40K: State of the Meta – Is 8th Balanced

After a month of gameplay and a good tournaments I started collecting data to see; are things really balanced?

A guest editorial written by Andrew from Frontlinegaming

As the hype for 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 reached a fever pitch we heard lots of claims that this edition would be balanced, and that there would be no bad armies.  “Everything is good!” became a rallying cry. After a month of gameplay and a good sample of tournaments I decided to start collecting data from Best Coast Parings to see, are things really balanced


As I am talking about different factions, I am going to leave out factions with fewer than 10 total games.  It is very easy for factions with only a couple tournament appearances to look really good or really bad. For instance, Salamanders have a 0% win rate, but only have 3 games listed total. Some of this also comes down to how people have listed their faction.  For the most part, I have just left things exactly as they have been entered into Best Coast Pairings. I know that there have likely been more than three games played by Salamander armies, but only three have been listed as a faction, and many more where listed as Adeptus Astartes.

By the time this article is finished being written and published, some of the results will likely have shifted a bit.

What’s Popular?

The top five most played armies are:

  • Adeptus Astartes
  • Tyranids
  • Astra Militarum
  • Orks
  • Chaos Space Marines

Astra Militarum and Orks are actually tied for third place with their number of games.

Many of the armies that haven’t been good for a long time have suddenly gotten much better.  Tyranids and Orks have surged in popularity since 8th edition was released.

What’s Winning Games?

  • Chaos (62%)
  • Imperial Knights (60%)
  • Dark Eldar (59%)
  • Imperium (58%)
  • Chaos Daemons (57%)

For a point of reference: the overall chance to win is 47.5%, the chance to lose is 47.5%, and the chance to tie is 4.9%. As it appears, certain armies are winning games significantly more often than the average.

What’s Winning tournaments?

First the raw number of tournament wins:

  • Astra Militarum (4)
  • Chaos Daemons (4)
  • Adeptus Astartes (3)
  • Chaos Space Marines (3)
  • Tyranids (3)

Now lets look at the tournament wins compared to how many games the army has played total, and they can be ranked as follows:

  • Chaos (+10.78%)
  • Genestealer Cults (+8.40%)
  • Chaos Daemons (+7.02%)
  • Thousand Sons (+6.62%)
  • Necrons (+5.23%)

The way to interpret this is that ‘Chaos’ faction armies are winning tournaments about 10% more often than the the average army. If you are into baseball I am told that this is the same as ‘value over replacement’.  The most significant thing about these numbers is that they are so low.  No one faction is dominating the tournament scene.  For a point of comparison, I ran a similar analysis at the end of 7th edition and Eldar Corsairs were winning 24.33% more tournaments than their average counterpart.

Games or Tournaments?

As you have likely noticed, most of the armies that have the best win records are not the armies that are winning the most tournaments.  Armies like Dark Eldar and Imperial Knights have a high percent of wins, but they also have a high percent of exactly one loss/tie in tournaments.  Dark Eldar have gotten exactly one loss or tie in 46% of all the tournaments so far, but have only won 7% of the tournaments.  There are many armies that fall into this category, but Dark Eldar are some of the most extreme.  This indicates one of two significant things. First, we are still on a strong learning curve. At this point, there are so many possibly builds that people haven’t figured out how to play against every possible army. Second, being able to win the majority of your games does not mean you are going to win a tournament. Chances are, winning two thirds of your games will get you in the top half. To win a tournament you need to not only win all of your games, but you are going to need to do well on secondary objectives as well. I would estimate about one in four tournaments have multiple armies that win all of their games.

Does That Mean Things Are things Balanced?

Mathematically, yes (but just barely).  

Combining the information on how many games each army has played with the overall average for winning a game we would see the current number of wins and losses at least 5% of the time. (Definition for statistical significance.) Five percent may not seem like much, but think about the results of over two thousand games. The evidence suggests that if everyone were to play those games again the total number of wins and losses for each faction would come out to be exactly the same at least 5% of the time.

With tournaments, things are even more balanced. Looking at the current data, I am 99% certain that tournament wins are distributed proportionally to how often an army is played.

Translation: For the most part, the armies with the most tournament wins are the ones who are participating in the most tournaments.

The overall rate to win a tournament is about 6%, and everyone is within a reasonable range for that average. Some of you may be looking at my lists for the most popular armies and the armies with the most tournament wins and are wondering why they don’t perfectly align. Well, things are never going to align perfectly. The most extreme case of performing above the average is 10% above average, and this indicates that player skill is likely a more significant contributing factor over the army chosen.

What Does It Mean

Ok, thats a lot of numbers what does this all mean?

