Why Tournaments Matter

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With the BAO in full swing, new rules changes and lists are reshaping “the meta.” Here’s why that’s important.

It’s the start of Day 2 of the Bay Area Open, and as we roll into rounds 4+ (3+ if you’re in cover), there’s a lot to consider about the state of the game. The meta of 40k has recently seen some pretty dramatic shifts as both GW and the tournament organizers strove to find a balanced game that’s fun to play at both a casual and competitive level.

It’s an interesting place to be. And that balance is clearly important to the game. Or else we wouldn’t have seen some of the sweeping changes in the recent second batch of FAQs that updated us to 40k 8.1.1. Storm Raven Spam is basically nerfed into, well not oblivion, but to a place you actually have to think about your army if you want to do that.

And before you write that tactic off as just something that ‘powergamers who stop at nothing to win at all costs’ would do–that’s built into the rules of the game. We all want a game that’s got some precision to it–if there was one dominant army that just wins all the time it gets boring. Similarly,  if it felt like your choice in units/armies/tactics didn’t really matter to winning or losing, then you’d never know if you were getting better.

Precision or balance to the rules means there’s a point to experimentation, and to developing tactics and skills–the rules are the framework for that process of discovery. They’re there to provide context, syntax, and comprehension to players, allowing them to develop their skill at the game. And seeing how that framework operates at the top tier of play can help foster an understanding of the rules.

If nothing else it fosters calm,  measured debate of the rules.

The game needs to feel competitive and fun from the top tier all the way down to the most casual of players who still insists that gun drones are the rightful rulers of the 41st millennium. And a lot of that balance comes out in the metagame. As armies clash and new players find new tactics for what works and what doesn’t, the game kinda changes.

This is nothing new–this has been going on in games of all stripes (including 40K) for years. Take a look at games like League of Legends or Overwatch, where players look to the pros to get an idea of the skills you need to develop in the game. Or turning back to something closer to 40K, look at how StarCraft implements its changes. They’re these minute balance issues that are clearly meant for the top tier of play but that changes everything across the game.

The meta doesn’t define the game, but it does give you a look at where it’s going. Right now, we’re seeing that terrain is a necessity and that vehicles are starting to come back. We’ve said on BoLS that Fly is one of the most powerful rules in the game right now, and we’re seeing some of those effects play out in the tournament scene.

And even if you never go to a single tournament, or have never consulted a spreadsheet to figure out why whenever you shoot at a unit they always live, but whenever they shoot at you, your guys always die like it’s the last 20 minutes of a Tarantino film, this still affects your game. The tournament rules provide a quick barometer of what you can expect to see when you take your models down to wherever you play and look for opponents to crush.

Tournaments are where you see the underpinnings of the rules mechanics stressed to the limits and sometimes you’ll learn things you didn’t think the game could do. Sometimes you learn where it’s broken. That’s when you know what units to take with you on Thursdays so you can make Phil regret that time he never paid you back for that time you bought him lunch even though you said, hey just get me sometime. Which, hey, if that’s what keeps you and Phil friends, great. Whatever works for you.

But hopefully this sheds some light on why people insist on going on about the meta and what’s happening at these Tournaments. You can check out the final rounds of the Bay Area Open live on Facebook–there’s some amazing stuff happening today. So check it out!

What do you think of the current state of the meta? Does it even matter to you?

  • el_tigre

    Without them there’d have to be articles about painting and converting and gaming for a purpose other than achieving full-Trump levels of smugness as you ruin someones day. Yay tournaments!

    On an unrelated note, why don’t we have punctuation to denote sarcasm? I’m thinking upside down exclamation point.

    • nss

      Seems like you achieved full-Trump level smugness as you ruin someone’s day with you attack on tournaments.

      • memitchell

        No, he’s right on. I would pass on any article with the word ‘meta” in the title. But, then I’d be be passing on 50% of all 40K articles. Besides, I absolutely thrill to read tournament players are “Top Tier” and casual gamers like me are “all the way down.”

