40K – My general thoughts on picking an army in 7th Edition

OK, here are some of my initial thoughts on picking an army list for 7th edition.  I’ve been really struggling with this – with all the data slates, formations, 40K approved forgeworld, unbound armies, and a frankly terrible section in the 40K rulebook for how to pick an army, its difficult to know where to start!

I decided to boil it down to some basic principles!

1 – Know Yourself

First, think about what you enjoy playing.  It sounds like a simple question, but its actually pretty complex.  There are two main aspects here – what sort of gameplay do you enjoy, and what models/fluff do you particularly appreciate?

Those two might overlap, but you can find there’s actually quite a difference between your favourite models, and the way models act on the tabletop.  I’m lucky – I love the Sisters of Battle models, and the combined arms mix, working with a short range firepower approach, really works well for me!

If you love the look of dreadnoughts, but don’t like the way vehicles tend to explode at the sight of melta, perhaps look at Eldar or Tau models, where the larger suits are monsters/characters, rather than vehicle types, for example.

Be aware of costs – if you pick Sisters of Battle these days, you’ll be struggling to get minis anywhere except direct from GW at full price for all metal models, for example.  Don’t get into an army you’ll find frustratingly hard to collect because of financial limitations – collecting a 30K forge world only army on a student lifestyle isn’t going to be easy!

Try to really think about what you’ll enjoy seeing on the table, and what and how you’d enjoy playing.  If you’re a new player, the latter might be hard to fully appreciate right now – honestly, if you enjoy the look of the models and the fluff, that’s probably the main thing right now.

2 – Know your enemy!

This isn’t about knowing the army list you’ll be facing (though that can help, of course!).  This is more about knowing what sort of games the people you’ll be playing with enjoy.  If you’re facing people who go all out to win, stacking their lists to leverage the most effectiveness in standard missions, well, that sucks, but for a competitive and sort of fun game you’d have to do the same.  If you’re facing people who want to do loads of custom missions and have wacky fun, then heck, not too much point picking a list until you have an idea of the particular game and scenario.

Most of us, I suspect, will be playing against folks who have armies they like, with the models they enjoy fielding, ready to go for a standard sort of points cost (generally 1500 or 1850pts).  In this case, you’ll probably want to pick a force that is reasonably solid, but focuses more on troops you enjoy than necessarily packing in the absolutely best choices (like taking Thousand Sons as troops rather than three heldrakes).

For me, if I know people are fielding Eldar and Marines already, I’d rather take a different army, so that can play a big factor.  Even if you really want marines, you might want to field Imperial Fists rather than another batch of Ultramarines.  Not a big deal, really, but it can play a factor.

3 – Know the 7th Edition 40K Rules

This is a big factor in picking an army, and I can’t stress this enough – to understand a codex, you really need to understand the game rules.  What do those special rules do?  How do power weapons work?  How do the missions normally deploy?  What is a standard detachment force org chart?

I’m not going to go into this in to much detail – its not a tutorial on the rules.  What I will mention are a few differences in the new edition that I’ve come across that you should bear in mind.

Tanks!  Tanks are generally much improved from 6th.  Changes to the damage table means that a lucky shot is much less likely to take out a Land Raider with a lucky shot.  Troops in open topped vehicles are vulnerable to flame weapons, though, making flamers even better!  Flyers are still good, though not quite as dominant as in 6th. Challenges are more brutal, as wounds now spill over to the rest of the unit – buying time by throwing sergeants at greater demons doesn’t save the rest of the gang anymore, so individual combat monsters are more of an option again.  Flying monstrous creatures don’t seem as good as they were, but still reasonably effective.

The psychic phase is now pretty important, so a psyker or sorcerer is worth looking at this edition.  Essentially, some decent anti-tank weaponry and some anti-air (or airpower of your own) is pretty important to hold your own.  If you intend on fighting up close (whether defensively or offensively), flamers are pretty important now.

All the missions have one loophole – if you wipe the enemy out, you win by default.  If you want to go down this route as a regular strategy, going for weird unbound armies and/or maxing out on heavier monsters/tanks and flyers is probably a plan.  If you want to play the missions out, and use the force org charts, you’ll need plenty of troops.

4 – Know your models and codex!

Finally, you need to know what models you actually have available, and the rules in the codex for fielding them.  If you’re just starting, and only have 500pts of Blood Angels, well, that’s what you’ll want to field.  You won’t be worried beyond that!  If you are trying to pick an army to work towards building, or out of a range of models for a longer term player, then you need to know more about how each unit plays, what the points costs is, and how they work together on the battlefield.

These days, a good start is to look through your units, and pick the ones you like playing best!  Although we want to follow the Force Org Chart for the “battle forged” bonus, which really helps with objective based missions, there are ways around it.

