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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Email in: Metagame

"First, long time fan of the blog. It's helped me surprise a few people with my nids and my wife keeps reading the space wolf posts and giggling about what she's going to do to people.

I'm a relatively new player with a background in competitive magic the gathering. I plan on working my way into tournament play in the states, but my job forced me to take a bit of a break in playing. Here are some thoughts I've had on the nature of the 40k metagame. It started out as an email to my wife that grew a bit out of control. I'd love to have your feedback on it.

I see a lot of talk online about the metagame in 40k. The two most common arguments are 1) is there a metagame in 40k? and 2) how should it effect how I build my list/play the game.

To start off, we will discuss what metagame is. The term refers to those things that change how you play the game outside of the game its self, particularly in reference to list building and tournaments. The most comon example of metagame is tournament Magic the Gathering.

Because of the way competative MtG is set up, it is possible for a player to have a very good idea of what decks he will be facing and plan accordingly. This most commonly takes a form something like "Red burn is dominant, I expect 60% of what I see to be burn decks, I'll adjust my deck so that it beats burn, at the cost of making it weaker vs everything else." The player uses his knowledge of what he expects to see to adjust his deck and so takes advantage of the metagame."

I'll chuck in here that I agree with this ^^.

"Now that we have a funtional definition metagame is, we can talk about it in 40k. We will start with the local gaming shop.

Lets say that everybody at your shop thought Dark Eldar where just the most amazing thing GW has done in years and got all excited at playing with something other than marines. A month or so after the codex dropped, and suddenly every other game you bring your Tyranids to they have to make about fifty million saves against poison. So you make a few changes to your list, add a Tervigon or two in order to give yourself a fighting chance against the spiky elves, and roll on.

The term I see most often for this is tailoring. Tailoring is not an incorrect term, but its not the complete story. What you have done is tailor your list in order to account for the metagame at your local store. Note that this is different from tailoring your list to let you beat the one guy who always shoots you off the table with IG on turn 3."

Here's where I think we reach murky grey waters. Personally, changing a COUPLE of aspects of your army when a new army drops in 40k is simply adapting to rules changes and this is where I think MtG metagaming and 40k metagaming differ. In MtG it's very hard to make a deck which has a decent chance against everything and the more you do this, the less overall winning chances you'll have against lists. On the other hand you can create a deck that dominates the 'common' decks and work to play match-ups at tournaments. You CAN do this with 40k but you can also build an army that can handle all armies against it - aka a balanced army list. Now this list is going to have weaknesses and whilst it's less likely to win against certain lists, the chances aren't minimal.

What this means in terms of metagaming is you can stop producing cards for MtG and you'll still see deck evolution as different decks/colors/combinations come into play and become countered. By having new decks every several months this evolution is kept fresh. In 40k since you can create balanced lists and the over-arching rules aren't touched throughout the lifespan of an edition, this evolution is much less seen. It can be seen and sometimes is, but individuals operating under the balanced list premise aren't having to change their lists drastically to deal with all the change happening around them. Most changes will be seen when a new codex is dropped to ensure the army can handle new army variants but for the most part, the 5th edition ruleset dictates army design. For example, in 5th edition mech is powerful and you need weight of fire to drop infantry. Lots of people think to 'go against the meta' they'll take a massive foot list and the opponent can't hurt them. This is crapola because a balanced list can hurt them. Yes their anti-tank is less effective but they can still put a dent in a massive foot list and have good defenses themselves.

Add in that MtG is relatively cheap to do whole-sale changes to your codex and 40k is not and metagaming has a damper put on it. But back to the original point you made...a couple of unit changes isn't tailoring - particularly if it's at your local scene. If you make whole-sale army changes to better deal with a certain army which gimps your army against others, then yes you are starting to enter the realm of tailoring.

"Now we can talk about the metagame in tournament 40k. The most important thing to understand is that a Warhammer player CANNOT take advantage of metagame concepts the way a MtG player can. The reason for this is that on a scale larger that that of the local shop, the 40k metagame is too "loose" to make effective predictions about what you will up against. (Even at the local level its rare for any particular list/race to be so dominant that tailoring is effective)."

Correct and I went into more detail above for the rest of the readers.

"In order to understand why the 40k player can't do what the MtG player does, we need to understand that the MtG player can predict what to expect with far more precision that a 40k player can. When a MtG player says "I can expect 60% burn, 30% discard, 10% everything else" it is not the equivalent of a Warhammer player saying "I can expect 60% marine, 30% spiky elves". It is more the equivalant of the Warhammer player saying "I can expect 60% BA jumper, 20% Dragowing, 20% everything else."
The 40k player cannot make predictions like that because no particular list is that dominant. Although some lists and races are better than others, the closest you can get to MtG level prediction is saying that you will see a lot of marines. Because of the huge variation in effective, competative lists it is impossible to tailor a 40k list the way a MtG deck can be.

In summary: there is a metagame in 40k, but it is not precise enough to take advantage of, beyond occasional situations at the local level. Attempting to use it is a waste of time. A player is better off trying to field a balanced, take all comers list."

I agree 100% with your conclusion. :). So let's hear other's thoughts. I know there are some out there who believe 100% in the metagame so I'd like to hear your opinions against this.

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