The CAD Will Not Save You

Another post on the notion of restricting army composition, to illustrate (and I’ll admit, belabor) a point:

The Combined Arms Detachment (CAD), in and of itself, is not a solution. Restricting things to a CAD is not a recipe for automatic fluffy, friendly, non-competitive fun.

Consider the following list, built off the Eldar codex:


  • Farseer with Singing Spear, a Jetbike, and the Spirit Stone of Anath’lan
  • Warlock Conclave with five Warlocks on Jetbikes


  • 3 Windriders armed with Scatter Lasers
  • 3 Windriders armed with Scatter Lasers
  • 3 Windriders armed with Scatter Lasers
  • 3 Windriders armed with Scatter Lasers
  • 3 Windriders armed with Scatter Lasers

Fast Attack

  • Hornet Squadron with three Hornets, all with Pulse Lasers
  • Hornet Squadron with three Hornets, all with Pulse Lasers
  • Hornet Squadron with three Hornets, all with Pulse Lasers

Lord of War

  • Wraithknight with two Scatter Lasers

Spammy as all get out, not particularly fun to play against, teeming with all the things that make people complain about the Eldar – lots of S8 AP2 shooting, even more S6 shots from the scatter lasers (68 shots a turn if everyone unleashes), nasty psyker power, and a bunch of speedy, Objective Secured jetbikes. And ranged D. And this list, to be honest, probably isn’t even that optimized.

Now put yourself in the role of an event organizer, who restricted list composition to “CAD only”, when someone like this shows up?


There’s a debate in regulatory law and policy, about whether or not we should focus on creating tight laws (or in the case of 40K, rules) or flexible, principle-based rules that then need enforcement based on intent.

This also applies to gaming.

The list above is technically legal, but violates the spirit of most events trying to tone things down by going CAD only. Which means you either need to suck it up and let it slide because those are the rules, or more likely, you need to pull this player aside, and ask them not to do it again. Or take an alternate list. Or in particular dire cases, ask them not to play.

And if you were doing that, why not do that in the first place?

Yes, something like “Don’t be a jerk” and enforcing the social contract is more work than going to something like CAD only, which feels neat and clean and clear. But if you need to enforce don’t be a jerk anyway, have you accomplished anything? You did manage to ban the guy doing fun stuff with the Inquisition codex. Or hoping to field their old Wraithguard army. And Harlequins. And any number of other lists. You banned fun, fluffy lists trying to contain power, and as we can see from the list above, there are still edge cases where this fails.

Want you friendly event to be the best it can be? Put in the work and let your players know what you expect. Actively moderate lists, and be prepared to ask people to dial it down. Don’t expect an army building restriction to do it for you. We’re gamers. Our whole hobby is about trying to squeeze the most we can out of the rules. To find that little edge. Why do we expect it to be any different here?

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  1. The fact that some codexes have exceptionally good spamamble units is not a reason to throw away restrictions. And tbh the Eldar codex is just silly on a lot of power and balance levels.

    If you take restrictions away then you can get the above list only this time with 3 wraithknights .. sounds like even less fun right.

    I don’t play in tournaments but would actually think that “single codex” would be a quite reasonable restriction if it wasn’t for the slew of minidexes recently. Those really can’t stand on their own.

    The ad-hoc moderation approach seems extremely ambiguous to me. Dialing it down and keeping it fun, can be very different for different people. And this being a game based around a not insubstantial monetary investment often requiring many hours to assemble and paint an army, if a player shows up at an event and is then told that their list isn’t in the spirit of the event that would very much stink.

    So what can one do
    1) Place restrictions to try and limit some of the unfun effects in the game

    Assuming above is bad, what else is there?

    1) players must submit army lists X days in advance for approval
    2) players must prepare and arrive at an event with a chance that their army will be subjectively deemed unfun and must change it or be turned away
    3) player can play whatever they like and let the market decide. GW used to have army composition scores to try and ensure lists were fluffy or not spamtastic but that didn’t work either
    4) Make in faction/codex bonuses so over the top you’d be a fool to mix and match

    I honestly don’t think there is a good answer but subjective ad-hoc guidelines are tricky to say the least


    1. To be honest, while the Eldar codex is pathologically good at making overtuned lists, there have always been lists that have been good at this since I started playing.

      Perhaps it’s my background in public health, but I have little to no faith in anyone ever creating a set of rules that is iron-clad when there’s a powerful incentive to get around them.

      Yeah, subjective ad-hoc guidelines are tricky. But I’ve been playing this game for the better part of two decades now, and I haven’t seen a non-subjective solution that doesn’t fall apart at first contact with competitive players.


  2. so is the proposed solution removing all force composition restrictions and hope folks adhere to the spirit of a tournament?

    I used to play competitive magic, where you aren’t trying to be fluffy, you are trying to beat your opponent as effectively as possible and even there both the organizing body and occasionally tournament organizers provide a set of rules including card banning.

    Some cards or card combinations are deemed excessive, grossly unfun or abusive and are banned.

    Competitive environments need rules, they strive to balance and address various issues and ensure at least a somewhat fun environment.
    For GW games where different part of the rules come out at very different times and to be blunt seem to have very different strengths I would imagine this is even more important.
    Magic players can abadon a deck with moderate effort, switching your army due to problems in the ruleset is a bigger challenge. I do realize that rules, and enforcement could cause exactly the same.

    Privateer press has changed a model’s rules on many occasions when they were found to be problematic, at times straight our nerfing the model, and while it may have ruffled some feathers the game is better for it.

    For non-tournament scenes you have some self regulation. If you are that guy/gal who plays jerk lists you may find it hard to find opponents. But you have to wonder how many new players quit the game playing this person….