Right now, we are still very early in this edition. The vast majority of players have only played a handful of games, and we are all still on a learning curve. I suspect, as time progresses ( and codices are added) we are going to start seeing more imbalances pop up. Part of these imbalances will be the new rules of each codex, but  some of this will arise as people learn and master the intricacies of the game. As people learn the game, more and more people will learn to take advantage of their own armies strengths and their opponents’ weaknesses.

~Agree, disagree, let us know in the comments.


And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

  • I cannot take this data seriously. Here’s why:

    * – win percentage etc is great, but not all forces are playing the same number of games. If I have a faction that plays 198 games and wins 113 of them, and another faction that plays 12 games and wins 11 of them, that doesn’t mean the second faction is a ton better. The data sampling is skewed.

    * – we have no context of the games that were played. If I take a weak army piloted by a pretty good player and then take a strong army piloted by a weak player, the numbers are going to say that the weak army is really good because the strong player beat the weak player with it a bunch of times.

    The very fact that tournament powergamers are centered on a small number of factions while leaving a large number of factions not represented much or at all tells me all I need to know about balance in 8th edition.

    If I was going to go off of anecdotal tournament data, I’d be looking at how well represented all armies were more than anything because powergamers often spreadsheet, and spreadsheeting tells them that only a few factions are worth taking.

    Thats not balanced. Thats business as usual in regards to 40k and balance.

    • Agent of Change

      regarding Army representation. I would like to see the raw data on how many of each faction were declared in this data.

      All we are seeing is who won teh most which as you say doesn’t mean much at this point, not enough data and too many variables at this point. but if the distribution of overall armies presented is spiking in directions that we wouldn’t expect that would be interesting data.

      • More data is indeed needed.

    • wibbling

      Considering such ‘gamers’ make no effort to consider the background or character of the armies they take and just spam the same thing over and over, playing a spreadsheet rather than the models and narrative and the obvious answer is that tournaments are utterly irrelevant.

      • eh… while i definitely don’t agree with that playstyle I would say tournament list building and meta are probably the most relevant, at least in my neck of the woods. They are what defines what your standard lists you’ll see in public gaming look like.

    • Fergie0044

      Auticus, you’ve saved me a lot of typing. Everything you said +1

    • Snord

      Agreed, up to a point. But these views, which represent a particularly extreme approach to the game (see Wibbling’s comment below) will quickly be adopted as gospel by many.

      Personally, I would also love to see a discussion that didn’t use the word ‘meta’ at all.

    • GravesDisease

      You’re right in stating that the analysis is flawed as it is based on differing data sets, however factoring in piloting skill is unnecessary – that is encapsulated in the averaged result of the statistics, also including the RNG of dice and favourable/unfavourable match ups.

      Additionally with a roster a diverse as 40k, not every faction is going to be competitive as balance wise that would be an overly onerous task to achieve. What, with all the mini factions such as genestealer cults, talons of emperor, deathwatch etc. Personally I am quite happy that you have a roughly even distribution of 5 different factions for winning tournaments even if the amount of people playing each faction is different. This is an irrelevant detail in determining balance as people will choose irrationally based on factors like their own collection, perceived strength in the meta, liking the models, personal experience etc.

      Edit: It’s a fallacy to assume all tournament players are power gamers. Loads of attendants are skrubs like me who want to play some games with a painted army and see how far i can get. Your assertion is probably true for all tournament **winners* though!

      • Maybe. When I was a tournament power gamer most of the people there with me were also power gamers, so I am just going off of my own past experience.

  • ZeeLobby

    Any meta or balance conclusions at this point are just ridiculous… There are plenty of people, even in competitive environments, forgoing the sure-choice units in an attempt to reconnect with factions that have been on the back burner for years. I’ll be more interested to see how the meta and balance is a year from now.

    • Agent of Change

      By the god-emperor I’ll be Repulsed if you don’t. 🙂

      • ZeeLobby


  • artty

    wasn’t there something posted on here not too long ago about how the first player won 80 something percent of the time? If that is true, then this article has no grounds without accounting for that information.

    I tabled a very good ork player with my tau the other day, and I’m convinced that if I didn’t have the first turn the tables would have been turned… huh? anybody? Seriously, if he had the first turn I probably would have been tabled myself. I don’t think this game is as balanced as they hoped it to be.

    • orionburn

      This is what needs to be looked at the most IMO. With the Nova Open coming up it would be a good time to do some serious data collection. You almost need to play the exact same games but give the other player a chance to go first. That would be interesting to see for comparison purposes.

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah. First turn can be brutal. I really wish they’d come up with an alternative system to prevent this.

        • orionburn

          It will probably be something that gets addressed soon. Even a generic strategem for everybody that gives you a chance to seize on a 4+. I know with my Nids I’m likely to never go first unless I play another horde army so I’m screwed almost every time in my games.