        • marxlives


        • AircoolUK

          lol… I can’t be top tier ‘cos I’ve never looked at a spreadsheet to see why my dudes die so easily. Usually it’s because I can work it out in my head, or for really difficult cases, I might have to use a pencil and some simple arithmetic.

          I don’t rate so called ‘math hammer’ as it relies purely on probabilities. It’s a basic tool for use in analysis, but the least reliable.

        • IronGryphon

          Notice the other two comments were deleted. Seems some competitive players didn’t like them.

      • el_tigre

        Sorry. Upside down exclamation point..

        • benn grimm

          Lol, he changed his mind clearly and deleted his account he was so ashamed…;)

  • benn grimm

    Always nice to be lectured by noobs on Sunday. Tourneys, while fun don’t really matter all that much to people who don’t attend. Cept of course if you’re a Bols writer looking for clicks, in which case they matter more than anything.

    • AEZ

      He’s right though that if you want to see which units will bring you most pain when you see them at the other side of the table tournament lists are where you should look.I mean sure there are interactions etc.. but usually it’s also just the most cost efficient units. (and you’ll see the best interactions there too).

      • benn grimm

        Tbh, lame as it might sound, I quite enjoy finding these things out for myself.

        • AEZ

          Well tbh and as you know it doesn’t take much of a brain to see these things anyway :D. But the thing is that you COULD see it in tournament lists if you wanted too.
          Tournament play shows also things which are rule bending or abusing the RAW.. which is something I don’t usually identify myself since it’s not in my nature to try and od illogical things in my games.

          • benn grimm

            What are you saying about my brain?!?!? I have a much brain thag you berry much….;) But yeah true, I could also see the news on Fox if I wanted to, some things are just best avoided for some people…

          • IronGryphon

            Except the news on Fox 😉

          • benn grimm

            Other networks are available. Probably not as funny though…)

      • Cergorach

        The thing that always brings the most pain is the human unit on the other side of the table… People who think that winning at plastic figures is the most important thing in their world. I generally win not by winning at plastic figures, but by not caring about winning the game at all, just having fun. 😉

        • Walter Vining

          THIS SO MUCH! THIS SO MUCH! THIS SO MUCH! There’s not a unit or list in the game that scares me as much as someone being butt hurt about a list or a unit in the gam.

    • SundaySilence

      I 100% agree with this comment. Back in the early 2000’s; tournaments were so much better because people NEEDED to learn and think for themselves (innovation they call that) which lead to a better variety and better scene in general. Now that lists get plastered all over the internet; it massively reduces the innovation.

      Tournament players care about tournaments, no one else does because they don’t need to.

      • benn grimm

        It’s funny isn’t it; you’d think the ability to access almost anything at any time would increase the level of innovation, instead it just creates lots of half-thinking sheep.

        • Cergorach

          No, it just exposes the half-thinking sheep…
          And let’s be honest, in the early 2000s there was widespread internet, that most on here weren’t allowed on there yet (or were even born yet) doesn’t mean that there weren’t any 40k netlists… There certainly where!

          • benn grimm

            Haha, good point. Can’t claim to know a lot about that, sat out much of third and it wasn’t till late 4th ed that I attended a tourney again or even considered what was hot/not. No net listing in 2nd though, I can attest to that.)

          • Cergorach

            Pfft! You just weren’t dialing in on the right bulletinboards! 😉

          • Now you made me realize how damn old I am.

    • IronGryphon

      You win the Golden Imperial Eagle Award for hitting the proverbial nail (in this case Imperial Nail) on the head, Ben.

      • benn grimm

        Haha, thanks, I’ll treasure it always 😉

  • Nyyppä

    Tournaments do one thing better than anything else does it, they bring the flaws of the system in to the spotlights.

    • Hamish

      Yes. I will never play in tournaments. Just not my sort of thing and have been playing war games for over a decade. They are absolutely a requirement however for stress testing the system and allowing it to grow into something better.

      • denzark

        Why does it have to be an ‘absolute requirement’ for ‘stress testing’ the system? Have you seen GW’s share prices – without the use of your ‘absolute requirement’?

