.93 (-3.96, 27.84)
  • Imperial Guard: -4.81 (-17.72, 8.11)
  • Imperial Knights: 0.54 (-11.99, 13.07)
  • Khorne Daemonkin: 22.57 (4.89, 40.26)
  • Militarum Tempestus: 24.79 (15.61, 33.97)
  • Necrons: -6.59 (-18.16, 4.99)
  • Tyranids: 1.89 (-10.14, 13.92)
  • Assassins: -7.83 (-40.37, 24.70)
  • Orks: -5.41 (-18.85, 10.73)
  • Renegades: 19.17 (-16.02, 54.36)
  • Renegade Knights: 2.89 (-13.26, 19.04)
  • Skitarii: -4.06 (-8.16, 14.12)
  • Space Marines: 2.98 (-8.16, 14.12)
  • Sisters of Battle: -7.30 (-28.64, 14.03)
  • Space Wolves: 15.55 (0.59, 30.51)
  • Tau: 0.19 (-11.54, 11.93)

Some Interesting Things to Note

Craftworld-primary Lists Weren’t Particularly Strong: While Craftworld lists were better than average, they weren’t by very much, and pretty firmly in the realm of many other books. This comes as a surprise compared to previous years, where Craftworld lists were indisputably the strongest lists there. There was evidence they were slipping when I looked at WZA’s results as well, and it’s pretty strong here. This was, in some ways, inevitable. The Craftworld Eldar have been strong for well over an entire edition now and highly overrepresented in the tournament scene, which creates a very strong selective pressure toward armies that can deal with the Eldar. And it appears they have have arrived.

Interestingly, there seems to have been some flight toward more exotic Eldar lists, like Corsairs, among experienced players that have served them well.

Chaos is Fine Now: Renegades, Chaos Daemons and Khorne Daemonkin all made strong showings, and Chaos Space Marine primary lists still dwell in the “middling fair” category. I’ll have a more detailed post on this (hopefully) soon, but the recent additions to the overall Chaos faction have done good things for them.

The Variability of the Tau: The Tau are the army parked most firmly in “middling-okay” territory in the LVO data, which is an interesting contrast to WZA where they were the strongest single faction there. To my mind, this comes down in its entirety to whether or not the Ta’unar Supremacy Suit is legal. That single decision has a huge impact on the performance of this faction, and says some very bad things about the balance of that particular unit.

Exotic Space Marines > Gladius: Like the Craftworld Eldar, the Gladius has been a feature of the tournament circuit for a long time, and it seems that the meta has adapted to promote armies that can deal with it. Both the Space Wolves and Dark Angels, the cornerstones of more exotic “Deathstar” style builds well outperformed their codex counterparts.

The Great Devourer Isn’t Delivering: Reading the Genestealer Cults codex, many commentators saw a lot of potential in their special rules. This doesn’t seem to be manifesting itself as tournament performance. It’s possible that they’re the type of list that’s “preying” on some of the generic point-and-click Craftworld lists, like Scatterbike Spam, but that this doesn’t carry them into the upper tiers. Or its possible that their awesome special rules aren’t enough to carry them through having somewhat middling stats overall. This remains to be seen.

The Performance of Prediction As with WZA, I wanted to see how well these models actually predict the results of the tournament – could something like this be used for forecasting? Below is a plot of the actual results of the tournament compared to that predicted by the model:


This is a vast improvement over the Warzone Atlanta model (primarily due to being able to build in more player-based characteristics), but still far from perfect. The red line would be perfect performance – the predicted score perfectly matching the actual score for each player. This model is fairly good at predicting most results in the tournament. And while it doesn’t nail the final results, it does a decent job. The predicted winner is in the top four actual results, and the actual winner of the LVO is similarly highly ranked in the predicted model. Predicting the winner like this does somewhat create what one might call the “Nate Silver Problem” – just because your model predicts an outcome is less likely, if it occurs that doesn’t mean you were wrong, just like if you fail a 2+ armor save it doesn’t mean it’s not better than a 4+.

