Murder Your Darlings (or: Why I’ll Never Be a Serious 40K Contender)

“In fairness, ‘The Floor is Lava’ may not be the strongest competitive build.” – Val Heffelfinger, paraphrased

There is a notion in writing called “Murder Your Darlings”. Basically, what it boils down to is not to be overly precious with your own ideas. That turn of phrase you really like? That “brief” digression into 19th century British Colonial diplomacy (this is sadly a real example)? If they don’t belong, get rid of them. Something that doesn’t serve the goal of your writing – to be clear, to convey information, etc. has to go, whether you like it or not.

I tell my students to do this. I force myself to do this.

But I won’t do this for my 40K armies – and that, more than anything else, is why I’m not good at competitive 40K.

Let’s talk about Adam Abramowicz for a bit – this year’s “motivating example” for a lot of my thoughts on competitive 40K. For those of you not following Warzone Atlanta 2018, where his goal was to win…he didn’t. He came in 13th, after a very impressive showing early in the tournament that had him breathing that sweet, sweet top table air.
Despite not winning, I want to emphasize what a phenomenal performance that is. Based on the analysis of WZA 2017 (here and here) it’s evident that one of the things that most strongly predicts where you’ll finish in this year’s tournament is how you did in last year’s. That’s why you get recurring names on top tables and across multiple tournaments.
Last year, Adam finished 60th.
Based on a simple model I made at the time, I forecasted that Adam’s chances of ending up where he did were slim. I went back and did the forecast for 13th place, and the model predicted he had, under the most optimistic conditions, a 4.5% chance. Under more pessimistic assumptions? Closer to 2%. And to be clear, it’s not just my models that show this – Collin Watts has a great article about the same idea and if you know what you’re looking for in a couple of his pictures you can see his model utterly failing to predict Adam’s performance. What I said at the time was that this model couldn’t account for his efforts. His deliberate, systematic and heavily coached approach to getting better at 40K.
And one of the things he did to do that? He murdered his darlings. People who have followed Adam know that he’s a fan of the Blood Angels, and he has been trying to make the sons of Sanguinius work as a competitive force for awhile now, iterating through various flavors and, to be honest, slowly diluting out the boys in red. This last FAQ was sort of the nail in the coffin, as it expressly was meant to dial back the “IG CP Farm + Knight + Smash Captain” build that Adam had settled on, and it dialed it back hard. Which left him with a choice: What do you do when “Win Warzone Atlanta” and “Win Warzone Atlanta with Blood Angels” are no longer goals of the same difficulty?
That thing he loved? Was proud of? Literally had custom bits designed in collaboration with Pop Goes the Monkey for? When that got in the way of the idea of winning, they were out.
And I…utterly refuse to do that. To me, the core of an army, and the soul of it, is its narrative. For my counts-as Eldar Corsairs, part of that is the fundamental conceit that no unit in the army has to touch the ground. Everyone is either on a jetbike or mounted up in a grav-tank. Hence the “floor is lava” joke from Val above. That’s no way to start constructing a competitive force. Sure, you can potentially build a competitive force around it – and indeed, in the glory days of the 6th and 7th edition Eldar codexes the notion was strong enough that I could eek out a middle-table performance by accident. But I was consistently the worst Eldar player at any given event – because for me, my darlings are the whole point. When I start an army, I start with a narrative concept – Eldar Corsairs, or void-war Imperial Fists. Airmobile Guard, or Space Wolves with less Wolf and more Viking. And this naturally segments the army into things that should and should not be taken – before the discussion of whether or not they’re good even begins.
That is, of course, not to say that you have to chase whatever the new hot thing in the meta is. But it does mean you have to approach things with a certain degree of detachment. That you can only hold on to that unit you really like but never really performs so long before you recognize that it’s an affectation that’s holding you back.
If you want to improve your play, that’s where I’d start – what in your list is the thing you can’t get over the idea of? And then take it out.
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1 Comment

  1. It always pleases me when I’m reminded that I’m not the only Eldar player who created an army with “floor is lava” as the guiding factor. I may have been gifted a bunch of foot slogging elves which makes me occasionally stray from the original one true vision.

    I’d rather be entertained than win any day!


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