    To your original point- If I was a tournament organizer I would regulate more not less.
    If there is a list considered problematic let your players know in advance that the rules in codex are now changed for example only 1 in 3 bikes may take a heavy weapon, or they now cost 25pts instead of 10.
    Since GM is extremely uncommunicative and seem unconcerned with competative environment I would propose that GW tournaments have a semi official body which modifies rules, point costs etc… all in an effort to balance things out. Will it be perfect no, but it’s better to try than simply shrug


    1. I don’t necessarily have a specific proposal, as much as, well, asserting there are no easy answers.

      This particular post was inspired by stuff I’ve seen a lot, where friendly events try to come up with army composition rules to make them friendly – in several cases, restricting things to a CAD. But within that framework, there are friendly lists that are banned, and hardcore lists that are okay.

      I’m suggesting that for those events, you likely need to go the extra mile and make sure everyone knows the “spirit” of the event. Is this for fun or not? Do people want teeming masses of infantry? Should everyone have a theme? etc.

      For tournaments, I’m of two minds. One is to play whack-a-mole and try to continually patch the rules, but the combination of the rapid release schedule and Games Workshop clearly not so much caring I think that’s hard to do, and does put you in the awkward position of outright banning codexes (there will be no Knights at NOVA Open).

      The other is to just say screw it. Players have always been able to make stompy, unfun, unpleasant lists. If you’re going for a premier, “Come ready for an ugly fight” style tournament, I think at this point trying to mediate which stompy, unfun things can or cannot appear (no Knights, but a Centurion star is okay?) is a losing battle. Throw open the gates and have at it.

      But then I’ve never thought that, if you want a truly competitive, balanced, tournament-ready game that Warhammer 40K was a particularly good choice.


  3. Metas tend to work themselves out. None of the spammable Eldar stuff is invincible and they all have their weaknesses. Three Wraithknights? Fine. Psykers, melee and/or MSU will do just dandy. A bunch of jetbikes? Vehicle armor is great against them.

    Its paper, rock, scissors — and I am cool with that. Frankly, this will never be Magic, where certain decks are simply better than all other comers. Go ahead and build a list with spammable units — but good luck when you run against other armies that are built to exploit your weaknesses.

    …and the Eldar, while very good, do have a lot of exploitable weaknesses.


    1. Some armies are simpler better than others,
      I don’t think an argument can be made that they are not.

      And yes metas will change and adopt but if there is a distinct disparity in rules, points etc I do think it’s a companies role to try and smooth that out.
      Since GW refuses to do this it’s a tournament organizers responsibility to try and tackle the issue.


  4. Well said and I completely agree.

    Forcing army composition never fixes problems, it just changes what the problem are. Any sort of restrictions will ultimately favor certain armies and the power builds just become something else.


  5. Yeah, it’s not like power-builds weren’t a problem before 7th (/late 6th). Honestly, I think formations and formation detachment (with their much-loathed “tax units”) actually move the game in a more balanced direction – if I were organizing a tournament, I’d almost be more inclined to ban the CAD than the other way around (assuming a point when all codexes have enough variety of other options to make that viable, or an exception for those armies that don’t). I know that would rub a lot of people the wrong way, but honestly it might be the must balanced thing in the long run. (Or it’ll just shift the meta to favoring the armies with the best detachment options instead of the best “tall poppy” units to spam. But even that seems a better state of affairs, in my opinion)


  6. I disagree. I think that using a list someone would find challenging as a reason not to restrict things to CAD’s is not really making the point strongly because unless i cant counter what I KNOW is this possibility, it just doesn’t make your case. This army CAN be handled. the big picture requires one simple thing to be true: not increasing the NUMBER of “broken things”. if you accoplish THAT goal, then you have accomplished the only goal that CAN be accomplished. Let us even assume that there IS a list that “can’t be beaten” when played by a complete idiot. Let’s assume such a list even exists (I doubt it). If it did, why would you want to invite more of them? Just to handle this tiny corner case we’re going to go out and allow a hundred more “bad” things to happen? No. So while I am not advocating for singular CAD’s, I think the article kind of fails to make its point. I think a CAD requirement, while I’m not crusading for it, could be one of the healthiest things that could happen to 40K.


  7. I think that the CAD is a good tool for smaller point battles, and can easily be combined with a couple of formations for fun competitive lists. Some players will spam. That is pretty much a given. Particularly lists for armies that have only a few strong combos (I am looking at you, dark eldar blasterborn!) For beginner players it can be best to start with the CAD, however for people that like to play around, and would like to have a few games with crazy lists and different combos then there should be a framework to help this kind of player. Whichever army book/books you choose, you can have a strong, fun army that can have a reasonable chance against most lists built to be good fun to play with/against. However there are a few books that are easier to do this with than others. I think that the formations are good for encouraging diversity in armies and how people play. This diversity is good, however the model selection disparity between some armies is shocking. All Imperials being BB allies is probably sensible in the fluff, but not great for anyone wanting to get through 50 guardsmen with fnp, 4++ zealot (and therefore fearless) re-rolling wounds, containing a librarian of psychic shenanigans and carrying enough special weapons to ruin a day. This deathstar could be done with a tax of three scout squads, the platoon comm squad and a lord commissar. could also then add a 50 man conscript squad with a priest for the commissar to join. this list would be a nightmare to move or set-up, no fun to play against and would be able to simply ignore some armies whilst sitting on objectives.

    I digress. Formations are cool, special characters are cool, having tweaked FO charts can be cool as well. Spamming and rule abuse to the extremes can be amusing for odd battles in the right circumstances.


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