There’s still room for improvement here, and I’m interested in working on a more match-based probabilistic model, but I’m decently happy with the results. There is, however, a looming problem…


What Does Faction Mean?

7th Edition has been one, continuous exercise in undermining the concept of a single codex army – culminating in the new Gathering Storm books, which just toss it entirely. Many of the top armies in the tournament, including the winners, were pretty Pick-n-Mix. So is it meaningful to call Lion’s Blade army with a Wolfstar a DA or SW army? Or an army with zombies and artillery from the Renegades list, a bunch of daemons, etc. – how truly is an “Assorted Chaos” army assigned to Renegades, Daemons, etc.? Yet something like “Chaos Daemons” is already imprecise – this could be a summoning heavy list, or a disastrously poor Daemonette-spam army. Merging anything further, into something like “Chaos”, “Imperial”, “Eldar” etc. threatens to wash out any nuance at all.

To be honest, I’m not yet sure how to handle this. Going down to list specifics is too cumbersome for what is, in essence, a hobby project, and would still involve subjectivity in deciding where to draw the line between what makes one list different from another. For the moment, primary faction seems a workable enough compromise.

  • hazal

    First good BOL article in a moon or two *thumbs up*

  • ZeeLobby

    Awesome breakdown. It’d be interesting to take this data and correlate it with the generals of these armies. At least at local events, I’ve observed it’s not often the faction that determines the winner, but a combination of faction and who is playing them. Recent winners locally haven’t been Eldar players, but it’s mostly because those who used to win with Eldar armies are now winning with another top tier army, not necessarily because Eldar are now weaker. This happens all the time in a competitive play. Most top tier players don’t want to take the same list, and win repeatedly, year after year. It gets boring.

    • DJ860

      I also wonder if there’s an element of changing to prevent their lists just being copied year on year. Almost as though they change to tackle the meta they shaped.

      • ZeeLobby

        Well. And this has been seen in WMH every year. The meta shifts and those who win buck the meta they created.

    • So I tried to get at this a little bit by including your ITC points before the event and your placement at LVO 2016. Those should both be estimates of “Player, independent of army choice”. There’s some other ideas that I want to explore, but they’re easier to do as the season progresses instead of wading through a whole season all at once while also painting Space Wolves for the Narrative, which is why I didn’t touch on it this year.

      • ZeeLobby

        Totally understandable. It’s definitely a long and arduous journey down that road. It doesn’t help that GW has done little to support the format and recording of competitive events. The ITC has finally gotten us to the point where we can start looking at such things, so that is pretty cool.

  • Defenestratus

    Look at this fake news.

    Eldar aren’t that great.


    That’s not what the enlightened intelligentsia of the BoLS commentariat have taught me.

    I trust them more than solid analytical numbers.

    • Karru

      Well, considering that the vast majority of them are comparing Eldar to the “mid-to-low” tier armies like Orks, Tyranids and pre-Traitor Legion CSM, they are still right. Eldar are broken by their standards. Unfortunately for Eldar, there are more broken armies to face in the tournament scene!

      • Jabberwokk

        Eldar on the level of Tyranids? Oh how the mighty have fallen.

        • Karru

          That would be the day. They were near them during 5th edition, but not at the same level. Then came 6th and, well you know the rest.

          • Jabberwokk

            I preferred 4th. 9th Terv spam was gimmicky but fun. And yes the rest is a sad sad tale of lies and betrayal. 😀

          • Karru

            I still love the 6th edition ‘Nid codex. The thought process of the design team is still something I just can’t fathom.

            “Hey, Tyranids aren’t doing so great, what should we do with them?”

            “Nerf them.”

            “What? I just said that they weren’t doing great. We should maybe look into improving them.”

            “Nerf them. Just remove all their good characters and don’t give them anything back. That’ll increase the sales! Now leave me to sniff this glue some more.”

          • Jabberwokk

            legit lol’d thank you good sir.

            Yes but silver lining is that 1D4chan entry on tyranids got 1000% more amusing.

