Mathhammer and the January 2021 update

Adam Lane, the Art of Wars math expert and a certified magician, joins us to talk about some of the winners of yesterday’s massive FAQ!

You have seen the FAQs, you have had a look at the new points and I am are sure you have heard all the hot takes.  Over the last months the Art of War team has been working hard to develop a Mathhammer algorithm to assess the point efficiency of units.  Why don’t we use this opportunity to take this model for a spin.   I am going to first introduce the model and then share with you the main winners and losers from the latest changes.

Identifying units that are efficient on paper is an important first step in developing a top meta list, before the rest of the community catches on. The nature of the ruleset means there are many variables that need to be considered which makes it a complex task.  To make progress I use our model to calculate the implied cost of a unit based on its datasheet and compare that number with the points in the latest Munitorum Field Manual.  This is what is called the implied point per wound for a given model (“PPW” for short).

To calculate the PPW what we do is as follows:

  • Take a unit’s statistics that define its durability (wounds, toughness, save, invulnerable and feel no pain mechanics)
  • Calculate the number of attacks on a wide range of weaponry to kill that unit
  • Convert that number of attacks into a points value.

Effectively what PPW does is give a relative measure of durability expressed as a point value.  This is extremely useful in assessing how much you are investing in different units in your army as well as comparing competing units for a given battlefield role.

How PPW varies by battlefield role

HQs tend to be “expensive” versus their PPW value.  This makes sense as their main battlefield role is to be a force multipliers.  This doesn’t mean all HQs are worth the points and doing the calculation is helpful as it gives us a way of comparing what you are paying for a given buff.

You want your Troops to ideally be cheap on a PPW measure.  The reason for this is small point changes can make a big difference given the multiplicative effect of the number of units involved (e.g. 2 points of efficiency on a Guardsmen can scale up to a 200 point advantage at an army level).   It is a truism but in this game an army with bad troops tends to do poorly given the need to hold objectives and maintain board control.

The PPW value varies materially for Elites, Heavy Support and Fast attack units.  What we really want is a unit that performs a battlefield role and where the cost is not significantly more than the PPW.  Of course, the PPW is just the cost of the wounds and takes no account of the utility a unit might provide.  When it comes to these unit types you would absolutely expect them to trade above their PPW but what you don’t want to do is overpay.

Dedicated Transports are almost all universally “cheap” but they are something of a tax at an army level as they don’t generally just ferry around more useful units.  What we want is for a Dedicated Transports to be super cheap so it is effectively very annoying for an opponent to attack, drawing damage away from other key units.

Winners from the January 2021 update

I analysed the units that had a points cut and the table below shows the ten biggest winners from a PPW perspective.  This looks to identify those units that had the biggest efficiency upgrade as part of the changes.

Unit (point change)PointsPPWPPW – PointsPPW / Points
Reavers (-10)10 18+8177%
Termagants (-2)57+2140%
Poxwalkers (-2)57+2138%
Death Guard Possessed (+4)2431+7131%
Armiger Warglave (-15)135170+35126%
Tyrannofex with cannon (20)190221+31117%
Wracks (2)89+1116%
Armiger Helverin (-15)155170+15110%
Plague Marines (+2)2122+1104%
Storm Guardians (-2)770100%

One caveat to note before delving into the winners, is that the points for both Death Guard and Drukhari seem to been made with their upcoming codexes in mind.  So we may need to wait until those books are released to fully understand these points changes.  

With that said, the highlights are that Drukhari come out as winners, we see some welcome boosts for Tyranids, a very much needed point cut for Craftworld troops and some surprisingly positive price cuts for smaller Imperial Knights.

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Credit to Games Workshop

Looking across the changes, with current rules, it appears that Drukhari are the biggest winners.  The HQs got a bit more expensive but we might expect the power of these units to increase with the new rules. In terms of specific Drukhari units:

  • Drukhari Reaver jet bikes have dropped from 20 points to 10 points.  No matter how you cut it this unit is now efficient from a durability perspective. These are so cheap in fact that we wonder whether this could be a mistake and wonder whether this will lead some players to spam this unit.  
  • Wracks now look very efficient and when you combine this with the fact can now take 20 models in a unit this is looking like a mainstay for this faction. We fully expect to see these troops in competitive lists in the very near future.

Overall, the changes appear to offer a dramatic boost in power to Drukhari while they await their codex.  