        • Walter Vining

          Tournaments are not required for “stress testing.” There is nothing used in gaming ever for a stress test, its all data based.

    • Walter Vining

      I see a lot of casual players in all sorts of groups point out more flaws than a tournament player.

      • Nyyppä

        Random opinions are not useful. Anuone can complain. The magic happens when someone complains and can prove his/her point.

        • Walter Vining

          Funny, as I have seen several people who play strictly casually prove their point too. So I fail to see where only tournaments bring out problems. What they bring out are arrogant people, like you, who only think one way.

          • Nyyppä

            Calm down. There is no need to be emotional about this. I’ll give you an example. Plenty of people whined about 7th ed summoning being broken and could prove their point. Did summoning dominate the tournament scene or anything else for that matter? No, which means that simply pointing out a thing that one does not like and being able to explain why that is does not mean that the subject of that particular dislike would be a real problem. Storm Ravens being theoretically broken because of the current rule set was not proven to be a problem before they went and won pretty much everything everywhere.

            I’ll give you an example using the current rule set. Deployment is designed so that elite and large unit armies have an edge against MSU by having less units to deploy and thus being more likely to go first. The design is critically flawed. Not only do MSU still go first thanks to transport rules, the moral phase is so badly stacked against blobs that it is just stupid to not go MSU. This is the theory, a problem that can be well argued for on paper. The theory has been proven to be a fact by the tournamets.

            So yeah, being able to prove ones point and that point being an actual problem for the game are not automatically the same thing.

            Try not to be offended by this. It is what it is. Nothing personal.

  • badmojo1966

    The “meta” and “spam” has not bothered me. Although those words do seem to keep popping up in articles? I play with the models I like against others with well painted armies. I’m lucky to have like minded friends. Modelling, tactics and fun is what I’m into the hobby for. What other people do with deodorant money and a spreadsheet is their business.

    • AircoolUK

      Well painted models look great on the table. That’s probably the best bit of gaming.

  • Heinz Fiction

    I think a lot of players just play with the collection they have and buy mabe one new box a year. In those cases the meta actually doesn’t have a huge influence.

    Still if a game does work well on a competitive level it usually also works well on a casual level but not necessarily the other way round.

  • Ebsolom

    Oh no, this isn’t pushing the Tournament Lives Matter movement is it ? ; )

  • Hagwert

    Even though I am a fluff player, for a niche hobby like this to survive let alone prosper I recognise you have to appeal and include as many different types of gamer as possible in the community. WACC players may not be my favourite type of opponent but those guys do tend to buy allot of product in their quest for galactic domination!

  • Maitre Lord Ironfist

    For me the Cheese is interessting. But i do not play it.

    Nothing says you have too play like this.

    • davepak

      yeah, but people know play against might – and thus, it helps to keep the rules as good as possible.

      While you can say “play with better people” not everyone spams the broken stuff – but too much of it can still unbalance a game.

      • Maitre Lord Ironfist

        It depends on the local Meta. Im my FLGit is quite casual – i am happy that it does not force me to play Celestine very single game x)

  • memitchell

    Claiming that weeding out WAAC exploitations is a vital function of tournament players is like saying arsonists play a vital role in fire safety advances.

    • Slave to Darkness

      If Varg didnt burn those churches in norway his brother wouldnt have had sales for fire alarms.

    • AEZ

      It’s not a role of the tournament players.. but tourneys will show the abusable flaws in the game.. thus allowing for correction (GW willing.. and currently they seem willing).

    • Sparowl

      You are correct – weeding out WAAC exploitation should be the function of the rules writers.

      But since GW seems to have dropped the ball on that one…for the last few decades…it looks like someone else will have to show them where it’s going wrong.

      • AircoolUK

        There’s way too many variables for the rules writers to catch everything, which is why the Tourney players have been thrown a bone. They are skilled in finding exploits and are happy to be seen as ‘playtesters’ by GW. Meanwhile, GW are happy to exploit their WAAC attitude and let them hunt bugs without paying them.