          • ZeeLobby

            But then I just feel like the game comes down to that coin flip. I mean that’s one of the things that disinterested me in playing 6th/7th, was the one-sided nature of the game. As a DE player, if I got first turn, I could usually have a good close game, but if I didn’t, it could be a very hard uphill battle.

            I think other companies do this well, either through alternating activation, or having different deployment zones, and shorter effective ranges of weaponry. Then the conflict is either simultaneous or begins on a later turn after both sides have been able to reposition if necessary.

          • orionburn

            Good point. It still doesn’t fix the core problem. Hell if anything that makes it worse the more I think about it. You’re going second because you have more units than the other guy, so if you have lots of dakka it may make it even more imbalanced.

            I seriously hope they get some got stats out of Nova. As to fixing the problem…easier said then done.

          • jonathon

            the core problem is that 40K is tactically shallow. Its a game that is fully centered around the question of “how much firepower do I need to neutralize the biggest threat my opponent has right now?” followed by “ok, first threat dealt with, now how much firepower do I need to neutralize the biggest threat my opponent has right now?”. They’ve made this problem worse by ensuring that everything can wound everything and since every unit can split fire you can almost guarantee that overkill is a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 40K but it doesn’t have the tactical depth of other games like Malifaux, Infinity or Flames of War. Its a simple resource management game that they’ve made simpler with the new edition. Tactical depth is added via the inclusion of in-game randomness through maelstrom of war cards (or whatever they’re called in 8th), rather than by allowing for a model to have multiple possible solutions to a given problem – the problem is always “i need to kill X” and the solution is always either (a) shoot it, or (b) punch it. Without tactical depth rising from systems like alternating activations or reaction / interruption skills alpha strikes are always going to be an issue – unless you build your 40K tables like you’re playing a game of Infinity…

          • Richard Mitchell

            That is true, I don’t think anyone was complaining about factions being imbalanced but how the Age of Leaveblower due to the core rules and the keyword Imperium forcing people within a faction to build one way to succeed. Heck I remember in 5th Dark Eldar could win games but you literally had to build them one way. This isn’t fun for anyone, even tournament players since a big part of miniature wargaming is…exploring the game.

          • Kenneth Portner

            If having the first turn is that significant a predictor of wins they’ve got bigger problems than deciding who gets the first turn.

        • Spacefrisian

          Switch to Bolt actions random system and activate unit by unit, makes defend objective x also more interresting.

          • badmojo1966

            I’ve tried a few games now with 2 different coloured dice in a cup. 1 die per unit and when the unit is destroyed that die doesn’t go back into the cup. You draw out a random die and allocate a unit and it carries out its full abilities. It feels much more tactical than the my turn, your turn.

      • KingAceNumber1

        This. I’m not going to NOVA with any hope of placement this year, it’s going to be the wild west and pairings are going to make a gigantic different. I’m just looking forward to playing some cool games with new people. Hopefully after the GT we’ll have a much better idea about exactly what is problematic.

    • Agent of Change

      This is a really good point. the above data points compared to who went first vs. wins overall and per faction might be interesting

    • Keaton

      I think that stuff is really overblown. If it’s that devastating, you need more terrain, particularly LoS blocking terrain. First turn has always been an advantage, but when you’re hiding because you know you have 2nd turn, it’s not so bad.

      • AircoolUK

        Yep, stick 12 pieces of terrain on the board, of which at least 6 are LoS blocking.

        • Stealthbadger

          The issue is deepstriking and drones. You just can’t hide from 5 deep striking commanders and 64 drones that ignore terrain and can advance and shoot. Remember, if they see one model, they see the unit.

      • artty

        I agree that terrain can help solve the issue, but if that’s what solves it then there needs to be something in the rules that dictates how much terrain, type of terrain, etc. you need to have for each battle. Otherwise people will exploit it just like they have already proven in the first month or so of 8th ed.

        • jonathon

          Infinity is a game that is made or broken by the tables more than the lists themselves. The rulebook has terrain examples and even they are woefully inadequate. Try playing a game of 40K where you have 50% of the table filled with terrain of one type or another before you set the board up. Makes for a super fun game where maneuvering may actually matter…

    • badmojo1966

      I read somewhere that only 8% of the players who went second won. While the armies may be balanced the Alpha strike is crippling and unfun. Even going first and destroying your opponents pet unit is not fun because you’d like to see it in action to combat it. Just removing it because you got first turn is hardly a well thought out tactical manoeuvre.

  • Commissar Molotov

    I wonder how many of these armies contained cheap Razorwing Flocks or Stormraven spam? The rules have already changed! The horror!

