Picking a New 40k Army

There is a running joke in the hobby world that no matter how much you paint, you will never finish your army. Many players will start off with the best of intentions, planning on painting a squad per week or even setting themselves deadlines to meet. Most of the time, however, you find yourself either getting distracted by new shiny models that are coming out or falling behind and failing to catch up. Many a hobby table is littered with half-painted models on HQ conversion that, if you are being honest, you are never going to finish.

However, there are those rare times when you find yourself adding the last layer of vanish to a model and suddenly thinking, “whoa, I’ve actually finished.” This happened to me a few weeks ago when I put the finishing touches to my Ghost of Mortain Grey Knight army. More of a novel project that expanded into a fully painted army, I was actually quite proud that I had managed to finish off a project. However, that pride quickly turned to dread as my brain decided to ask the question all hobbyists know is coming:

“So. You have finished that army. But what next?”
James’ annoying brain, 2019.

It’s almost impossible for a hobbyist NOT to have a project on the go, and I am no exception. My mind began to work on the possibilities, the conversion ideas and the lists I could brew. But to my horror, I came to a shocking realisation that I bet most of you have had in your time playing this fine game – I had no idea what army I wanted to do next.

When I started my Grey Knights, it was super easy to know what I wanted to do with them. I had a solid plan on how I wanted the army to look and I’ve always loved the faction and their lore. As a result, I just got on with them and had a blast doing it. But now that I’m looking for a new project, I have no idea where to begin. Do I want to build a force to fight alongside my Grey Knights? Do I want to try something completely different? Did I want a cool hobby project, or a more competitive army?

The fact is that building an army is a unique experience for everyone and there are many different ways you can go about it. So, rather than driving myself mad trying to decide what I wanted to do, I thought I would talk about the different reasons behind starting a new army. Not only might this help me get out of my rut, but if you’re like me it might also help you if you’ve been looking for inspiration for a new project. So, I guess the question we have to try to answer is, why build a new army?

I want to win games.

The bluntest, but also the most honest answer to wanting to start a new army. After all, 40k is a tabletop battle game, and most of us would like to win some of the time. To others (especially those in the competitive scene), winning is the most important part of the game, and they will want to have the best chances of making that a reality.

As we all know, not every 40k army is created equal. A quick google search will provide you with no end of results and army lists from tournaments both big and small. A quick thing you will notice is that a lot of the same armies keep appearing in the top rankings. This just goes to prove my point that if all things are equal and each player has the same skill level, you will still find some armies outperforming one another.

This has led to players compiling data to figure out which are the best armies in the game. Sadly for me, my beloved Grey Knights are considered bottom tier at best in the 40k meta, which means I’m unlikely to be winning any tournaments with them any time soon. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop playing them, but it could give me inspiration for a more ‘competitive’ force to build and use for competition play.

Looking at the top forces in the current meta, it appears Orks, Craftworlds, Genestealer Cult, T’au, and Astra Militarum make up the most competitive lists outside of building an Imperium, Chaos, or Aeldari soup style list. So, all I have to do is build one of them, right?

Well, the issue with building an army this way is that it leaves for little in the way of innervation. Sure, I could just find an army list online and copy it verbatim, but then is it really my list? Now I’m not criticising anyone how chooses to do this. If you want to play the best version of an army and just want to compete for the table that’s completely fair. But if you’re wanting to build something more unique and want to try lots of different units in each game, maybe this isn’t the path for you.

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I want some allies for my other armies.

Sometimes you will have finished off an army, and after playing a few games realise that you’re struggling with one particular kind of enemy. Perhaps you can’t seem to take down heavily armoured tanks and walkers. Maybe your troops can’t hold their own in melee. Well, thanks to 8th edition, you don’t have to worry about that, because you can just soup it up.

Soup lists are army lists that take advantage of the keyword mechanic, allowing you to run the best stuff you can with very little drawback. If you have an Imperium, Chaos, or Aeldari force you can simply add another detachment to your army that shares the same keyword to help flesh out your list. So, if your Ultramarines need help holding objectives, you can simply take a battalion of Astra Militarum to sit back and camp for you. Need some firepower for your Daemons? Take a Spearhead of Chaos tanks to soften up your opponent.The possibilities are almost endless for how you can mix and match these forces.

The only problem is if you play absolutely anything else. T’au can’t simply call for support from some Space Marines if they need hardier troops, and Orks can’t requisition some better range units if they are found lacking. Granted these armies do pretty well on their own, but it goes to highlight that this isn’t a viable choice for some players.

I just love the models/lore.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good the army is or how well it plays. Sometimes you just look at a model or a unit and say to yourself: “I want to play them.” You can talk about how ‘viable’ an army is all you want. Sometimes the shiny model syndrome is too great and you just want to build up that force.

Other times you might have bought a book from the Black Library and found yourself falling in love with how the protagonist or antagonist is written. Maybe you have read a bit of fluff in your old codexes and have become inspired to write a list based on a particular event or character. That was probably the reason I ended up with 2,000 points of ghostly Grey Knights. This is also a perfectly normal way to decide on a new army.

I have known many players that have constructed vast hoards after reading the works of Graham McNeil or Dan Abbot, and these are the armies that become true labours of love. You can quickly find yourself looking for just the right model to represent that one lone guardsman that took down that Hive Tyrant or trying to work out how to paint those company markings to get that tactical squad just right.

It doesn’t really matter if they aren’t effective afterward. After all, you’re not building a top tier army here, but rather telling a story on the tabletop. And besides, competitive is not the only way to play 40k, with Open and Narrative play being just as much of the experience as Match play. If you find yourself inspired to do a unique and fun project, the only thing standing in your way is yourself (and maybe a budget).

And there we have it, a few of the ways you can decided on your next army for 40k. Has it helped me zero in on a particular faction for my new project? You will just have to wait and see. But I  am curious. How did you choose your last army? Was it for competitive reasons or were you inspired to do something different? Why not let us know about it in the comments below, and please make sure you like and subscribe to Master of Magics to stay updated with all the content we produce.

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