        So it’s win-win all round. However, they do need to realise that they’re niche players and basically exploiters of rules. Would be nice to see some articles based on ‘real’ games.

        For an example, I don’t think I’ve yet to see an article on the main 40K websites that would help noobs and veterans alike to get the best out of the forces provided in the DI box. A lot of new gamers are likely sitting there with the DI box, and one of each new release, wondering how best to play their army.

        Meanwhile, all they read on the internet is spamming 6 Stormravens. That’s not exactly encouraging reading for new players, and will certainly turn them away from these websites.

        • Sparowl

          Missing some crazy OP thing every once in awhile is forgivable – especially if it is fixed quickly.

          GW has not only been missing many many things for years, but also been unwilling to fix it (unless “fixing it” means “releasing the next OP codex”), and at one point reached the peak where a design team member defended how OP Daemons were as a choice they had made, not as a mistake to be fixed.

          As far as tournament players being “niche” – probably no more so then the super core fluff bunnies or the casuals. The difference, of course, is that a solid ruleset benefits all of us, casual and tournament player alike.

          ‘Real’ games – It must be nice to be able to tell people when they are “really” playing and when they are playing some “fake” version of the game. Please, continue to let people know when they are having fun wrong.

  • AEZ

    I don’t think I mind negative 2 that much myself. I’m not a tournament player.. but I do try to win playing with the best army I can field and then playing my best (but I’m terrible in remembring my (AoS) unit rules so that is not going to happen). I don’t mind seeing units spammed and I don’t mind people not bringing crap units 😀

  • Rafał Pytlak


  • Rafał Pytlak

    Oh yes, Nurgle aura is strong amongst many tabletop players. Thank the emperor for deodorants…

    • Josh Felstead

      If only wearing deodorant was a rule enforced by commissars.

      “YOU STINK” *blam*

      • AircoolUK

        I must admit. Whenever I’ve seen tournament pictures from any tabletop game, there’s always a majority of players that are really reinforcing the stereotype (and it’s the chairs that need the reinforcing). Right down to their clothes and ‘fat guy’ beards.

        Go out, buy a football (soccer ball) and try and math hammer yourself a goal.

      • IronGryphon

        This would be great if it made it into a BL story. Ha!

        • Josh Felstead

          It definitely could!

          • IronGryphon

            Without a doubt
            On a hopeless planet overrun by Tyranids, the 534th Iron Guard must hold off Hive City Orem with a single squad of Iron Hands space marines as back up.
            The commissar got a whiff of one of the guardsmen in the heat of battle.
            . “Guardsmen, Why do you stink?”
            “I was just splattered with Hormegaunt gore, sir. Sgt Vorum was swatting bugs with his power fist again.”
            “Nonsense. I recognize you Guardsmen Garn, 40 demerits this week for lack of Hygine. I have not choice but to declare you,” Blam! Blam, “Mutant!.”

  • Sure

    Tournaments matter so you can see how boring the game can get. Good tourney list are almost always repetitive and repetitive. Winning at dice games isn’t always fun.

  • Josh Felstead

    Blah blah blah “something about balance” blah blah “whatever works you”.

    What a waffley and boring article.

  • GrenAcid

    Tournaments dont matter.

  • Big Red

    Yet again we have a tournament player preaching from the pulpit about how they are the true warhammer players, and are here to save the rest of us sinners from our lives of misery and heresy.

    I would have thought that with games workshop officially codifying it in the rule book now (instead of assuming that we could understand the implication of it), people would start to understand there are several different ways to play the game, some might even say 3.

    If you want to play matched play competitive games, you are right, tournaments play a role. It is not a big role in my opinion as the true cheese/garbage lists problem is easily solved. Don’t play with crappy people. Never understood the idea of having to wait for GW to fix it so you can keep playing people that you are not having a good time playing against.