  • Garrett Alain Colas

    Maybe you could weight the armies based on points. So if a 50/50 Space wolf/Dark Angels list wins, SW and DA get half a win respectively.

  • snakechisler

    Why would you allow a Ta’unar into a normal 40k game? Its rules are completely and utterly stupid point click eradicate 1/2 the battlefield. The thing is gross even by apocolypse standards

    • Karru

      Okay, I just looked up the Supremacy Suit’s rules and I only have one comment to make about this.

      What. The. F***?!

      • Joshua Overbeck

        It’s getting nerfed in Fires of Cyraxus.

        Whenever it comes out, of course.

    • nurglitch

      It’s definitely something to fear if you’re running an elite army full of expensive, high-stat units. If you’re facing MSU it’s surprisingly ineffective.

  • Pyrrhus of Epirus

    funny, i got crucified on frontline for expressing right after the event that eldar were in decline.

  • Ziac Lortab

    I’m confident that time constraints were a factor in the low placement of genestealer cult. It’s a mechanically complex army with a lot of models and rules.

    • Karru

      This is actually quite a good point. Current scene doesn’t really support large model armies with “complex” mechanics thanks to the time restrictions. This might have had a major impact on the number of GSC armies.

    • Patriarch

      Also, quite luck dependent? Don’t roll summoning powers, don’t roll 6’s for cult ambush, roll lots of 6’s but get seized on… a GSC army is probably going to struggle in those circumstances.

      That said, if there were ~10 armies (looks like from the chart) and several games each, you’d expect that sort of luck to balance out overall.

      I don’t know how the tournament scene is these days, but there used to be issues with shooty armies (Tau, Necrons, the kind of Eldar people take) vs assault armies (Orks, Nids) due to the quantity of terrain that tournaments could get their hands on. GSC is definitely on the “assaulty” end of that spectrum.

      • ZeeLobby

        GSC also benefited from surprise. Right after their release, people weren’t prepared for their capabilities. Now that people have had time to practice against them, they’ve found that some of their most powerful abilities can be mitigated

    • My guess is that, and being vulnerable to bad rolls, but I’ve never had the chance to play a competitive GSC list, so I didn’t want to opine.

  • Horus84cmd

    aka how to take toy miniature wargaming waaaaay to seriously…

    • ZeeLobby

      You mean like every game where competition plays a part?

      • Horus84cmd

        ha – yeah, pretty much.

        • ZeeLobby

          Just the nature of the beast I guess.

          • Horus84cmd

            My issue here in relation to wargaming is with the above “analysis” it that is full pseudo-statistics in an attempt to prove the “meta”.

          • ZeeLobby

            I mean it definitely rings hollow in the fact that it only touches on a fraction of what determines the meta each year. What top players decide to play, what the latest releases are, the shock of novelty, etc. That said I don’t think anyone will point to this and say it’s definitive proof of anything, outside of the fact that there seems to be a clear grouping of winner vs loser factions, both indicated by their represented numbers and their placings. In the end every competitive group could come to these same conclusions without statistics, but that’s just the current state of the game.

          • Horus84cmd

            Exactly! There is little need to justify the results with inane “statistics”. The event result are what they are.

          • ZeeLobby

            In total agreement. My initial response was just that in any competitive arena there will be people who take things seriously. I can think of even more childish/toylike franchises where worse has been done.

          • It touches on what data is available to me fairly easily. Because y’all don’t pay me to run studies on 40K. I’ll be the first to admit that the whole model accounts for only a portion of the variability seen in tournament results, because dice are a thing.

          • ZeeLobby

            Hey. Don’t get me wrong. I fully support it. I would love to see more, and deeper correlations. My issue was more that you were getting grief for applying such things to a “toy” game. As if that somehow made it unworthy of statistical analysis. That’s my issue.

          • The funny part of all the “you’re taking it too seriously” stuff is that I’m not a competitive player, I’m a stats nerd. This is just an interesting application that’s not nearly as depressing as other stuff I work on.

