How to build a list in Warhammer 40K

Hello all,

It is a very exciting but strange time in the world of 40k.  As of writing this, the world has been shut down for close to 3 months and 9th edition is looming like a cloud of indecision over everyone’s favourite game.

I thought it would be a good time to look at list building theory.  I am not the best list builder out there, but these are the steps I go through to build a list.

  • Evaluate the Environment
  • The environment is dependent on where you want to play and what your goal is.  Are you trying to deal with your local meta, or trying to compete at the LVO?  For this example, let’s say our environment is 9th edition and everything that brings.

    So what do we know about 9th so far? Vehicles and tanks are going to be a lot more prevalent in the coming edition with GW getting rid of the ‘bad touch’ mechanic by allowing vehicles to fire while in combat.  Also, looking at the Indomitus box set, there is a definite focus on close combat (CC).  GW has mentioned that they are trying to make overwatch less punitive to the charging unit, which again puts focus on CC.

    One final note on the environment of 9th edition is that GW has published some examples that points are going up somewhere on the order of 20%.  This means that to have a 2000 point list in 9th, we should be targeting 1500-1700 points in 8th edition.  Let’s go with 1700 points!

  • Define the Theme For Your Army
  • What do I mean by a theme? Well, what do you want your army to do well?  There are ‘run up and smash them in the face’ lists, or ‘shoot them off the board from back here’ lists and everything in between. It is important so that you can build synergy in your list.  Having everything pulling in one (or maybe 2) directions helps everything work together.  Also keep in mind the environment we identified above.

    I am using this opportunity to build a list focused on killing tanks/vehicles and taking out those buffing characters that make the opponents army stronger.  

    NOTE: In 9th edition the units will cost more, so focus is more important.  You can’t have everything anymore, and you have to be more selective!

  • Identify Key Units
  • This of course starts with models you have.  If you can get to the table faster, and get reps in, it accelerates the play testing part (coming up later). I already have a space marine army and they are painted as a Raven Guard Successor chapter, Raptors.  So let’s dive in!

    First goal is to get rid of vehicles. Most vehicles have a toughness of 6 or higher, and need a strength 6 or higher weapon to reliably hurt them.  They also usually have a good armour save, so we need to take that into account also.

    I am going with Centurion Devastators with Grav-cannons and Grav-amps (420 points) They are only strength 5, but have AP -3, and a 1cp strat to let me reroll all wounds and damage.  This compensates for the lower strength.  The centurions also have hurricane bolters that I can use to kill infantry units at the same time.  I want 6 of these to make sure I can do maximum damage when they shoot, and I can possibly split fire.

    Next, as a redundancy for vehicular slaughter, I’m choosing Aggressors with the boltstorm gauntlets and fragstorm grenade launchers (222 points). The guns are S4, but in combat, they have power fists! (S8, AP-3, d3D) with the 9th looking more and more to be focused on melee, these guys are a wrecking crew!

    The next focus is to eliminate characters and the buffs they provide.  Being A Raven Guard successor, I get +1 to hit and wound characters while in tactical doctrine (turns 2 and 3).  The issue here is that characters are often in the back lines and are not targetable by regular forces. This is where eliminators (2x 72 points) come into play! Sniper rifles can target characters, and with the ability to shoot without line of sight (LOS) there is nowhere to hide! Shooting S5, AP-2, d3D with mortal wounds on wound rolls of 6+ kills characters quite efficiently.  The Eliminators also have different shots for different situations that make them versatile. 

    In addition, in order to get more guns on the characters, I need to clear screens.  To do so, I will take a ThunderFire Cannon (TFC 92 points). With 4d3 shots, S5, AP-1 1D, and don’t need LOS, these are great, and with the new Blast rules, they should get more shots.  

    That adds up to 876 points.  

  • Determine Detachments
  • In the list so far, I have 4 heavy weapon slots and one elite slot. In 9th, detachments cost CP, but we know that we will be refunded the detachment cost if your warlord is in a battalion.  That’s a good place to start. However, my 4 heavy weapon slots won’t fit in a battalion, so I need to add a spearhead detachment, and hope the CP cost isn’t too high.

  • Filling Out Your Detachments
  • A good place to start is with HQ choices.  With a Battalion, I need 2 HQs, and the Spearhead requires 1 HQ.  Also with Marines, rerolls are incredibly good!  So a captain is going in, and I have a Captain in Phobos Armour (99 points) model, so in he goes. He normally gives reroll 1s to hit.

    Next, it’s good to participate in every phase, so my next HQ is a Librarian in Phobos Armour (101 points).  That way I can get some psychos help on the field.

    Since close combat is looking like the in thing this edition, a jump pack captain with a storm shield and thunder hammer seems appropriate, if a bit pricey (143 points). And to help people make those charges, a chaplain with a jump pack and a storm bolter for an additional HQ (92 points)

    I also need 3 units of troops to fill out the requirements of the battalion.  I am choosing 3 different troop choices for different reasons.  5 Infiltrators (110 points) because they can stop people from deep striking within 12” of these models.  This is great for board control and stopping me from getting charged out of DS.

    5 Intercessors with bolt rifles and a power fist on the sergeant (94 points) for their 30” guns and 2 wounds per model, and another 5 Intercessors with bolt rifles and a thunder hammer (101 points) on the sergeant to add a little CC spicy!  With a little room left I am adding 5 Scouts with sniper rifles and camo cloaks (80 points) to help with killing characters and the cloaks to increase their survivability.

    For those counting, that is 1698 points.  Within the limit set out.

  • Playtesting and Repetition
  • This one I cannot stress enough!  A general who knows his army is much more dangerous than one who does not!  That said, we are not all going to hit the right list on the first try, but it should be close.  I recommend playing 15-20 games with the list and see how it operates.  

    Take the time to record what went well, what didn’t work and things that were enjoyable about the games.  

    When I look at this list, I see that it can take care of deep strikers, vehicles and characters.

    NOTE: I think this list doesn’t have a good answer for fast or CC heavy armies mainly because I have a lot of heavy weapons.  Heavy weapons don’t like to move, so I am sacrificing board control for firepower.  

    I am going to pay special attention to CC armies like Tyranids and Blood Angels.  I’m also going to have to watch out for fast armies, like Aeldari or Drukhari. I will need to take special notes on these games.

    Review this info and look at the list with this in mind.  Small tweaks are good to try out, but use them a few times and see if you can make them work. 

    Also, don’t change more than one thing at a time, especially at the beginning.  If you change more than one thing, it is harder to determine what caused the difference.

    I hope this has been helpful, and I wish you luck in your Warhammer 40K adventures!