    The other two styles of play, open and narrative, could not care less what it going on in tournaments. No one is going to bring a list full of flyers (with clear and explicit approval of their opponents) to one of these games if they ever want to be able to find a game with that group again. In the 5 years of our group, which was playing narrative/open play the entire time, we have had one case of someone doing this. As the club president, I took him aside, told him what was wrong and that was the end of it, he went and found a club that suits him better.

    Tournament players are the only ones of the types of player that feel the need to go out a big themselves on the internet, telling the rest of us that they are critical in warhammer, that without them, the whole thing would fall apart. Accept the fact, you matter to competitive play, but nothing you are doing actually impacts on how the rest of us play.

    • AircoolUK

      I’ve nothing against tournament players (except perhaps the hygiene thing) as they obviously enjoy it and dedicate a lot of time to it. However, there is no doubt that they make good bug finders. My only fear is that GW listen ‘too much’ and make changes to the game which inadvertently affect us bottom feeding grass roots players.

      Tournament players do need to wind in their necks somewhat, and realise that they do not represent the massive majority of gamers. They are a niche, and a very small niche at that (another reason for them to lose weight). Most gamers buy what models they like and build their army from that core. Most gamers buy from GW or LFGS, not from ebay. Even those of us with a good disposable income wouldn’t buy 6 Stormravens then go ahead and complain about GW prices, even though 5 of them were bought of ebay.

  • Drpx

    If a tournament spams in the forest and there’s no one around to post it, does it make a meta?

    • I honestly wish I could upvote this five times. That was a good laugh in the morning.

  • Spacefrisian

    Can we rage on the players that pay the tourney and bring spam lists again, i want to copy what the majority says here and force my oppinion on them about how bad spam lists are for the game.

    Bacon and ham on some bread please with that spam.

  • Matt C

    How about showing skill by list building? I mean spam lists are basically the same list over and over. Give every tourney player the same exact list, then determine who is good.

    • Well, then better also remove dice-rolls and just remove casualties based on statistical averages. Then we can talk about skills 😉 On the other hand, this will just make the first-turners to win even more reliably.

    • danutzfreeman

      This is something i would genuinely like to see, a tournament where everyone is told “here are 3 lists per faction and you can only bring an army that’s on one of these lists”, doing so will force the players to play with actual strategy and so we would see who is skilled and/or lucky and who relies on spam to win.

      • YetAnotherFacelessMan

        I’ve seen such a tournament. They took out the dice and they had a selection of specialize lists, each with their own strengths. It was all about skill as a player and proper execution of tactics.

        I think they called it “Street Fighter”?

  • Chris Hilliard

    So a shop full of people who don’t play tournaments and don’t read netlists are supposed to be grateful for a group that spams until a rule change stops them? Good luck with that.

    • AircoolUK

      Another good reason to play the Power Level way whilst using the Open War cards. Just don’t cheese it with the Power Levels and bring only tricked out units as you’ll be a social pariah…

      …well on your way to becoming tournament player.

  • Sparowl

    For Negative point 1, I’ve had the opposite experience in almost every tournament I’ve gone to. But your mileage may vary.

    • scadugenga

      Refer to positive point 1.

  • Hrudian

    So we need people breaking the law so we know how not to break the law.


  • Lord Blacksteel

    What a pointless article.

    “The meta of 40k has recently seen some pretty dramatic shifts as…”
    – as a new edition of the game was released last month?

    “… both GW and the tournament organizers … ”
    – these two groups are not equally responsible for 40k

    “… strove to find a balanced game that’s fun to play at both a casual and competitive level.”
    -it’s pretty fun at the casual level already.

    “Take a look at games like League of Legends or Overwatch, where players look to the pros to get an idea of the skills you need to develop in the game. Or turning back to something closer to 40K, look at how StarCraft implements its changes. ”

    Yes, look at the PvP videogame scene for guidance as it’s a model of civility and integrity. Please do not look at say actual wargame tournaments featuring ASL or Star Fleet Battles who have been running large competitive tournaments for 30+ years. Please do not look at other miniature tournaments using games such as DBA.


  • Jabberwokk

    95% of the commentators are asianlamb