Warhammer 40K: Death Guard - Pox Walkers (Easy to Build) - The Dragon's Lair
Credit to Games Workshop

The other faction with a codex due is Death Guard and these points changes appear to be what we might expect in that new book. We see Poxwalkers get a big efficiency boost and Death Guard Possessed look like a lot of fun for Chaos players.  This will be an interesting time to be spikey!  The potential losers from this shake out are Nurglings. While they still look efficient from a PPW perspective the change to Disgustingly Resilient will likely make them much less annoying to deal with for opponents.

Tyranids got some love with the Tyrannofex and Termagants receiving fairly big boosts.  We also saw Hive Guard get a 12.5% price drop which makes this excellent unit even better from an efficiency perspective. Exciting for those who love their bugs.

Prior to this update we would argue that Craftworld Eldar had the worst troops in the game.  This new update gives them a needed boost and we see both Storm Guardians and Guardian Defenders in our top ten.  There are still some issues with this faction from an overall 9th edition efficiency perspective but hopefully this goes some way towards balancing the game for Craftworlds.

5 New Space Marines Units Announced for 9th Edition - Spikey Bits
Credit to Games Workshop

Losers from the January 2021 update

We have also looked at the units that have had the largest drops in efficiency as a result of the changes.  There were a lot of modest adjustment to HQ units which we have ignored for this analysis as many of these models are due new rules.  It is important to note that many of these units are still awesome it is just on the PPW measure they have lost some efficiency.

Unit (point change)PointsPPWPPW – PointsPPW / Points
Nightbringer (+20)370130-24035%
Tactical Drones (+10)209-1144%
Retributor (+1)147-750%
Sister Repentia (+2)1610-664%
Eradicators (+5)4533-1272%
Inceptors (+5)4533-1272%
Zoanthropes (+5)5041-981%
Outriders (+5)5043-787%
Nurglings (+2)2233+11150%

The change in points to the models above to be going someway to balance the game with some notable exceptions (looking at you Tau Drones).  A common theme here is that on a point for point basis these models look somewhat expensive so we need to ask whether there are worth it from a utility perspective.

Many will celebrate the points increases for Eradicators and Inceptors.  We would expect these units still to be included in Space Marine lists as their damage output definitely makes up for the tax from a durability perspective (especially given the presence of the Chief Apothecary mechanic).  Outriders on the other hand are arguably now on the pricy side and we would not expect to see so many of these in competitive lists.

C'tan Nightbringer and Necrons | Warhammer 40k necrons, Warhammer 40k  artwork, Warhammer lore
Credit to Games Workshop

The Nightbringer increased by 20 points and now stands at 370 points for a 9 wound model.  Even allowing for the fact this model can only take 3 wounds a phase this unit needs to do a LOT of work to justify his existence.  This unit is primarily a damage dealing unit and to breakeven needs to be able to remove over 11 Gravis Marine models  He definitely has the attacks to do that but it is a big risk.  And his general lack of speed does not help.

Tactical Drones got smashed. Again. I am not sure how this is justified and this does nothing to improve the fortunes of the beleaguered T’au.

Zoanthropes see a 5 point hike which makes spamming this unit a lot less feasible.  We still see play here but the cost of taking maximum units is likely a price too high for an optimised list. 

The Nurglings analysis is based on our latest understanding of the new rules.  Based on the old rules the PPW of a single base was 50 points against single damage weaponry.  That is crazy efficiency given the utility provided by their ability to forward deploy and given they are objective secured.  They are still an excellent unit and the reason they are on the list is that this point change plus the new rules brings makes them significantly less efficient.

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Credit to Games Workshop

Finally, we wrap up with Sisters.  Repentia and Retributors both got a modest price hike.  This is perhaps not surprising given how effective these units are at trading in the game.  We would absolutely expect these units are still going to be found in competitive lists and you shouldn’t be put off by the PPW analysis.  This points us towards our next article where we take this analysis beyond durability and look to quantify the utility of a unit in points.  My prediction is when you consider the PPW of these Sisters unit with a utility measure they will look very competive.

Overall, the latest FAQ and balance update has confirmed that Games Workshop will continue to keep a pulse on the meta and is willing to make changes to problematic or underutilized units without releasing a full Chapter Approved.  I expected that theme to continue from 8th edition, but this confirms what is an extremely healthy policy on the part of the design team to keep the meta as diverse as possible, especially as many factions await their Codex to gain their full 9th edition power.  If you want to know where the Art of War team thinks the meta will be heading based on these changes and how the update GT missions will impact play moving forward check out John Lennon’s forthcoming article on that very topic!

Want some more of Adam? Check out his mathhammer clinics in the War Room! We’ll be back on monday with more thoughts on what these changes mean for matched play.


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