    • AircoolUK

      Exactly. You can’t have a great BOLS analysis unless you leave out important data 😉

    • Drpx

      The important thing though is that all the Space Marine players will be buying Primaris and not a bunch of old models.

      • Bootneck

        Buy to win has cross platformed from PC MMO’s to table top warfare and has failed then! Well except the whole FW thing.

  • Agent of Change

    Well written article, I like these kinds of breakdowns, but I do feel the caveat that there just isn’t enough data to draw firm conclusions yet should be highlighted strongly. You’ve got a really interesting break down of the available data, and I do love that sort of thing… but we can’t make assertions as to “overall balance” for at least another couple months.

    Right now we just need to be looking for the extreme standouts, “obvious choices” and heavily imitated lists. those are going to be where the problems come from, as with the Storm Raven thing. The real conclusion here is that we aren’t seeing many of those shake out yet… and if that continues your assertion towards balance is probably going to be born out as more right than wrong.

  • Chad Underdonk

    The game is currently the most balanced it has been since the change from 2nd to 3rd.

    Balance implies equal quality of players, intention of design (competitive, fun, tournament, etc), and inventory of units to choose from. If the participants are not equal you cannot expect the rules to make them equal.

    All armies are basically playing with the same set of rules and the same general design principles. There are of course variations, but most of them are within reasonable boundaries.

    Folks are playing and enjoying the game. Stop trying to look for controversy, attempting to tear the community apart, or trying to excuse weak players or poor performance with mathhammer. Statistical analysis can have a place, but right now we should be enjoying our games of toy soldiers, not desperately seeking to develop a new meta.

    Enjoy a little diversity and chaos for once rather than trying to create orthodoxy or consensus.

    • Bootneck

      2nd ed was the most balanced before all this internet shenanigans, know one knew what was good or bad really!

      • Spacefrisian

        Sw runepriest with i win power, 2nd ed balanced my behind.

        • Bootneck

          You could always just use a vortex grenade, nothing was unkillable.

      • UnpluggedBeta

        Virus grenade killed entire armies back then lololo

  • Xodis

    Still have some unaccounted data. Mostly consisting with internal army balance, but also some key ones that SHOULD have been taken from the Tournament results you gathered…

    -Whats the %of wins for the player who goes first?

    -Whats the % of terrain for games?

    -Whats are the missions and how to they correlate to the wins?

  • Essentially, until every faction gets their codex, 8th is in Beta. So even if your statistical methods were solid and your data was good, we still wouldn’t know anything about balance for this edition. Balancing 40k is going to be hard. If GW stays on track they might pull it off in a couple of years. Playing in the meantime is going to mean playing an imbalanced game. If that bothers you, take a break, play something else for a bit, and come back when (and if) the dust settles.

    • orionburn

      Or just sit and quietly paint the 8 berzillion models most of us have sitting in queue…lol

  • marlowc

    An interesting article, but I think hairsplitting analysis of game balance is really only of interest to the tournament players. Our friendly gaming group is well satisfied with the new game. Me especially as the only Ork player!
    It’s always puzzled me how competitive players could ever be happy with a game where going first is such a huge advantage.

    • Nyyppä

      I don’t play in tornaments but I still want to know that when I play the result is more about what I and my opponent did than which of the factions were used…ie. the opposite of what 7th was.

  • Balanced spam-crap is still crap.

  • AircoolUK

    It’s about time we saw Slowpoke in an article about the ‘meta’ because it’s all going to change in about 60 hours time :/

  • Drpx

    How are Chaos Daemons winning the most? They don’t have Stormravens…

    • OldHat

      Magnus. Changeling. Heralds. Brimstones.

      • Drpx

        Better change the rules so that Brimstones don’t count as models on the table then. For diversity.

        • el_tigre

          That would be a good general rule for swarms

    • Spacefrisian

      They have Furies, close enough.

  • Grieux

    What’s the p value?

  • NNextremNN

    Only 5 factions win tournaments but mathematically it’s balanced??? What happened to all other factions?

    • 301stFeinminsterArmoured

      Tournament players are looking at some factions and are giving them a hard no, because they lack obvious answers to some of the stuff the above listed factions can bring to the field. So, the listed factions must have some first order strategies that the competitive community has been able to pick up quickly, which results in them having a slight edge over the unfeatured factions; however, these advantages are more or less equal between those factions, to the point that those advantages do not present a higher margin of success for one faction over any other.

      TL;DR: the players of those Factions are still adjusting to how their armies have changed, while the current dominant lists haven’t been negatively affected by the edition change.

  • Spacefrisian

    Wait till one shows up with 80 Officers of the fleet in a 2k game, hide when they get 1st turn, thats between 80 and 180 mortal wounds.

    What? If meta is about spam than lets spam.