Once you have your list of favourites, take a look at it.  Does it match the force org chart already?  Old school marine players will probably have knocked up a fairly standard codex astartes list on autopilot, matching the chart automatically, for example.

If it doesn’t, then take a look at the available allies, codex supplements and data slates.  If you love possessed in a Chaos Space Marine force, for example, use the Crimson Slaughter supplement!  You get to field possessed as troops, making it easier to meet the FoC requirements. If you love wraith knights and wraith lords, you can look at the Iyanden supplement and/or the Ghost Warriors formation data slate, giving you many more options to field an army while meeting the FoC requirements.  If you want 3 marine HQ types, look at taking an allied detachment with different chapter tactics (play them as a different company in your chapter, for example).

If your favourite choices are way out there (like just picking a Phoenix Court for the Eldar with all the phoenix lords and the avatar as your whole army), or all Harlequins, then you have to go unbound.  That’s not a drama (and even the weirder choices may well start appearing as formations or codex supplements these days).  Just be aware that you’ll probably have to look at either tabling your opponent, or wiping their  troops out first unless he’s unbound too.  Not everyone likes unbound armies, and they may not want to play you with one – having a more standard list as a backup (if you have the models) isn’t a bad plan just in case.

Taking you through it

OK, lets go through this step by step, to give you some practical examples of what I mean.

1 – Know Yourself

I love 40K, so I have a silly collection of models I adore, though I’ve not been adding to my collection much of late, so I’m tank and infantry heavy, with very few flyers.  I really like the vibe from around 3rd edition with models – they settled down to have both detail and character, while I feel the more modern models, though fantastically detailed and flexible, lack some of the character.

I really enjoy playing an aggressive defence kind of game – I tend to advance and hold objectives, or move forward to let me move back in a fighting retreat.  I don’t enjoy close combat that much compare to running gun battles.

Bam – Sisters of Battle have the look and the play style ready to go.

2 – Know your enemy

My main opponent is my brother, Saint Aidan, who, like me, is quite a fluffy player.  We like themed games, but unfortunately our window for gaming is very limited.  Neither of us go all out to win (he fields Thousand Sons, and I tend to field pretty models rather than by whats good!), but we do have to grab our games quickly, so having a fairly standard list ready to go makes sense.  We’ve both been playing from 5th edition at least, so our armies already pretty much match the FoC – we won’t go unbound unless we have a particular scenario in mind.

I could probably use his devotion to the Thousand Sons against him, but that’s not really how we roll!

3 – Knowing the Rules

Hah – this is largely perfect for the Sisters of Battle!  Flamers?  Sisters love em!  Anti-tank?  Repentia, Exorcists and melta weapons!  Combat monsters work well?  Celestine and a Canoness could be great here.  Tanks for the troops?  Immolators or rhinos not only preserve the troops, they become scoring.  Its ironic the rules changes in 7th largely favour an army that almost can’t really be bought now!



Anti-air?  Erk!  As a fairly patchy codex meant to hold us over until the line is re-released, there isn’t anything here! An Aegis Defence Line or Bastion might be needed to give some protection.

If I was fielding Imperial Fists here, I’d be thinking of a storm talon or raven for airpower, a predator or landraider for firepower, missile launchers and flamers in the force, perhaps a dreadnaught or two, and a slew of tactical squads to take objectives (probably in rhinos)

4 – Know your models and the codex

Well, I’d probably field a straight Sisters Army at this point, but I could add an inquisitor for some psyker backup and a quirky warband!  Possibly with a valkyrie for some air support too?  That would still be battle forged, be fun, and fill a basic gap in the SoB codex. I have them … but as they aren’t assembled yet I’ll hold off for now!

If I’d taken a different path to this point, I could be looking at a pure Harlequins army with 6 or 7 units of harlequins to roam the battlefield causing chaos (ironically, as Chaos is their main foe).  In that case, I’d have to look at going unbound, since there aren’t any formations, data slates or supplements that can bring me closer to fielding that particular force – though I could look at an eldar force with minimal rangers for troops, 3x harlequins as elites, a farseer as a harlequin High Warlock (or shadow seer in the new terminology), Dark Reapers as death jesters, and DE allies with another harlequin unit, a Succubi as a High Avatar, and some minimal warriors for the troops contingent.  I’d probably go unbound and just field loads of straight Harlequins though 🙂


I hope that helps the way you think about picking a force now.  Start with what you like and how you want to play, take into account the folk you’ll be playing with, then structure the models you have (or will have) around that, taking into account the nature of the game, and looking at the various data slates and formation options to let you field an army as close as possible to your favourites while avoiding the Unbound option if possible.  If you go unbound, just go totally crazy!

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