          • ZeeLobby

            Ah, well here on BoLS, if you say the word competitive or competition you’re a WAAC, play-hard, try-hard, beat-face, RAW, hardcore gamer :D.

            Likewise I develop some little helper apps and stuff for my hobby, as what I do for work can definitely become tedious at times.

          • Jabberwokk

            Man when I argue with those types I have to go full on logic monster to even tip the boat. I probably should know better. You can’t move an idealogue who has made up his/her mind. I swear it’s like talking to a GW employee.

          • Jabberwokk

            Math is WAAC

          • Mike X (Official)

            Basically. However, this is an analysis, which people often misconstrue as statistical averages.

            For all we know, one of the bottom lists was actually a powerhouse that just had the misfortune of rolling 1s all game. And the top lists may’ve just lucked out and rolled all 6s.

            This type of data, while interesting to look at, does not account for dice variables. But sadly powergamers just look at what won or lost, and what there was more or less of, and believe it to be some sort of meta.

          • Jabberwokk

            But mention that in public?! With WORDS! heresy of the highest order I say.

          • Haters gonna hate I guess. Personally, I find this an enjoyable enough way to spend a night or two while binge-watching something on Netflix, and more fun than actually *playing* in tournaments (which aren’t so much my bag).

          • J Mad

            Its fun analysis…. some ppl like to see numbers, nothing wrong in that.

  • gordonshumway

    Your conclusion makes me think about how so many people believe the sigmarization of 40k is magically going to fix everything…there have been many comments (and BoLs …umm…”think”pieces) on how the death of the codex is a good thing. But as is stated here we are already basically living in a post-codex 40k world and a lot of people seem to hate it. I don’t mind…and I think GW is indicating with recent releases like Cadia that cross faction shenanigans are something they like and are here to stay. I guess we’ll see in coming months.

  • benn grimm

    Interesting analysis, thanks for sharing.

  • Nyyppä

    “Chaos is Fine Now: Renegades, Chaos Daemons and Khorne Daemonkin all made strong showings, and Chaos Space Marine primary lists still dwell in the “middling fair” category. I’ll have a more detailed post on this (hopefully) soon, but the recent additions to the overall Chaos faction have done good things for them.”

    Based on…what? First of all there is no such thing as the chaos faction. Secondly Daemons sit where they’ve been with this codex from day one, KDK got nerfed and did not do good even before that. Basic CSM are still useless, 1-2 legions can be made to build lists for low yield games and literally everything else is almost as useless as basic CSM.
    And this is “fine”? Following that logic the Imperials are so damn broken that the rest of the factions might just as well stop existing. Sounds legit? I didn’t think so.

    Try again. “Chaos” is not fine.

    • J Mad

      For a tournament scene where you mix 3 books, they are doing well.

      This isnt about how good a army is with a basic book, this is “how can I make this army work and win” you have lots of options to do that with CSM.

      Look at Nids, they have 4 Books, 2 WD’s and they still only takes 3-4 units from the Nids book, CSM has equal amount of rules out now and they are doing better.

      I agree that CSM codex and army in general is in a bad spot, but there are many other formations and detachments that are good.

      In the End CSM has good stuff now, it might not be in 1 codex, but they do have it somewhere. We are no longer in the world of Codex’s its all about supplements.

      • Nyyppä

        Ok. Specifically which stuff for CSM are good?

        BTW, CSM has the codex, CS, BL, TH, TL, IA13, KDK, WoM and more in digital format.

  • Crablezworth

    If factions/codex’s stop being a thing in 8th I’m done.

    What army do you play?

    Every new player: Well i have this unit and this unit and this unit and this unit and this formation…

    • petrow84

      I don’t see much difference from today’s situation. “I’ve got a detachment for my knight. I got a formation for my 4 daemonprince. Oh, and a separate detachment for my Culexus assassin, and 3 Flyrants, because of fun”.

      • Crablezworth

        That’s my point, that’s where we are at now with 7th and it’s just apoc all the time basically.